“Faust” – the jury’s special prize, 2013
The jury awards a Special Prize to the Finnish artist Jan Neva with the following citation:
The portrait of the Finnish artist Jan Neva ‘Faust’ arrests the viewer’s attention immediately. Is it a portrait or a philosophical meditation? What does the artist want to tell us? What message does this powerful image bring us? Is it a warning? A beautiful and sad, gentle face is slightly turned from full-face against a monochrome, uneven, grey background with dark, red margins on both sides. It forces us to stop, it magnetizes. The more you look at the portrait the more it penetrates your consciousness. He seduces and attracts with his youthful beauty full of tragic notes. His perfect and harmonious features are fretted with bloody, red stains of decomposition.
The artist relegates us back to an ancient example dating back to the Coptic period of the Roman rule of Egypt; to portraits the majority of which were found in the necropolis of Faiyum. In the late 1st century BC, or the early 1st – 3rd centuries, they represented a traditional part of a burial cult and were intended to cover the faces of the deceased. They were painted on panels made of cedar, sycamore, or cypress, of an elongated, vertical shape. The artists mostly used encaustic (wax) painting, well-preserved in the hot, dry Egyptian climate, retaining their bright, glossy colours. These portraits sometimes suffered heavy, deep, vertical cracks in their wooden support.
Jan Neva copies neither the technique nor the materials of classical art blindly. Instead of wood and encaustic he uses aluminium support and modern paints. His colour scheme is based on the contrast of grey and bright red. His loaded brushstrokes are full of dramatic energy. Blood-tingled staining on the face, brown-red margins and vertical cracks, do not imitate, but form associations with damaged panelling and at the same time with existential drama. The artist makes use of a dialogue between old Roman and modern art to demonstrate the eternal theme of human existence with its dramatic duel of good and evil. Based upon the highly naturalistic images of the Faiyum portraits he attains a more abstract and possibly even more expressive and impressive art. The painter’s method is not straightforward. It establishes itself on the viewer’s unconscious. The title, ‘Faust’, is a message in itself, which can be interpreted in a number of ways. One of the old stories about Dr. Faust tells that when he was found dead his face and body were covered with terrible bruises and blood stains, and one of his eyes had been gouged out. Whether deliberately, or just by chance, this is what the artist depicts here. And how should the stains and cracks covering the surface of the painting be explained? Possibly, Neva’s painting speaks about the destructive force of evil which lives inside a human who has sold his soul for the pleasures of the world, or, perhaps, about the evil that lives in everyone. It depends on us alone whether this force finds its way out, and in what form.
Born in 1974, Jan Neva graduated at The Imatra School of Art (1993) and obtained his Master of Arts degree from The Finnish Art Academy (2000). In 2001-2003, Neva studied at The St Petersburg Academy of Arts.