Kamil Vojnar’s “Beautiful” and other works are on display at TAG Gallery

Kamil Vojnar’s “Beautiful” and other works are on display at TAG Gallery

Marina del Rey artist Kamil Vojnar merges paint and photos to create works that blend the real and surreal

By Michael Aushenker

Whether gothic and brooding or punched up by swathes of pastel, the art of Kamil Vojnar imports a dark, ephemeral quality; solitary figures often suspended mid-air by cables or angels’ wings, or entombed in bathtubs doubling as coffins. Bathed in sepia tones, his images hover dreamlike between reality and the surreal, between photography and paintings.

Vojnar’s latest works are on exhibit through April 19 at Santa Monica’s TAG Gallery, where he will speak about his art on Saturday.

“My hope is you visit my show and walk out asking, ‘Did I dream it or is it real?” Vojnar said of his art, which evokes a melancholia rooted in his Eastern European soul.

How he achieves his nocturnal images — a process involving layering levels of multimedia elements on canvas and paper — is a small miracle in itself, since, by his own admission, Vojnar is neither a trained photographer nor did his family have an aptitude for art. But Vojnar was early to seize on the possibilities of digital art, employing technology to enhance photography of subjects shot “as straight as possible” and build dark, edgy images that, at least superficially, may evoke the illustrations of Matt Mahurin or a Mark Romanek Nine Inch Nails video.

Born in Czechoslovakia in 1962, Vojnar studied at the School of Graphic Arts in Prague before finishing his education at the Art Institute of Philadelphia and Art Students League in New York.

While living in New York City from 1989 to 2010, Vojnar spent much time in Europe — specifically Paris, after marrying his French wife, a fashion designer. They eventually moved their burgeoning family from the City of Light to the South of France, where Vojnar opened a gallery in the relatively rural St. Remy de Provence, near Arles and Avignon — parts of France immortalized by Van Gogh and Picasso.

“It’s kind of fun. It’s a rollercoaster,” he said of running a gallery filled with his own work. “Every day you hear from five people that it’s the best thing you ever saw. [A few have even wept, he said.] I should have a napkin dispenser by the door.”

Then another visitor will say aloud, “C’était mauche!”  [“This is ugly!”]

Vojnar still maintains his St. Remy gallery but spends less time in France since relocating to West Los Angeles three years ago.

“Venice seemed to be closest to the mentality of the Village and Lower Eastside [in New York]. But the rent got too high so we moved to the marina,” he said.

During his time in L.A., Vojnar has observed an arts community under increasing economic pressures, more so than its European counterparts. Before leaving Venice, for example, he saw out-of-town landlords hike rents to the point that creative people are squeezed out.

“Creative people have no chance to take risks,” he said. “If you pay $5,000 rent, what kind of risk can you take?”

While not particularly nostalgic for his struggling-artist days illustrating book and CD covers, “back then it didn’t feel like a hustle. [Today], I don’t have the comfort of planning too far ahead.”

Vojnar is currently trying to keep up with demand for his work by preparing for several exhibitions, including a May show in Paris.

Many artists are creating “art without purpose. It’s not lived through,” he said. “Being different is a problem. Really, people always have to find something [in art] to remind them of something [else].”

While realistic about the art world, Vojnar does not care for realism in his art.

It is the overlap of “what is real and what is not real that interests me,” he said.

Kamil Vojnar speaks at 3 p.m. Saturday at TAG Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. Call (310) 829-9556 or visit taggallery.net.