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Girl on a Staircase

Olev Subbi Girl on a Staircase 1980 tempera, oil, masonite 160 × 210 cm

In the world of Olev Subbi’s paintings, a selection of details had become recurring motifs by the 1980s. In this painting, such motifs include a leather armchair, an easel, a staircase with a handrail, a vase, a table corner, a tea set, an arched passage and pictures on the wall. By recombining these elements, Subbi told stories about the fragmented nature of remembering and the preservation of certain conservative values. Instead of modern details, Subbi favoured handmade things (e.g. works of art and a table), natural objects (e.g. flowers in a vase) and items of respectable luxury (e.g. a leather armchair). These motifs are signs of traditions that Subbi held in high esteem. The surface of the painting shows traces of tradition as well. Both in his colour choice and composition, Subbi strived first and foremost for balance. In the bottom right of the painting, we see a bright red corner of a table, which is the only element of noticeable colour in the painting. Subbi’s intent was not to ruin the general composition but rather to bring it all together with the help of this detail. The impact of the red shade is alleviated by the pinkish hue of the floor and other glowing tones behind the nude’s back. This makes the red detail melt into the whole and enliven it, not destroy it. In this painting, the viewer should observe closely the different textures and forms used. The image contains hollows and folds, arches and angles. We can see wood, stone, cloth, skin and leather. Subbi was interested in all of these diverse forms and textures and in how they could be depicted: how an opening or a column affected space, and how to paint the folds of an armchair and the nuances of human skin. This allowed the artist to demonstrate his skill and versatility and to add various layers to the nude figure, which make every detail a new challenge.