Croatian- born artist Nikolina Petolas is part of a growing trend I am seeing in contemporary artist bios. An experienced graphic designer, she uses the technical nuances and compositional cues she picked up over her years working in the field to create personal works that embody a current vision. For her, these are fantasy-based reflections on human nature that she experiences both internally and externally. Her work can be described as photomontage, or more specifically, photorealism on an altered plane.
There is something endearing about the fairytale-like structure of Nikolina’s world, despite its murky and complicated undertones. Some pieces are more conventionally supernatural than others, but each introduces or returns to a character that the narrative is then built up around. The mostly solitary figure interacts with the environment Nikolina creates- usually a dark space, inside or outside, with a few telling symbols scattered around it. The concept of inside and outside strikes a dichotomy that presents itself in almost every aspect of Nikolina’s scenes- and it leads a special tension along with it. There’s internal against external, then versus now, and birth circling death. Nikolina’s pieces embrace these pairs as contrasts that depend only on one another- without the yin, the yang cannot exist.
Science of Sleep is one of the pieces that I think revolves around the ideas mentioned above. Set in a strange, museum-like room, it features a faded animal skeleton, entirely at odds with the luminous female figure across the room. The woman faces a backlit door, symbolizing all sorts of escape and a yearning for freedom from the surreal diorama she shares with the bones. However, there is no fear nor animosity in the scene- just desire, coming from both the dead and the living. And just like that, Nikolina blends the two, saving the story but inviting us to distinguish the emotional signals in the piece rather than its statement.
The vein that runs through Nikolina’s portfolio is a physical and a metaphorical one- physically, there is a specific approach to light and dark, an eerie color scheme, a fascination with the female form. Symbolically, however, there floats a repeating rendition of the human mind in relation to the human heart, visually interpreting the anomalies that lie in between. There is narrative but at the same time, there is a lack of it, and that heartbeat in between gives us just enough time to catch a good, long glimpse.