David Maljkovic’s exhibition Overpaint with Shadows on the third floor of Sprüth Magers, London presents a series of new paintings and architectural interventions that take the process of overpainting as both their subject and source. For Maljkovic, the act of overpainting is equally literal and metaphorical, pertaining not only to the painting itself, but also addressing the content, or rather, the starting point.

Maljkovic is known for a multifaceted practice that, through a collagist approach referencing the works of other artists and his own earlier works and exhibitions, considers individual and collective attitudes toward the complexity of time, whilst also playing with the nature of the gaze. Through painting, he continues to address the themes he has also examined through photography, film, installation, sculpture, and collage.

Maljkovic is concerned with the tension between painting, object, and space to the extent that exhibition-making itself can be considered his subject. The galleries at Sprüth Magers come with their own inscribed narrative, a series of rooms with a domestic past. To this, he has choreographed new ensembles: a series of painting events that present different positions of pictoriality, representing a certain idea about the painting and its action and meaning in a wider context. The materiality of the pictorial code itself is not always contained exclusively in the painting; it meanders within his practice, across various media, and through a broad field of references.

With a key element of his work this careful choreography of the exhibition experience, there is a sublimation of his driving themes into this singular focal point, his main drives made manifest as the exhibition itself. Its scenography, as well as the origins of the motifs often linked to the history and experiences of stage design, unfold within the scenic quality of the paintings. Throughout, loose architectural details of stage sets invite the viewer to gaze into them, perhaps as if they were in the theatre audience, with perspectival illusions of proscenium arches, or of props and players scattered across the stage.

Take, for example, Overpaint with Shadows, 2023, derived from 1923 stage designs by Croatian artist Ljubo Babic for the play ‘Shadows’, an immaterial design for a ballet performance that is materialised solely through light and shadow. Building upon the sketch of the scenography, Maljkovic overpaints the previous painting so that the shadow itself becomes ambiguous. Paint across the canvas appears at points scumbled or as a thin stain, and elsewhere more heavily overpainted, previous tones evident underneath.

Regardless of the narrative present at the starting point of each painting, its execution does not directly mediate that narrative but rather opens new semantic processes. Maljkovic’s series of motifs act as metaphorical platforms on which they are objectified, becoming signs whose content, as well as their mutual relations, are positioned and moderated precisely by the painting process. Motifs become characters, and their roles change in the construction of the painting itself. In these new works, Maljkovic continues to work through an introspective instinct, and by not fixing his own work in a permanent state, he (re)creates new solutions to work against, if not quite overcome these impersonal forces.

David Maljkovic (*1973, Rijeka) lives and works in Zagreb. Selected solo exhibitions include Quetzal Art Center, Portugal (2023), Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Rijeka (2020), Renaissance Society, Chicago (2019), Museum of Modern Art, Ljubljana, VOX Centre de l’Image Contemporaine, Montreal (both 2016), Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2014), Kunstmuseum St. Gallen (2014), Baltic Center for Contemporary Art, Gateshead (2013), CAC-Contemporary Art Senter, Vilnius (2013), Kunsthalle Basel (with Latifa Echakhch, 2012), Sculpture Center, New York (with Lucy Skaer, 2012), Secession, Vienna (2011–2012), Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (2009), Kunstverein Hamburg (2007) and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York (2007).

Selected group exhibitions include the Museum of Modern Art, Ljubljana, Fondazione Merz, MoMA, New York (all 2019), Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, ICA, Boston (both 2018), Mumok, Vienna (2016), Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis (2015), Museo Tamayo, Mexico City (2014), MAXXI Museum, Rome (2013), La Triennale, Paris (2012), Bucharest Biennale 5 (2012), Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow (2011–2012), Arnolfini, Bristol (2011), Centre Pompidou, Paris (2011), Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (2011) and the 29th Bienal de São Paulo (2010). He was included in the 56th Venice Biennale (2015).