|«STORIED PICTURES», April 2012, Kaplanon 5 Gallery|
|«The schooling of the eye», by Athena Schina - Critic and Art Historian, from the "Storied pictures" catalogue (April 2012)|
In times of crisis, like the period through which we are now passing, more general revisions and upheavals take place, involving - even more than the economy itself - systems of values and criteria, as to the life we live, as to the ways in which we communicate, and as to the qualities which shape our everyday life. If art reflects aspects of life, and of the positions which give expression to us or which we wantonly compromise, as well as the responsibilities which fall to us, as it sets out the reality which defines us, then the crisis does not leave the work of art unassailable; rather, through the language which it uses in each case, it proposes with radicalism the roles which it performs. In any event, the crisis in art has presaged, for some time now, the changes in semantics, in aesthetics, and in the moral parameter which it conveys, particularly in our post-modern age, in which the dialectical freedoms by means of which the work of art negotiates the various modes and bestowals of meanings of its 'language', on the one hand, reinforce its globalised character, and, on the other, frequently render apparent its impasses.
In these circumstances, and insofar as the artist chooses to express himself through the representational ascertainment of the picture (without the use and incorporation of photography collages), as Dimitris Anastasiou does, this means that the preferred and adopted process of the tracing out and revelation of pseudo-aesthetic realism defines (over and beyond what it depicts) a manner, rendered conscious and self-controlled, of gestural praxis which is not in competition with issues of an objective 'truth', but that the artist endows with meaning the signposting demanded by the new pathways for the 'discovery' of this 'truth' - a truth which crops out through the structural constitution of the articulations of its language, with its expanded revision in parallel.
Through his well thought-out act of painting, Dimitris Anastasiou mounts enigmas which involve the dialectical heterodetermination of the prehistory, history, and meta-history of the 'image', as this gives shape to a multi-level 'reality'. His own imaging is apportioned in a narrative manner and reconstituted organically as an allusive and persuasive sequence of events of the epistemology of which it is made up.
The physiognomy of each of the artist's pictures concerns the very cohesion of the narrative which puts at stake its presence between truth and deception, as well as between intentions and the sequels which relate to dependences and on-going underminings of the plausible. The tenses of association which govern this 'picture' are as many as the 'topological' conventions of the episodes of the narrative, in which the artist projects its parts, and in which at the same time his 'self' is projected as a questioning third-person subject, defining, on the one hand, the co-existence and deception of the visual and tactile sense, and, on the other, of inner and outer space, which is reflected in the innermost parts of the 'performance'.
Consequently, trompe l' oeil never functions as an end in itself in the works of Dimitris Anastasiou, but only as a means of tracing the bounds of an object of knowledge which is constantly revised as to its intentions and assignments of meaning. In any event, the surface of each of his painted compositions serves as a field for exercises in range and resilience for an eye which observes questioningly and calls into doubt by correlating the signifiers with the signifieds of what seems to be a 'theatrical' presentation, the curtain of which is represented as a screen for formations, testings, cancellations, and unexpected reconstitutions of the artistic myth - a myth which unfolds its 'mesh', as it unravels and loosens the bonds of the obvious and any expected consistency of cause and effect.
The most important consideration in the painting of Dimitris Anastasiou lies in the methods by which he uses realistic representationalism and in the process of the gestural act by which he renders it. His imaging does not narrate episodes from the plot of the myth of some supposedly fictional truth which flirts by simulation with what vision defines in a substitution for and synergy with the tangibility of the illusorily apparent. Dimitris Anastasiou personifies or gives form to and depicts the process itself and the escapades of the narration. He traces, that is, and gives revised meaning to the very structure of the language of painting. He gives shape, in other words, to its inner mechanisms and the associations which stem from its signifieds. As to the signifiers, these form an equivalent fraction in which the place of the numerator is occupied by the sense of sight and that of the denominator by that of touch. For this reason, he uses himself as a catalytic cause of the visual observation, but also as the desired action of intervention of his own heteroprosopia.
The artist's medium is not design, colour, and form. His medium is the siting, affinity, and the dialogue which the shaping acquires in order to arrive at the redefinition of that meaning of the design, the colour, and of the surface of style and language. Thus the artist makes his appearance as the perpetrator of the observation, and at the same time as a resource of the roles which he undertakes, as he weaves with his 'gossamer veil' the plot of the picture and combines the inner with the outer space, between light and darkness, as well as between being and appearing, the process of following the route to his Ithaca, though not its goal - a strange thing for an artist who negotiates with visual illusion.
The recent exhibition by Dimitris Anastasiou consists of ten works, which materialise the ten 'acts' of an art happening. In this decalogue, the place of the 'preamble' is taken by his painting 'The Red Bathroom' (oil on canvas), in which a woman is shown as if 'containerised' in a red bathroom. The bathtub (which, seen in a distanced way, is reminiscent of a coffin) in which her nude body lies, half-covered by the redemptive and 'purifying' water, serves as the generative womb. The woman's gaze is fixed on the surface of a white towel which hangs opposite her, like a 'blind' window, a screen, in other words, or a shroud, but also the white swaddling-clothes in which it is expected that she will be wrapped. In spite of this, the protagonist of the performance is not the woman, but the luminous reflections on the surfaces damp with steam, and the gradations of the shadings, which stress the multi-focal nature of the light, of the interposed levels of darkness, and of the dynamic which the space develops. This is a space in which light is polarised, and which, despite the apparent radiance of its atmosphere, conveys in an archetypal way and by association the climate of Dante's Trilogy.
The 'Story of Hans', which follows, gives shape to and at the same time plays the part of the seen and unseen features of the performance or the exchanges of the dialogue between the curtain of viewing and its stage wings, with the light and shadows creating spaces which incarnate roles of the 'self' and its heteroprosopia. The double self, which in one of its versions, as light, seems to descend the staircase with dominance and the strength of power (but also with subtle self-sarcasm), is undermined by its very otherness and its dark sides. This is the artist who, as if autobiographically, is shown in both places of the spectacle's 'action'. If, that is to say, the 'self' is equivalent to the light, its 'otherness' is equivalent to the shadow, at the bottom of the stairs, which lies in wait to overturn whatever it may be supposed that the 'manifestation' of whatever truth is acting out.
In 'Bleib Treu Café', the café which Anastasiou frequented in his student days in Germany, the 'self' appears in the opening in a wall which has become a ledge. In the cafe's name ('Stay True' or 'Forget-Me-Not'), the relations between the past of life and the present of the act of painting are already being developed. The two spaces (that of the café - the interior - and the other of the street - the exterior) are united by the red thread of the narrative. The artist holds the beginning of the thread in his hands, while this ends in the red stocking worn by a girl, in the middle of the street. Issues of distances? Bridging? Excesses? Between the spaces of life and the act of art, and between the tenses of the recall of memories and the 'dramaturgic' depiction of the events themselves of a working hypothesis (as that of narrative is), the map of a country (Germany), transformed to take on the form of a face or a mask (persona), is at hand. It is in essence personae that the transformations themselves of the plot of the myth become, and so the picture narrates the processes of the shaping of its self, with the artist becoming (as a heteroprosopia) its self-referentiality.
In the work 'Chasm', the act of painting to which the artist attempts to give shape on the canvas (or on the blank 'window' on the world which he intends to depict) is in a chasm. The space renders multi-focal vision, and this can be seen from the double-natured light of the bulb. The artist gives us in a dense account all the narrative, emotional, and associative features which make up the act of creating at the moment when this is unfolding, with one reality framing him and itemising what he has behind him and 'within' him, and with the other reality lying in wait at the back of the canvas, as a shaded, but constantly and persistently existent, 'otherness' - an otherness which looks at the exterior or at a landscape at sunset and the oncoming darkness. This darkness suggests that the picture formed, in the intentions of its materialisation (which depend upon thought, imagination, and the gestures of actions of the artist on the canvas), is not giving an account of itself. It is simply hinting at situations, while it keeps in the undeclared parts and the unseen sides of the formation of the image the mystery of its existence and of its roles in action and subversion, roles which can be performed by the correlations of reading (enclosed in the work) and the associations which are developed on the part of the beholder.
In 'Conversation', which follows, the artist is depicted in a boxed-in space reminiscent of the 'Necker Cube', in which by an illusion (and conceptually) the background is shown as the surface and the surface as background. In this work, the prokeimena (the things laid out before us) alternate with the parepomena (the 'consequents' or accidentia). The artist's heteroprosopia makes its appearance in front of a mirror, where in its reflection the viewer (as with the Arnolfini couple of Van Eyck) sees what is going on behind his own back, with his own direct and interactive participation, as regards the imaginary subject of the picture's interpretation.
In 'Sleepwalker', the scene unfolds in a bar, which the artist (who sets up the snares of the myth) visits as a habitué, at the moment when the heteroprosopia of his self is serving (behind the bar counter) the alcoholic drinks of the partaking and of the dissolution both of magnitudes and distances. he is 'serving up', in other words, the ways of seeing and experiencing, the other aspects of the reality which in each case the artist represents, as, in the last analysis, the picture acts out a kind of artistic pantomime, which the manner of looking of the addressee now undertakes to decode.
In most of Anastasiou's works, a pet dog playing at his feet with a ball of red wool makes its appearance as a constant 'light motif'. This dog, as in Van Eyck's 'Marriage of the Arnolfini', symbolises fidelity. This fidelity is depicted enigmatically in this picture by Anastasiou, somewhere between dream and the pregnant transcendence of the 'confines' of reality.
'The Woman Without a Shadow' is the work which follows. There the young couple, who join hands, are between provisional fidelity (the dog) and the portrait of Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who wrote the libretto of the opera of that name. The woman is shown without a shadow, because she may be real, but she may also be the personification of the work itself, which the artist, brushes in hand, proposes to paint.
In 'Meeting', the artist himself (the subject of the narration) looks at himself (the image produced) in the mirror, recalling the mirror of the mythical Medusa - whoever looked into it was turned to stone. Consequently, what is postulated in this instance is the (provisional) identification of the two masks of the 'self', in their forthright and revelatory encounter, after so many evasions, pretexts, and 'metamorphoses'.
In the sequence of the works, 'Handclasp' comes penultimate in the series. For the first time, another, different figure is shown, saying farewell to the artist. Is this his other 'self' who is leaving, as in the ancient Greek funerary monuments of the fourth century BC? Is this the 'topological point' of union or detachment? Are these, perhaps, the two realities which meet in a transcendental way in the time of utopia? The 'resolution' of the drama and of this artistic 'happening' is given by 'Loose Shoelace', which completes this series of works.
In 'Loose Shoelace', the earlier reference to the 'Necker Cube' has been transformed into a fantasy naming of the street, in what is now an open space. Here there are three tenses with the same persona, at three moments of the narration, exactly as the same convention can be found in the Early Christian mosaics at Ravenna, in the case of the 'Hospitality of Abraham'. In the Western tradition, the indirect reference is, on the one hand, to Masaccio's work 'The Tribute Money' (wall-painting of 1427, in the Brancacci Chapel of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence), where Peter is shown in three time-space and narrative episodes, which are, nevertheless, unified in the same composition, and, on the other, to the work of Hans Memling (oil on wood, 1470, Turin), with the scenes of circuminsession portrayed by that artist of the Passion of Christ.
In the present instance, to return to the 'Loose Shoelace' of Dimitris Anastasiou, here the persona of a young boy, now rendered independent, is shown walking along the pavement of an Athenian neighbourhood. In the succession of scenes of the narration, the youth walks along, deep in thought; he then stops to tie his shoelace, and then, standing up straight again, prepares to cross the road which opens up before him. But this is a road with obstacles. In the wall of the house (the rear part of the action, but also its semanticating stage-set framework), one closed and one open window appear. At the open window, and in the interior of the house, a nude girl, walking in the opposite direction to that of the youth, can be seen. He is clothed and she is naked. The boy is heading towards the exterior, the urban, but, in essence, the innermost, labyrinth of the city, and she towards her own hinterland. The two spaces and times seem, however, to be unified, within two frameworks: the frame of the house's window (working hypothesis or myth) and the frame of what is now the picture itself which Anastasiou has painted (with the grammar and syntax of his gestural act devising, tacitly but meaningfully, its illusionary realism).
Behind the realism of this type, which by hints stimulates the thinking of the viewer, through the interaction of the visual and tactile sense, a large chapter opens - not only on the new meanings and the horizons of the compositeness and multiplicity of levels which mark the narration of the picture's plot, but on what are now the revisionary ways of reading it by the beholder. The potentialities of the new reading of the picture are, in any event, those which lay the foundations for the new ethos which the schooling of the eye, detached from conventions, constantly practised and tried and tested, but now updated by feedback, dictates.
Critic and Art Historian