Maria Aroni

PAULINE CASSIMATIS: THE APARTMENT - ATHENS, GREECE

Paulline Cassimatis, Summer, oil on canvas


George, Nicholas, Nayia, Sumer, Constantine, Elias, Simon, Anna . . .
After seeing the first solo show of Pauline Cassimatis, I kept recalling the paintings by the first names of the people the artist chose to represent. This happens because her figures seem so familiar that you can't refer to them in only painterly terms. Cassimatis's aim is, not to deal with issues around human relationships, or to give a theoretical context to her works, but through the sitters, who are mostly friends or acquaintances, to make painting an action in its own right. And this is something very special, considering that portraiture has a long history, mostly imbued with references of class, power, and beauty.
Her art embodies a double challenge. First of all, she focuses on such an old-fashioned genre as portraiture, and, secondly, she insists on using oil paint on canvas, that is, in an age of new technologies and multi-media applications. This conscious choice does not imply a Romantic or nostalgic attitude, but stems from a basic inner need. As a result, her portraits look amazingly fresh.
Acting within the boundaries of figurative painting and the confinements of the canvas, Cassimatis both explores and enhances the possibilities of this field, through the lines and colors that express her inner self. She is not so concerned with the likeness of her sitters, but with the pictorial possibilities each one of them intrinsically carries. Her close observation of the sitter develops into an intimate relationship, and through this process, the painting comes to life. Thus, each portrait sums up that special moment of creation, and therefore, doesn't give the impression of thorough completeness, but rather, captures all the intensity and immediacy of the painterly action in the most intuitive way. This is easily discerned from the energetic brushstrokes, the dripping paint here and there, and the often deliberate undefined contours.And yet, it is the background that mostly reinforces this intimacy. Cassimatis's background is neither neutral, nor is it simply a setting for the figure. The sitters are space conscious. They do not seem lost, disoriented, or vulnerable. On the contrary, they appear self-confident and “life-affirming”. Often situated at the lower part of the painting, they invite the viewer to enter their world.
Cassimatis's figures do not live in an enclosed, autonomous world (the world of painting). Neither do they convey the melancholy, nor do they emit an aura of cultness that Elizabeth Peyton's portraits do-if one was to try a comparison on the ground of style and subject matter-perhaps due to the fact that Peyton doesn't paint from life: her work is based on photographs and other media sources.

From turbulent to almost monochromatic, Cassimatis's background alludes to a place beyond the painting's plane. It often looks as if the natural space of the sitters is an extension of themselves. In fact, Cassimatis doesn't paint them against it, but within it, or more accurately with it. While sternly avoiding a Conceptual approach to her art, she derives a meaningful result, not through ideological declarations, as in Modernism (although her work does have close associations with it), but through non-defining forms and revealing colors. That's why she often asks her subjects what their favorite color is, and then she uses it in her work.
Needless to say, it is not the application of color that is the core of Cassimatis's painting; her works go beyond that. It is more the moment, when the painting is taking place, which “defines” how it will develop, and how her instinct will guide the brushstrokes. It seems as if she lets herself be seduced by the action of painting, allowing her intuition to wander through the different colors and lines, a wander as free and playful as the butterflies around nicholas, and as deeply wise and contemplative as the sun in the pale horizon behind sumer.
Without set intentions or plans, Cassimatis embarks upon this adventure, taking the risks and enjoying the freedom it all entails; in other words, enjoying the freedom of painting itself.


Maria Aroni
Athens, Greece
2002