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.