Philip Tsiaras

Titanium Gallery

Comfortably straddling abstraction and figuration, Philip Tsiaras’ “Topologies” brings the question of pictorial depth into focus. Tsiaras (who, until recently, seemed essentially pledged to the articulation of the sensual and primordial in works replete with evocations of the unconscious) appears now to have taken on the exploration of formal and material issues in painting as well. Although undoubtedly “old hat,” they remain, for him, inexhaustible and constantly renewable problems. Also exhibited were smaller works on paper, bearing strikingly lovely and limpid images, while the third body of works was comprised of forceful, intriguing, and shameless kitsch.

The novel element in “Topologies,” is the creation of volumetric space through layers of various media that culminate in elaborately constructed surfaces. Traced across these lavish and vibrant paintings of extravagant color and intricate formations is the rudimentary outline of an airplane, a head, a vase. Thus, a shallow and evanescent space is created in which abstraction, figuration, and narrative content mingle, and in which pictorial depth is directly challenged. With a tinge of irony, Tsiaras succeeds in temporarily turning the fundamental attributes associated with abstraction and figuration upside-down. Not for long though. Soon, the ornate abstract elements, the voluptuous and lush colors dazzle the spectator and take over. Thus, Tsiaras squarely jostles the abstract and figurative back into their traditional roles. In the shadow of Jackson Pollock, Tsiaras’ “Topologies” projects the intensity of the physical action or performance that was enacted to create the painting. The all-important gesture—whether the light or heavy brushstrokes, the drip or the splatter—speaks of the artist’s “dance of abandon” over the canvas.

Many of Tsiaras’ figures, forms, and images have autobiographical implications. The largely illegible, calligraphic script traced across the surface appears to he either a component amplifying the overall abstract composition thus imbued with formalist attributes, a form of automatic writing, or an autobiographical entry in a personal diary. Subliminal messages about the artists’ own experiences, dreamlike fantasies, and desires, are as shifting and mercurial as the painting techniques employed. He also alludes to current events that have made the headline news. Executed at the time of the Gulf War crisis, these works must not be seen as a political or social commentary but merely as a record of events, again very much like diary entries. It soon becomes evident that the “new” formalistic framework adopted by Tsiaras is merely another vessel into which the artist pours his affinity with the sensual.

These works are made of stacked clay objects that are either readymades or casts, which the artist bends, remolds, or drills—an altogether unorthodox method of handling this medium. Tsiaras’ “Ceramics” have all the vitality and bathos that feed and sustain kitsch as an expression of common taste. Tsiaras demonstrates that by overcoming the traditional prejudices associated with an essentially utilitarian and humble medium, he is able to elevate the mundane. Although oddly unfamiliar, these “Ceramics” are not totally strange. It seems that kitsch is part of our visual inventory of things. Or, is this source for these pieces to be found in our universal unconscious? Tsiaras’ amphora are non-utilitarian sculptures that seem to embody the mystique and enchantment that surround the origins of art.

Catherine Cafopoulos