Eriks Apalais, Words, 2010, acrylic and oil on canvas, 67 x 82 5/8".

Eriks Apalais, Words, 2010, acrylic and oil on canvas, 67 x 82 5/8".

Eriks Apalais

Galerie Vera Munro

Eriks Apalais, Words, 2010, acrylic and oil on canvas, 67 x 82 5/8".

The paintings of Eriks Apalais have a sort of gravity-defying lightness. He presents the viewer with a hybrid world of images in which abstract and figurative elements interact across great expanses of undefined space. It’s not always clear what we are seeing, but the images have a characteristic tone, produced through surprising juxtapositions of heterogeneous objects that coalesce to form an open system of ciphers that alternates between legibility and enigma. The Latvian-born artist’s first solo show was titled “Confessions,” in allusion to St. Augustine, who along with Andrei Tarkovsky is a reference point for Apalais’s creative thinking, especially with regard to the philosophy of time, perception, and memory. The show included mainly large-format works set off by smaller pieces, arranged to create thematic tensions. For Apalais, large scale serves above all to establish emptiness as a backdrop for incisively executed arrangements of motifs, literally giving them space. In Words, 2010, individual elements, some of them tiny, are so isolated on the matte black surface that their arrangement hardly even appears a matter of composition.

“I develop my pictorial vocabulary of images out of simple painterly gestures,” Apalais has said, “using stenciled letters and symbols. I use such elements like words that I am joining together visually into sentences.” From this point of departure, he practices an extremely condensed form of painting. In Words—as in the more recent black-and-white painting Mirror and a piece whose title is just an opening parenthesis (both 2011)—he employs several different methods of applying his oils against a black acrylic background. In the upper right corner, he deploys a gradation of abstract circular shapes: The bottom one is a knotlike smear; in the middle is a somewhat smaller circle made of pointillist dabbings; above that a linearly painted circular shape; and protruding to the left and right are two straight, gesturally executed brushstrokes (corresponding to what appears to be a broken stick at the bottom left of the picture). The simple figure that results has been formalized in purely abstract terms but also suggests an image that—typically for Apalais—extends its reach across great distances, back into the worlds of childish experience. As if hovering in a state of suspension, the remembered image of a snowman now emerges from the darkness. Maybe it is an echo of the 8 hovering not far off, but in any case it resists unambiguous interpretation. “Through abstract brushstrokes, I try to empty representation of direct meanings,” Apalais explains, while “simultaneously the emptied brushstroke contains within itself compressed information about choices of articulation.” Ultimately, abstraction seems to serve for Apalais as a method of investigation or “recherche”; it is the compression and expression of a personal effort of remembering—and of attaining a pictorial language that would be capable of achieving this without recourse to illustrative abbreviations. Like Barnett Newman, Tarkovsky, or even Proust, Apalais is undertaking no less a project than discovering—or inventing—an aesthetic form to represent our inner consciousness of time, that is, a medium in which the transience of existence can be countered through art.

Jens Asthoff

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.