Aris Kalaizis

Hidden images of the inexpressible

In this text describes Dr. Peter Schlueter the image and the search behind the image on sev­er­al examples of Leipzig paint­er Aris Kala­izis. Besides, there ori­gin­ate worth read­ing obser­va­tions and image-analyses

Excerpt from the every­day life of two people: A pens­ive man is intently pon­der­ing some sub­ject. He is not alone. In the front room an almost naked woman. Her face is turned away. Only her boots cov­er a part of her body. It is not clear wheth­er she is in the pro­cess of dress­ing or undress­ing. The man ignores her. Lean­ing against the wall, hold­ing a glass in his hand, he is con­tem­plat­ive and slumped togeth­er. The rela­tion­ship between these two people remains unclear, wheth­er there was or is a rela­tion­ship, and even more unclear what mean­ing the paint­ing "The Eng­lish Room," cre­ated in 2004, should have.

…is the world of dreams which he por­trays with extremely aus­tere means

Paradig­mat­ic­ally, this paint­ing does not only refuse to allow a quick under­stand­ing, but also rejects any mono­pol­iz­a­tion con­cern­ing human con­texts. There­fore, it is not sur­pris­ing that Aris Kalaizis' fig­ures almost always exhib­it a strong self-adsorp­tion, incap­able of look­ing out­ward. It is a quiet world in which almost everything hap­pens just as in real life, in which the people are almost real people, in which almost everything is nat­ur­al, in which one is not sup­posed to ask too many ques­tions – we know this world: it is the world of dreams which he por­trays with extremely aus­tere means. The objects in Kalaizis' pic­ture world are char­ac­ter­ized by an aura of form­al clar­ity, increas­ing silence but also of ecstasy. As is gen­er­ally true for this paint­er, the pro­cess of famil­i­ar­iz­ing one­self with his dir­ect envir­on­ment is a pro­cess of find­ing one­self per­son­ally. It would thus appear to be prom­ising to first take a closer look at the bio­graphy of this rel­at­ively young paint­ing career.

Aris Kalaizis | The English Room | Oil on wood | 24 x 35 in | 2004
Aris Kalaizis | The English Room | Oil on wood | 24 x 35 in | 2004

Gen­er­ally speak­ing one might first main­tain that Kalaizis' life as up to now has been char­ac­ter­ized by extraordin­ary con­stancy and appears to have been free of any lar­ger excitements. 
In 1966 he was born in Leipzig as the son of polit­ic­al emig­rants from Greece. Inter­est­ingly, he grew up in the west of Leipzig on a street that was named after a paint­er: Lucas Cranach. His par­ents flee­ing the Greek Civil War 194849 moved to the area, which at the time was a Soviet occu­pied zone. Grow­ing up in a rather nar­row-minded era, he first came to feel that he was dif­fer­ent due to the cul­tur­al back­ground of his par­ents, which might explain his early intro­ver­ted­ness. The insist­ence and decis­ive­ness of his cur­rent paint­ings might well stem from this intro­ver­sion. The intro­ver­ted­ness of his earli­er days appears to have van­ished, yet his con­sist­ent insist­ence has remained. The entirely per­son­al char­ac­ter of this pro­cess is reflec­ted in Kalaizis' state­ment: "…The more I became a paint­er, the easi­er it was for me to approach people, since there is per­haps no lone­li­er activ­ity than con­cen­trated paint­ing." And he is not a nomad­ic paint­er, who offers for sale the for­eign oddit­ies he has dragged home. He remains, in accord­ance with his char­ac­ter, a settled type of paint­er, even though in the com­ing year he will take up a work schol­ar­ship in the USA. It can be implied that this settled­ness is a char­ac­ter trait which does not hinder the patient and con­cen­trated devel­op­ing of compositions.

…Kalaizis' paint­ings are a private journ­al, a kind of coded record­ing of his thoughts

Even before study­ing paint­ing at the Leipzig Academy under Prof. Arno Rink, whose mas­ter-class stu­dent he became in 2001, he was inter­ested in pho­to­graphy. Only later did he devel­op an interest in films. And, in fact, Kala­izis admits that for him the cinema is "…a pleas­ant shel­ter for my jour­ney. There I try to find small uto­pi­as, which can put me in a state of amazement." Even though it appears that in his latest paint­ings he remem­bers cer­tain film shots, it is always clear how decis­ively he acts as a paint­er. Both arts forms interest him inso­far as they serve to assist his paint­ing. Kala­izis does not paint accord­ing to draw­ings, but rather writes a script like a screen­writer. One is temp­ted to say that this writ­ing is Kala­izis private journ­al, a kind of coded record­ing of his thoughts, a view which stud­ies the view, the eye of the artist, which observes that which the eyes of the artist catch. All of the objects, all of the fig­ures which we finally see in his paint­ings are cre­ations which res­ult from the act record­ing in writ­ing. The act of writ­ing of is, thus, a phase of his con­tem­pla­tion. Cer­tainly, an ele­ment of doubt is embed­ded in this atti­tude: approach­ing nature by the act of draw­ing. After fin­ish­ing his script Kala­izis does not fol­low only a single pho­to­graph, but has been increas­ingly fol­low­ing sev­er­al pho­to­graphs taken by him­self, which dif­fer­en­ti­ates him from the photoreal­ists, who do not chal­lenge the observ­er with a new real­ity. He does not strive to copy nature com­pletely, rather his paint­ing selects from an ima­gin­at­ive real­ity. With extreme pre­ci­sion he feels the weight and the unpre­dict­ab­il­ity of objects, the ele­ments of nature and the body, and he allows these com­pon­ents to be felt. Thus, his real­ity is nur­tured on the one hand by his pre­ci­sion of see­ing, and on the oth­er hand it uses the cre­at­ive strength of dreams.

A revital­iz­ing course arises as a res­ult and it fol­lows that Kala­izis sees the task to be solved in the pro­cess of inven­tion rather than in imit­a­tion. An artist who wants to rep­res­ent a real or an ima­gin­ary object does not only begin by open­ing his eyes, but rather by search­ing for col­ors and shapes with which he can con­struct this object. We would fail to recog­nize the true char­ac­ter of his pic­ture world, if we were to label his very detailed exe­cu­tion as an "imit­a­tion." In his paint­ings the mani­fest­a­tion of his vis­ion takes abso­lute pre­ced­ence over the repro­duc­tion of the objects them­selves. And this does not so much con­cern obser­va­tion as it does a tire­less pro­cess of experimentation.

We know Pla­to rejec­ted the art of his time since the artist does not evoke real objects but rather illus­ory objects, in oth­er words, noth­ing but dreams and illu­sions. He thus com­pared the artist with a Soph­ist who deludes his audi­ence by rep­res­ent­ing com­pon­ents which do not cor­res­pond with the real world. Pla­to con­tin­ues by arguing that the sim­il­ar­it­ies that the artist cre­ates are only products of our ima­gin­a­tion. We can say that Pla­to was aware of the close con­nec­tion between the ima­gin­a­tion of the artist and that of the audi­ence, yet he mis­un­der­stood that the con­tent of the new artist­ic cre­ation gives birth to a new real­ity, since it soon began to be recog­nized that paint­ing not only opens a win­dow to the vis­ible world, but also serves as an instru­ment to unlock inner worlds.

…in the depths of our psyche for the unex­pressed and inexpressible

How­ever, this res­ul­ted in the fact that from then on even the slight­est inter­pret­a­tion of pic­tures required an intel­lec­tu­al approach. Of course even a paint­ing such as Kalaizis' "Bran­card" (2004) util­izes all of the artist­ic tech­niques such as light, per­spect­ive and so on, but not in order to cre­ate a har­mon­ic effect, but rather to lead it into a con­di­tion of unsolved and unsolv­able con­flicts. The explo­sion in the upper corner of the paint­ing is only intim­ated and is cas­u­ally presen­ted. Between the guid­ing flower, a fre­quently appear­ing motif, and the inferno we find an encoded woman. Seem­ingly unaf­fected by the occur­rences, she climbs up the stairs, car­ry­ing a hand­bag. And this is where Kalaizis' paint­ings speak to us, like a hid­den image or a pic­ture puzzle, which chal­lenge our entire astute­ness and force us to search from with­in the depths of our psyche for the unex­pressed and inex­press­ible. In this way Kalaizis' paint­ings might reveal their secret. Their sense is only slightly touched through our senses, only intim­ated. An example, such as listen­ing to stat­ic-filled record­ings, might illus­trate how an attempt at inter­pret­a­tion is able to irre­vers­ibly change that which was actu­ally heard.

Ocean | Oil on wood | 47 x 55 in | 2004
Ocean | Oil on wood | 47 x 55 in | 2004

In the paint­ings "Die Lich­tung" / Enlight­en­ment (2004) and "Ocean" (2004) in which Kala­izis painted his nine-year-old daugh­ter Nike, the col­ors of the paint­ings evoke cold­ness and loneli­ness in us, yet upon longer obser­va­tion it appears behind the mel­an­chol­ic mood that hope is approach­ing. In these paint­ings everything seems to be rigid, and noth­ing seems to be mov­ing. The pic­ture "Ocean," how­ever appears to be like a painted pro­gram. The girl dreams with open eyes, fully con­scious. These paint­ings are sweet and at the same time ser­i­ous, like the grace of a lov­ing caress, like the silence between the thought­ful little girl and the paint­er, who observes her – aston­ished, sur­rendered, with com­plete affabil­ity. And: The new dis­cov­ery also com­prises shift­ing the entire col­or range, light­en­ing the palette. In almost all of his works we are con­fron­ted with sim­il­ar fig­ures. We also encounter the woman with the mys­ter­i­ous leath­er bag, the orange head scarf, and the sunglasses on sev­er­al of his paint­ings. Behind the façade of this fig­ure is hid­den Annett, the wife of the paint­er, who has often posed for her hus­band. We can assume that the last pan­el of the four-part pic­ture series "The Ideal Crash" from 2002/2003 served as the start­ing point for the con­tinu­ing integ­ra­tion of this par­tic­u­lar female char­ac­ter. Her con­stant intro­ver­sion is char­ac­ter­ized by per­petu­al eleg­ance and style. But she also shows an erot­ic charge which nev­er seems to dis­charge. This fig­ure is typ­ic­al for Kalaizis' char­ac­ter­ist­ic play of reveal­ing and con­ceal­ing, show­ing and veil­ing, his own dia­lectics of indic­at­ing and leav­ing out.

…the dual nature of human beings. His her­oes and anti­her­oes are sin­ners and saints in the same person

The new paint­ings have sev­er­al fur­ther design char­ac­ter­ist­ics in com­mon, which dif­fer from the stage-like com­posed works of his earli­er peri­od. In paint­ing, as well as in music or poetry, vari­ation is a pleas­ure which in itself serves the cre­at­ive spir­it. The prac­tice of vari­ation is also a game which takes free­dom by put­ting lim­its on itself. On the one hand, there is the painted reoc­cur­rence of the cliched ship sym­bol­ism, the flower, the often sim­il­ar com­pos­i­tion of the back­ground archi­tec­ture as well as the con­tinu­al reappear­ance of the female char­ac­ter as has already been described. We can say that although Kala­izis takes pleas­ure in fre­quently draw­ing upon his pic­ture invent­ory, it remains vital that this wealth of ideas nev­er becomes orna­ment­al, but always serves the pur­pose of integ­ra­tion. Although Kala­izis has bound him­self to a strict rule, at the same time he dis­cov­ers the pos­sib­il­it­ies of his inven­tion, the unex­pec­ted fruits of this com­bin­ing, which res­ult from constancy.

In the paint­ing "Die dop­pelte Frau" / Woman in Double (2004) the same per­son even encoun­ters her­self. In this paint­ing that which could only be assumed in his earli­er paint­ings becomes even clear­er: The dual nature of human beings. His her­oes and anti­her­oes are sin­ners and saints in the same per­son, just as he him­self seems to pos­sess con­tra­dict­ory characteristics.

Woman in Double | Oil on wood | 35 x 63 in | 2004
Woman in Double | Oil on wood | 35 x 63 in | 2004

Fur­ther­more, we find the sud­den, not ration­ally explic­able encounter of oppos­ing worlds. The paint­ing "Der Aus­flug" / The Excur­sion, 2004, which was com­posed from the most dif­fer­ing levels of real­ity also leads to an ambi­val­ence, which uni­fies the dif­fer­ing per­spect­ives of the same mag­nitude. One might even argue that with the neces­sary ima­gin­a­tion an end­less num­ber of inter­pret­a­tions becomes pos­sible. Per­haps this situ­ation ori­gin­ates from inner ten­sion with­in the artist. In 1997 Kala­izis had already stated in a dis­cus­sion with the soci­olo­gist Jan Siegt: "The situ­ation of con­flict is part of my nature, since when it comes down to it I go back and forth between polar­it­ies. I could nev­er devel­op a pas­sion res­ult­ing from a rejec­tion of exist­ence, which also plays a role, nor could I offer my unlim­ited affirm­a­tion of exist­ence."

While the earli­er paint­ings strove to har­mon­ize the polar­ic ele­ments in the series, today we are con­fron­ted by a meta­phys­ic­al approach to the clas­sic pan­el painting.

The paint­ings "Die dop­pelte Frau" or "Die Lich­tung" are fur­ther­more char­ac­ter­ized by a com­plex rela­tion­ship of light and dark­ness. On the one hand this means of com­pos­i­tion serves the struc­ture of form­al ten­sions, while on the oth­er hand it serves to entangle the observ­er in allu­sions. The half-open doors, behind which we can assume there is noth­ing but dark­ness, cre­ate a kind of limbo. The dark­ness refers to a spir­itu­al pres­ence of the non-present.

And it is the same ambi­val­ence of the present and non-present which could already be found in earli­er paint­ings such as "Fargo" (2002). Of course the artist shows here that he was aware of the close con­nec­tion between his ima­gin­a­tion and that of the observ­er. In oth­er words: Only works which were cre­ated in a state of heightened ima­gin­a­tion are able to appeal to our ima­gin­a­tion – where there is noth­ing, noth­ing can arise. Cer­tainly, this requires that the skill of the paint­er to indic­ate cooper­ates with the abil­ity of the observ­er to under­stand these indications.

…the bene­vol­ent observ­er makes the effort to meet Kalaizis' hints halfway, since the exper­i­ence of trans­form­a­tion always brings an ele­ment of pleasure

And: If we take a closer look at past few years of the 37-year-old paint­er, we are con­fron­ted with sur­prises again and again. In the past he cre­ated a series of assemblages on the sur­face used wooden pal­lets, which makes us even more sur­prised by a cur­rent sub­ject: the land­scape. If we refer to Kalaizis' pre­vi­ous state­ment, both rep­res­ent­a­tions do not con­tra­dict each oth­er, since in both forms a struggle for abstrac­tion becomes present. While the assemblages from 2003 were only gradu­ally con­struc­ted and arranged upon the medi­um, the land­scape pic­tures "Wald­stück Köhra I‑III" / Wood­land Köhra I‑III are char­ac­ter­ized by a gradu­al reduc­tion and tak­ing away. Thus, both genres use dif­fer­ing approaches as a basis, yet they con­nect with each oth­er at a point of mutu­al striv­ing toward clar­ity and sim­pli­fic­a­tion in col­or and shape. Oddly enough Kala­izis painted the land­scape of his trip­tych in such a man­ner that he almost spared the deep­er dimensions.

Before­hand we argued that he offers the fig­ures in his paint­ings a broad­er room, yet we can observe an oppos­ing tend­ency in his land­scapes, which inev­it­ably leads to a flat­ter com­pos­i­tion. If we look at the whole mat­ter from an ana­lyt­ic­al per­spect­ive, we can real­ize that in these small land­scapes light and heavy shapes influ­ence each oth­er and in this way cre­ate a char­ac­ter­ist­ic and excit­ing opposition.

Yet, if we con­cen­trate on the most recent paint­ings that Aris Kala­izis pro­duced, we can real­ize that the increas­ing dis­cov­ery of the com­pos­i­tion of space becomes obvi­ous. While in his earli­er paint­ings the human fig­ure was in the cen­ter of his com­pos­i­tion, today the indi­vidu­al recedes behind the care­fully designed archi­tec­ture. The cen­ter as a crys­tal­liz­a­tion point of com­pos­i­tion, as has been men­tioned before, seems to make way for the poly­centric. Just as in the earli­er Fargo paint­ings, the paint­ing "Die Nacht stirbt vor der Stille" (2004) / Before the Silence Dies the Night refers to some­thing which is bey­ond the out­line of the paint­ing. And although this paint­ing appears to be untyp­ic­al with regard to its absence of strict com­pos­i­tion­al rules, it nev­er­the­less serves to act like a pro­gram, since even this paint­ing does not pos­sess an fast anchor­age. It would only pro­voke our spir­it, so to speak. And it becomes appar­ent that Kalaizis' paint­ings can be inter­preted in a man­i­fold man­ner. How­ever, this ambi­gu­ity can­not be per­ceived dir­ectly as such, since we can only under­stand it by learn­ing to switch from one inter­pret­a­tion to anoth­er. It is just because he allows the observ­er more and more of his own free­dom, that he is able to pull the observ­er into the magic circle of his cre­ation and enables him to exper­i­ence some of the joy of cre­ation. The bene­vol­ent observ­er makes the effort to meet Kalaizis' hints halfway, since the exper­i­ence of trans­form­a­tion always brings an ele­ment of pleasure.

©2005 Peter Schlüter | Aris Kalaizis

Dr. Peter Schlüter is a freel­ance journ­al­ist. He is liv­ing in Ber­lin and Amsterdam

© Aris Kalaizis 2024