Aris Kalaizis

A Conflict Incited by me, as Part of my Nature

Soci­olo­gist Jan Siegt ques­tioned in 1997 the young academy-gradu­ate Aris Kala­izis, in his first inter­view about abstrac­tion, the polar­it­ies as well as the term of the "dynam­ic tra­di­tion"

Aris Kalaizis, Construction for Free Fall | Oil on canvas | 185 x 670 cm | 1996/97
Aris Kalaizis, Construction for Free Fall | Oil on canvas | 185 x 670 cm | 1996/97

Siegt: Lieber­mann once said that omis­sion was the essence of art.

Kala­izis: Indeed, as long as that didn’t mean to him the paint­er delet­ing what he had ori­gin­ally put onto the can­vas by par­tially paint­ing over this.

S: No no, he meant it as con­cen­trat­ing on the essentials. 

K: Yes, res­ist­ing the rep­res­ent­a­tion­al urge as long as pos­sible, wait­ing for that moment of celes­ti­al tran­quil­ity when things finally fall into place and those images genu­inely cor­res­pond-ing to the inner self appear. If I try com­plete­ing a paint­ing which I have not giv­en time to evolve, know­ing full well that anguish is my sole motive, then I also know that I am lost. If I pan­ic in such a situ­ation then innu­mer­able seem­ingly pos­sible solu­tions impose them­selves on me, the con­sequences of which, over the years, have eli­cited rub­bish for the most part, some agony and only the occa­sion­al refresh­ing sur­prise. I think it’s import­ant to defend one­self against one’s own urge to enact solu­tions born of pan­ic, and wait.

S: But aren’t you then in danger of express­ing your­self in too much of an over-cal­cu­lated manner?

K: One is con­stantly in danger of this. How­ever, I now know that if I were to fully exert myself in my paint­ings then I would have to stop paint­ing alto­geth­er. One gains strength by nev­er fully reveal­ing one­self, by means of a cer­tain reser­va­tion. Paint­ing requires a good deal of clev­erness. How­ever, the artist shouldn’t waste his guile on demon­stat­ing tech­nique, rather apply­ing it to avoid the latter. 

S: Because bey­ond all this a wholly dif­fer­ent game begins?

K: … neces­sar­ily begins, sub­sequently tying onto what the artist has pos­ited in his work.

S: As this would oth­er­wise cause disruptions?

K: Dis­rup­tions will always occur more or less nat­ur­ally, which is good. I only need to be sure that they are har­mo­ni­ous ones, that these ups and downs with­in don’t con­sume me com­pletely. After all, this is the advant­age the paint­er has. Des­pite all the tur­moil inher­ent to his life, he attempts to fab­ric­ate the illu­sion of whole­ness, albeit for the dur­a­tion of his work.

S: Not long ago you men­tioned want­ing to imbue your work with a sense of mild­ness and soft­ness, qual­it­ies quite opposed to your present dis­pos­i­tion. Could you not ima­gine simply rep­res­ent­ing nature as beau­ti­ful, or are you depend­ent on some sort of destruct­ive coun­ter­im­age to ques­tion the valid­ity of the idyll you are in pur­suit of?

K: More pre­cisely a conflict.

…I only need to be sure that dis­rup­tions are har­mo­ni­ous ones

S: Incited by what means?

K: A con­flict incited by me, as part of my nature. After all, I feel incess­antly torn between extremes, and not as if I’m a par­tic­u­larly har­mo­ni­ous being. I can­not devel­op pas­sion­ate enthu­si­asm by reject­ing life’s con­di­tions, whatever they may be, nor by unre­servedly embra­cing them. 

S: This is par­tic­u­larly notice­able in some of your more recent work. Because of this con­stant to-and-fro, your pic­tures seem entirely open to inter­pret­a­tion, per­haps resem­bling some­thing like a sketch, a vague outline?

K: … a state of sus­pense, uncan­nily one of sim­ul­tan­eous close­ness and dis­tance, the for­mu­la­tion of which, to come back to your ques­tion, must by no means be vague or approximate.

S: But isn’t this vacil­la­tion between rejec­tion and approv­al a nev­er-end­ing process?

K: Well yes. How­ever, I want it to cul­min­ate in an affirm­a­tion of life, in recon­cili­ation, which incid­ent­ally, is far harder to attain than mere rejection. 

S: I feel I can come to grips best with your pic­tures if I tell myself that I am sim­ul­tan­eously almost a demi­god and some­what of an idi­ot; a demi­god on the one hand, as I am able to with­draw from the spell of your paint­ings if I wish, and a fool on the oth­er, because, admit­tedly, I don’t fully under­stand your inten­tions. How­ever, in this pro­cess of “gradu­al recon­cili­ation”, I sense that you have tried to depict a cross-sec­tion of vari­ous levels of con­scious­ness, artist­ic expres­sion for you being the rig­or­ous out­come of heed­ful cal­cu­la­tion. Start­ing with an inept paint­ing, its logic­al suc­cessor will seek to be more appro­pri­ate and so on and so forth. Hence, the way you work seems to resemble the weav­ing of a fab­ric. The decisions you make con­cern­ing your first paint­ing undoubtedly influ­ence the form of each one in the ensu­ing series, and the later works will always in some way refer to the earli­er ones. To me, this pro­cess has noth­ing arbit­rary about it at all, as it ulti­mately cre­ates a tight inner struc­ture. How­ever, this in turn res­ults in a curi­ous sense of absence of the artist­ic per­sona behind it all. Your phys­ic­al pres­ence is at best oblique, and this is what I find par­tic­u­larly fas­cin­at­ing. The artist behind these works is not say­ing “Here I am”, but rather ask­ing “Where might I be?”, but I mustn’t get meta­phys­ic­al now.

K: Hmm…

S: You hes­it­ate. What always struck me in our con­ver­sa­tions up to now was that you liked avoid­ing going into bio­graph­ic­al detail, much prefer­ing to talk about your little daugh­ter. Why?

K: Well, that’s self-explan­at­ory. But I would say, that attempt­ing to demon­strate how film might be trans­lated into paint­ing would not do any justice to the way my con­scious-ness works. I am try­ing to come to grips with cer­tain states of con­scious­ness, to reveal pos­sible con­cur­rent (stat­ic) images. After­wards I real­ize how pro­foundly dis­turb­ing nor­mal­ity is under­neath. This is, incid­ent­ally, more banal than metaphysical.

S: Why such modesty?

K: Because I don’t intend on enter­ing the realm of Philo­sophy in order to adopt some of its innate con­cerns for the sake of Art. As far as I’m con­cerned, I would insist on the autonomy of Art and that inher­ent ques­tions legit­im­iz­ing it not be bor­rowed from extern­al dis­cip­lines such as Philosophy.

S: Because Art is itself Philosophy?

K: No, because, if you want, Art is the super­i­or form of philo­sophy. Oth­er­wise Art would have to work from the self­con­fessed pos­i­tion of not being able to gen­er­ate a pro­cess by means of thought alone.

S: Non­ethe­less quite a few works of art seem to rig­or­ously com­pete with the great philosophers.

K: Not the most grat­i­fy­ing ones either, as I see it. More-over, I do not believe that those works of art I think you mean pos­sess philo­soph­ic­al con­tent which ought to be taken ser­i­ously. But the slight dis­crep­ancy we have here seems remin­is­cent of that ances­tral dilemma of dis­tin­guish­ing con­tent from form.

S: Which you believe to be non-existent?

K: I don’t know. In any case, in the course of time I have been forced to try over­com­ing this appar­ent dual­ism of form and con­tent. I know full well what I’m talk­ing about, for in the past, I too thought I had to be over-sat­ur­ated with them­at­ic inten­tions in order to even start paint­ing. That has indeed proven to be a grave error. 

S: Because you real­ized that the form­al require­ments of paint­ing are harder to meet if one’s ground­work is too theoretical?

K: It is really inev­it­able that an artist, seek­ing self­defin­i­tion with­in his tiny temple through the medi­um of paint­ing, will ascribe a fun­da­ment­al sig­ni­fic­ance to form­al con­cerns, rather than run­ning a race against real­ity. This has, incid­ent­ally, become fash­ion­able again of late. As I see it, if Art is to attain tran­scend­ence it must refuse par­ti­cip­at­ing in this impudent course of events in which we know who the win­ner is right from the start.

S: How well is an ancient medi­um such as Paint­ing suited to these ends?

K: Well, that depends on what sort of paint­ing you end up with. But basic­ally, paint­ing is a unique pro­ject (I can’t stand the word) offer­ing a magic world of illu­sion to which to sur­render, in an age marked by an ever-increas­ing urge to mater­i­al­ize and pos­sess. I can­not say as yet what that could imply, but would sug­gest accept­ing this as a premise in spite of its vague­ness. Yes, illu­sion is a notion I come back to again and again, mean­ing the depic­tion not of what is real but of what is still pos­sible. The impli­cit scep­ti­cism of your ques­tion recalls the count­less attempts dat­ing back, say fifty, sixty years or more, at declar­ing the art of paint­ing defunct. As the medi­um has con­tinu­ously proven its adapt­ib­il­ity to this day, I simply can­not accept this view. 

S: Real­ity and pos­sib­il­ity make a nice com­bin­a­tion. Nev­er­the­less, does the quest for tran­scend­ence stand up to what we define as Realism?

…paint­ing is offer­ing a magic world of illu­sion to which to surrender

K: I can­not and will not begin try­ing to decipher many of the unin­tel­li­gent and unin­tel­li­gible works con­tained with­in this genre, which nat­ur­ally have always been and always will be pro­duced. All I can say is that the mat­ter of paint­ing is col­our, and I say this in con­scious oppos­i­tion to those who judge a pic­ture in terms of its par­ity to object­ive reality.

S: In this con­text, how do you relate to Tradition?

K: If one wants to describe or con­sol­id­ate the host of one’s per­son­al exper­i­ences, then one shouldn’t resign before the chal­lenge of for­mu­lat­ing them suc­cinctly, even if we are for­tu­nate or unfor­tu­nate enough to be liv­ing in an age overtly suf­fer­ing from a cer­tain illit­er­acy. It is pos­sible to counter this pre­dic­a­ment by means of the tra­di­tion­al rhet­or­ic of paint­ing, in order to ascer­tain, pre­cisely which of our per­son­al exper­i­ences are worthy of heightened expression.

S: Sub­sequently the notion of a dynam­ic tra­di­tion seems more applicable?

K: Yes exactly. Very good. Tra­di­tion is a neces­sary pre­requis­ite for paint­ing, but, to affirm your ques­tion, it must be a pro­duct­ive one. I think it is fun­da­ment­ally import­ant, once with­in the bounds of the tra­di­tion­al­ist idiom, that one does not end up simply regur­git­at­ing its con­ceits, but rather using these as a point of depar­ture. The sup­pos­i­tion that it is pos­sible for an artist to sud­denly appear in the lime­light, untouched by the past, doesn’t make much sense. Just as lit­er­at­ure gen­er­ates lit­er­at­ure, paint­ings have always had their source in oth­er pictures. 

S: Adding to what you said a moment ago about the dif­fi­culties of find­ing one’s place in the world, I would say that this is increas­ingly appar­ent in almost all areas of human activ­ity. The des­cend­ent no longer simply inher­its when it is his turn. This leads to being unwill­ingly implic­ated in a decidedly tur­bu­lent pro­cess of dis­in­her­it­ance, which might cla­ri­fy why mem­bers of the young­er gen­er­a­tion are so intent on viol­ent lib­er­a­tion from their pre­de­cessors and their val­ues. It seems that most of them are at best inter­ested in ask­ing eachoth­er how much they have on their bank accounts.

…Tra­di­tion is a neces­sary pre­requis­ite for paint­ing, but, to affirm your ques­tion, it must be a pro­duct­ive one

K: Well, you will know about that bet­ter than I do. I was actu­ally think­ing about what this means to us chil­dren, grow­ing into the realm of Art like into a régime of individualism.

S: What are your exper­i­ences of grow­ing up such a “Régime of Indi­vidu­al­ism” as you put it?

K: It is not that I am stead­fast upon an unshake­able found­a­tion, but rather on the move as an integ­ral part of a highly dis­rupt­ible one. Exist­ing means being set into motion, let­ting one­self be pen­et­rated by one’s sur­round­ings. Is it true that I am speak­ing? Am I the one doing the paint­ing? Is my work not inhab­ited by the roar of the ocean, by the ele­ments of Fire and Earth, influ­enced by the insinu­ations of my sex, the Nation or His­tory? As you can see, it is not easy to provide a clear answer.

S: I would describe you as an over­all optim­ist­ic per­son, although I am aware that this has not always been so. As a con­clud­ing ques­tion, would your optim­ism go so far as to make you believe that works of Art are cap­able of achiev­ing any­thing in particular?

K: They will prob­ably nev­er incite revolu­tions. And, to add to your state­ment, I am not an unin­hib­ited optim­ist when I look into the future. I am not that one-sided to believe in Para­dise alone. How­ever, Art does seem to have achieved again and again that bes­ti­al­ity doesn’t take over entirely, noth­ing else. Art has been able to tame that power­ful beast with­in us all and to repair the dam­age caused by it. Every­where and at all times the bru­tal­ized mesh of exist­ence is remedied again through Art. That and only that is Art. This will nev­er change, nev­er. But that is great enough.

Aris Kalaizis in his first studio (1997)
Aris Kalaizis in his first studio (1997)

©1997 Jan Siegt | Aris Kalaizis

Jan Siegt is a soci­olo­gist, liv­ing and work­ing in Sindelfingen

© Aris Kalaizis 2024