Aris Kalaizis

I am not a Disciple of any School

Aris Kalaizis, The Ritual
Aris Kalaizis, The Ritual

Ger­man paint­er Aris Kala­izis finds inspir­a­tion right in his own back­yard. He writes scripts to help trans­form his ideas into paint­ings. When it comes to paint­ing, he believes that Leipzig ist he most inter­est­ing place on Earth. After gradu­at­ing from the city’s prestig­ous Hoch­schule für Grafik und Buch­kunst (Academy of Visu­al Arts) in 1997, Kala­izis – born and raised in East Ger­many – stumbled upon some­thing: ‚a gap­ing hole, the so-called free mar­ket’. Since then, he has paint­er whose works draw interest from all corners of the globe. By Silvia Rinofner.

Rinofn­er: What ties you in Leipzig?

Kala­izis: This city runs through my veins. Of course, Leipzig isn’t per­fect. In fact, at times it can be a real pain. But I really feel at home here in “little Par­is”, as Goethe once dubbed the city. Leipzig is a com­par­at­ively un-Ger­man city. I mean, it has a cer­tain inter­na­tion­al feel to it. It’s neither a met­ro­pol­is, nor a back­woods vil­lage. That’s import­ant for a painter. 

R: Do you con­sider your­self a mem­ber of the Leipzig school? 

K: No, I’m not a dis­ciple of any school. I’m my own man. Clearly, there’s no deny­ing that people are a com­mon thread in both my work and theirs. But I’m just not sure wheth­er that’s enough to con­sider myself part of a lar­ger com­munity. I am a great pro­ponent of the power of nuance. I’ve always sought out new ter­rain on my jour­ney. Although occa­sion­ally, I would lose my way. It was nev­er my goal to revolu­tion­ise art, but rather to find nuances that had yet to be explored with­in exist­ing art forms. When paint­ers dare to ven­ture down this sort of path, they obvi­ously don’t want to be seen as a mem­ber or fol­low­er of a giv­en school. 

R: What’s Leipzig‘s cul­tur­al role both in Ger­many and the wider world? 

K: Well, as far as paint­ing goes, Leipzig is – at the moment – the most inter­est­ing place in the world, as far as I can tell. I don’t wish to dis­ap­point you, but as regards cul­ture more broadly I can’t really tell you very much at all. 

…It’s not about com­ing up with a cre­at­ive idea, it’s about recog­nising a strik­ing image when it comes along

R: Where do you get your themes and back­drops from? 

K: I don’t have to go far. I find many of the back­drops and motifs for my paint­ings right in my own back­yard. But I can’t just lift a back­drop as it is and plonk it onto the can­vas. So if I pho­to­graph some­thing I’d like to use in my work, I have to tweak it in the stu­dio. It’s a pro­cess of abstrac­tion. It’s not about com­ing up with a cre­at­ive idea, it’s about recog­nising a strik­ing image when it comes along. 

R: When cre­at­ing an oil paint­ing, you don’t start off with sketches and draw­ings as one might expect. Instead, you write a script much like a screen­writer. What does this pro­cess entail exactly? 

K: It’s really quite simple. When I think I’ve found a suit­able back­drop for a new paint­ing, I take a photo of it. Next, I pin that photo above my bed and look at it for weeks on end. It’s a pain­fully slow pro­cess, much like the fer­ment­a­tion of wine. After weeks of look­ing at the photo, I can usu­ally close my eyes and see exactly what I plan to paint. As it is, I tend to see much more clearly when my eyes are shut. 

R: Where does the script come in to it? 

K: After­wards. I don’t take any notes while the image is com­ing to me. I don’t think you for­get ideas when they’re really good. The script is very much a set of director’s notes in which I describe the painting’s com­pos­i­tion, light­ing and the pos­tures of my ‘act­ors’, as well as their cloth­ing and the like. I do this because writ­ing allows me to approach my image from a com­pletely dif­fer­ent per­spect­ive. Once I’ve sketched the fig­ures, refer­ring back to what I’ve writ­ten instantly reminds of what I ori­gin­ally had in mind and how to bring it to life. 
A ‘spray-painted’ flower, much like the one in “the Ritu­al” often appears in your work. 

R: What does the flower symbolise? 

K: Some people say it’s a flower, oth­ers say it’s a but­ter­fly. When I first incor­por­ated it into my paint­ings about five years ago, I saw it as a form­al means of break­ing up the pic­ture by adding a graph­ic ele­ment. And I’ve been using the tech­nique ever since, because I just think that these dual spheres are essen­tial to my work. 

R: Do you believe that there’s such a thing as “pre­requis­ites” you need to mas­ter the art of paint­ing? If so, can they be learnt? 

K: When you say “the art of paint­ing”, you’re gen­er­ously imply­ing that every paint­ing is a work of art. I prefer to see paint­ings as paint­ings and art as art. That’s not to say that paint­ings can’t be art, but it’s by no means a giv­en. And yes, you can learn to paint. After all, a paint­ing is a thing, which is craf­ted. You can’t learn how to do it at an art academy; they’re more about cre­at­ing an envir­on­ment for intel­lec­tu­al exchange. Paint­ing is open to any­one who’s will­ing to learn. It often means work­ing in humble silence, and often in solitude, in the hope that you’ll gain a deep­er under­stand­ing. And if you keep at it, and have a modic­um of self-con­trol, one day you’ll find your­self in the midst of an intim­ate love affair. 

The Leipzig school first began in 1961 when paint­er Bernhard Heis­ig estab­lished the first freie Malk­lasse (free paint­ing class) at the city’s art academy – which today lives on as the HGB Leipzig. The term Leipzig school refers to a wave of con­tem­por­ary paint­ing in the 1970s and ‚80s that star­ted in Leipzig and was shaped by the artists based there. In addi­tion to Bernhard Heisig, 
the movement’s founders include some of the GDR’s most fam­ous paint­ers such as Willi Sitte, Wolfgang Mat­theuer (1927−2004) and Wern­er Tübke. 

(Source: Ger­man­wings­mag 272009)

©2009 Silvia Rinofn­er | Aris Kalaizis

© Aris Kalaizis 2024