“IMAGES IMAGES IMAGES” by Marco Meneguzzo
In a general text regarding the work of Philip Tsiaras written in 1995, on the occasion of a monograph and a series of exhibitions, I tried to identify some of the powerful nuclei of his work. There are certain concepts and key words that reveal themselves immediately to what is evident in the photographs, paintings and sculpture: compression, objects, horror vacui, accumulation, Library of Babel, stratification, fluidity.
Each of these concepts is a part of Tsiaras that work contemporaneously: cause and effect, pulsation and result. There is also the dynamic relationship of an idea transferred instantly into concreteness, which is particularly visible on canvas. For this reason, in Tsiaras, there is a special correspondence between the immediacy of his thoughts and his artistic output. In fact, his attitude in relation to the world is reflected perfectly in the variety of his works. In every “genre” that he confronts there is always an attempt to cement and compress images and objects. In this characteristic, Tsiaras appears to our eyes-as absolutely American, even though his origin is without question Greek, which also finds a way into some of his work.
However, in Tsiaras, the civility of ideas, and the culture of objects are fused with a naturalness, an almost “nonchalance”, that is not only technically masterful, but something more profound. His visual world connects to a sense of reality, a reality so saturated with images and objects, that the subjects themselves cease to exist for didactic or political purposes, but rather, as a means to an ·end -a compulsive reason to paint.
It is perhaps for this reason that Tsiaras deftly moves from one discipline to another, traversing various languages without needing to be married to any of them, but knowing and “using” all of them. Painting, sculpture, photography, and not lastly, poetry (for which he received an important award) are expressions of this fluid sensation that never seem to end: successive material pulled from shelves and drawers that stuff the memory of recollection, seem devoid of their symbolic or metaphorical importance and rather become his images, or perhaps, images of images.
This process was not as evident in the early work of the artist, but the signs were all there. It seems strange that Tsiaras, who began . with the poetic word, receiving the American Academy Award for poetry in 1975, would decide to abandon himself to the bable of objects, until being almost consciously overwhelmed by them. But the poetic word too, when it is “natural” is also automatic, calibrated, measured, precise, defined, and decisive.
It would be like this for his early photography which matures around the mid-70’s. The Motion Series established the boundries between the defined image and fluid movement, between being and becoming. But already in a few collages we see the seeds of stratification, one image intersecting another, a new concretazation of figure creating a new figurative composition. In the same way, the architectonic photographs of the 80’s, recreate a similar reality. The artist superimposes a natural texture, reusing the grain of stone, tile, or stucco, the smooth look of cobblestone, or even intervenes by hand with color to partition the image plane. This defined world made of building and stone feels the horror vacui of untouched space, until through imposition of the artist, the sky and emptiness of it, is filled; must be saturated with information and sign. _We can draw similarities to his better known photographic series, The Family Album, elaborately made over a period of ten years. Here the flow of images and objects arrive at an almost obsessive dimension, making the intimacy of the objects and things in the photographs, seem even more significant than the personal and familial connections that the narrative of the Family Album would suggest.
In 1995, a propo of this beautiful series, I wrote, “it is almost a diary, and not only because of the intriguing title, (Family Album) but because this title already indicates a detachment, a distance of veiled tenderness, and also of irony” because it is a direct witness of an encounter between the subject and the objects. The athletic body of the artist, now becomes a body in underwear, in a room full of souvenirs, brick-a-brac, and gadgets, reiterating the concept of a historical memory irredeemably distorted by mass media. The family, the artist, the carpet, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Parthenon in 3-D, David’s Michelangelo in marble and plastic, this is the memory where you can also find a good dose of happiness, if you accept the decalage toward mass culture. Only in a few of Tsiaras’ photographs made in the desert of Mexico can we find the concept of the body in its primary rapport
with nature, but this happens because of the very nature of the desert itself, and its absence of objects. Such is the compelling need for Tsiaras to fill his world with images.
Regarding painting, which of late is the principle focus of Tsiaras, at first seems in contrast with all that I have written until now. In fact, the artist on canvas proceeds with singular themes, ie., heads, planes, vases, and with a concentration more recently on horses, contradicting, on the surface, the sense of accumulation, compression, stratification that we can immediately recognize in his other production. It is not so. It would be enough just to examine the “Sandwich” paintings, which demonstrate his obessesive proclivity to compile and stratify information (one canvas onto another and another until many panels create a fused wall-object of painted accumulation) to support the idea that the paintings, regardless of their singular subject, continue to be reinvested with an impulse to inform everything that Tsiaras touches So much so that the subjects and their symbols cease to be the main focus. What does become increasingly evident is the power of painting, and the methodology of the image making process that superimposes itself, totally naturally, on anything the artist does.
This fluidity is what Philip Tsiaras is.
translated by Rose Marie Parravicini