“Putting On View” by Giacinta Di Pietrantonio
We’ll start off by asking why Philip Tsiaras is considered a contemporary artist! It’s not because he was born in this century, 1952 in fact, in the state of New Hampshire- in the nation which has most characterized the 20th century- but because in his works he has been able to synthesize the problems, illusions, realities and imagery of some of the early 20th century by putting them in relationship with the rest of history: the past. In fact, trying to carry out an operation whereby the past is put into contact with the present means putting the present at the service of the search for origins. Therefore, if the present here and now (i.e., who are we?) cannot rewrite the hopes of the future and the utopias to be realized (i.e. where are we headed?), it must then provide the means for reconstructing and contacting the past (i.e. where do we come from?). So, it is the sort of task that deals with the themes humanity has always felt as necessary and has reproposed differently in every age: such as religion, myths, creativity, possession of the world, existence, etc.
But taking things in order, let’s begin the form of art - even after the conceptual season and actually starting with it, because we know what we can do without it- which has an important function when the artist, such as Tsiaras, decides to pursue this form, explain its secrets and display its possibilities. This is why the artist has confronted several methods of expression: painting, sculpture, photography, and writing, even if we’re only dealing with one aspect here. This confrontation of means and techniques brings to mind the main debate of our century, which- in a certain sense -has not yet completely resolved as concerns the artistic possibilities of the photomechanical means. Then we have an additional problem: the relationship between the serial and the unique as regards the respective means of expression. But this has already been shown, and Tsiaras adds his version in which, in either case, the question can be reversed. In fact, the artist has made some photographs that are unique, while he has also made some paintings that develop as series. No further demonstration is necessary to show that this debate is central in our century, because we well know that all modernity has based its ideal and material destiny on this dialectic. In fact, the present post-modern period through which we are now passing to leave it and enter a new reformed century has relaunched the question of the relationship between the serial and the unique (metaphors for collectivity and individuality) and proposing to overturn everything by making the serial unique and by serializing the individual. As far as we can see, this is quite evident in the artist’s work of arts, for example in his vases where an everyday object is shaped and individualized to meet the various requirements of humanity in its birth-life-death-rebirth cycle. It’s also evident in his series of Liquid Portraits, in which the person’s face, his identity (his truly unique aspect) is serialized by using opposition, a duality, whereby the artist mixes many different informal geometric shapes, a multiplicity, that are signs and symbols of the rationality of the modern and post-modern causality. This whole process shows how art always relates to society, or better yet, to reality, even when it seems to withdraw into itself, into its artist -gallery-museum -magazine-collector system, as it has happened during our century. In fact, this is exactly what came out of a recent interview of the artist with Michael Komanecky when he was asked if he admitted manipulation. His answer was, “What is life without a little treatment?” So, if we look at art as being a little treatment, we can capture the passage of art in life and its role in the existence. It isn’t just Tsiaras’s words that tell us that this interpretation has given us the right heading, but also, and what is more important for an artist, his art, which contains various representational elements that are readable at various levels. This is noted in his process, which goes from the figure to abstraction, which is another problem that has been discussed during this century. In this case, it’s done with an airplane, a machine-object that characterizes our century. But it’s also an object that changes into a cross sign, which gives another passage movement from the present to the past, and from there to the origins of flying, the ancient desire of man to be able to detach himself from the surface of the earth, as described by the western legends of Dedalo and Icaro of the mythology of Greece, the land of the artist’s forefathers. Here, his painting clarifies the relationship between a collective myth and the individual condition and becomes a model for the referencing and positioning of man in relation to reality. So, Tsiaras’s painting depicts the desire to transform the earth, modify its real condition in Paradise or Hell through the occult obsession of abolishing the force of gravity for those who believe we were all condemned after the Original Sin was committed. In fact, in several of his series of paintings, airplanes become crosses in the midst of a multitude of floating eyes which cannot help but remind one of the eyes of a God (Jehovah, Allah) or many gods (Zeus, Jove, Hermes-Mercury, Poseidon-Neptune, Hephaestus- Vulcan, etc. etc.). These are celestial looks and signs of suffering; symbols once again of birth-life-death-rebirth, that are always confirmed in the same interview by the power of attraction the artist gives to religious imagery. This confirms that there is another connection between art and humanity which, through religion, myths and magic, tries to come into contact with man’s inner strata, with his psyche; so much so that Tsiaras defines an artist as being “a good shaman that creates obscure myths.” Whether he creates or recreates makes no difference when, as in this case, he points out and makes us relive old legends or myths by using a new form. And so we’re back to the form we mentioned at the start. In fact, whether it has to do with flying, or is a many-faceted portrait, or vice versa, the artist isn’t giving us solutions -which is probably not his job -but personal visions which are also visions of the world, because these are rooted in the world, the world of the artist that puts individual imagery in communication with collective imagery. This is why the sign that Tsiaras has adopted in his painting, albeit a personal cipher, harks back to the avant-garde culture of the early part of this century -such as Expressionism and Surrealism- which worked on the problems concerning origin (who doesn’t recall the expressionistic original yell?) and on individuality (who doesn’t know about the relationship the surrealists tried to establish with psychoanalysis?)
Well, then, the aspects of the individual, of origin, and the collectivity are put on canvas with a language of synthesis which goes against cultural conventions and tabus, with the help of elemental signs, basic structures and informal liquid which are beyond both advance guards and rear guards, beyond the past to the primitive cultures, the origins, where the expression visualizes and becomes the metaphor of the world-universe in formation; and it is precisely art which must be concerned with providing it with a form, meaning and vision.