Concrete ground, waist-high concrete wall, a chain-link fence on top of it. On the ground are two people, who have just fallen, their hands held out as if to protect themselves. A man quickly rushes as he steps over them. He still has the entire width of the canvas Fargo II (2002/2003, 55 x 69 inch) to cross. The eyes of the woman lying on the sidewalk attempt to catch the eyes of the fleeing man. Does she want to read his mind by looking into his eyes? Is she sending out a warning not to approach her? Her companion, who is lying next to her, is looking out of the picture and in the direction in which the man is hurrying. What could he possibly see there? A threat? A victim? The cause of the catastrophe? Is the fleeing man a hero? A criminal? An undercover policeman?
A different scene The Great Hope (2002): Again concrete ground. A green brick wall of an industrial building. A steel door. A man sitting on the ground with his back against the door. Presumably a tramp. He throws an orange plastic bag to a woman whose short black coat, which she has thrown over her white undergarments, unveils her instead of covering her. It’s a call for attention, an offer of protection, at the same time a proposition. Immediately the conditions of destitution and impoverishment, in which both figures find themselves, become apparent.
Brecht’s lovely Buckow – the cozy weekend – at once this is all forgotten. My girlfriend, still sitting in the car, hadn’t slipped my mind – I wanted to run upstairs and have a quick look – but she’d have to wait. For more canvases are calling for my immediate and absolute attention. Fargo I (2002), for example. It does not explain the source of confusion in “Fargo II”, as one might assume considering the title, nor is it a precursor to Fargo II; rather, it is much more a different episode, a variation of the theme. The viewer recognizes three protagonists, although in different clothing. Two of them crouch on the ground, mechanically seeking shelter behind the waste-high concrete wall. One, standing upright, gazes into the distance, his eyes following the pointing finger of a new figure. A threat, a sudden change in the condition is felt. However, one cannot directly observe the change, but instead must read it in the faces and the posture of the standing figures. We have a choir in front of us, a kind of ancient choir who looks over the wall of the city and announces to those remaining in the Agora what approaches them, what threatens them, what might pass by them. Only the choir does not sing. Its formation, in which individuality was non-existent, has dissolved. Excitement has quieted the choir; it has disbanded into individual figures. What these figures see has immediately taken control of their bodies, has entered their bodies, and carries out each struggle. We are the witnesses of all of this and we try to make sense of it.
Buckow has been lost in a distance; what should one do in a lovely countryside, overly depicted by admirers of Brecht, who has been interpreted a million times and over decades of theater performances? In comparison, miniscule is the time span that the viewer devotes to these barely dry canvases, which is in itself miniscule in comparison to the time that the painter spends in front of a painting. One feels compelled to devote an equal amount of time deciphering motives, lines, the story of its coming into existence, and constellations for each painting. Buckow can wait.
Kalaizis, so it emerges, paints movies. He never copies them. For example, where in his Fargo paintings is the snow of North Dakota, which is the sign of all-encompassing loneliness in the film of the Coen brothers, and which connects at the same time in its all-encompassing nature each disparate life in a hostile-friendly way? The painter’s snow is concrete, chain-link fences, and enclosed lawns. At least in Europe, in Leipzig, where the lawn automatically ends at a chain-link fence.
Just as Kalaizis does not extend the film onto the canvas, his paintings are not still movie pictures taken from the flow of time. They are too pure, too constructed for that. There is no crack in the concrete. There are no cigarette butts, no cola cans, no dead birds lying on the ground. The reality is not realistic; rather, it is abstract.
This first impression becomes stronger during our conversation. The painter, who is busy hanging his paintings for the exhibit, explains that he creates primarily from his immediate environment. However, he reduces the abundance of details, which he finds on the way from his apartment to his studio, to a few elements. Leipzig’s picturesque decayed factory architecture is no longer recognizable. The scenery comes across as cool, clear, and staged. Somewhat artificial,”plain in an American way”, as one likes to say in Europe.
The design process takes place slowly, reveals Kalaizis. First he goes on the search for pictures. He hunts down forms and then captures them with his camera. He then separates and sorts his “catch”. Finally he chooses a photograph that contains nothing but the bare essentials. He declares it as the base of his constructed fantasy and hangs it above his bed. And he ponders. And he dreams. And he sleeps. In his mind he experiments with visual axes, light relationships, colors, the relationship between sharp and soft forms. A constellation, which will often become populated, emerges rather unconsciously. But not by persons – that’s where the viewer often misinterprets the painter; rather, by forms. They resemble persons: for example, a friend, a critic, a colleague, his gallerist, his wife. However, it’s not about persons; it’s about elements, torn from everyday life, isolated and kept in his mind as schemata, which he later brings into the context of a painting. Their presence in the painting allows them to be forgotten as pure form. But maybe one is still too influenced by Brecht, by figures placed in structures of power, who are protagonists of orders with their flesh-filled principles, and who are not just forms.
A second meeting, shortly before Kalaizis' first big show Uncertain Pursuits (2005, Marburg) is marked at first by a more personal exchange. We realize that we are almost the same age, that we both loved soccer earlier in our lives – we always stuck with the small teams, the rebels, the ones without money (Chemie Leipzig and Union Berlin). Yes, we probably were even at crucial matches in the same city, in the same stadium, only on different sides. We both experienced East Germany, grew up in East Germany with all the securities which no longer exist and with all the limitations which were imposed on us – and a few new ones have taken their place, but I will leave this discussion out of this catalogue. Aris Kalaizis grew up the son of Greek emigrants, the son of children who were brought to East Germany by parents who feared for their lives during the Greek Civil War. Although integrated, they were representatives of another culture, a culture that others often secretly admired, a culture which could not truly exist. However, it existed through memories, and – they discovered after 1989 – the culture as they lived it in East Germany had distanced itself from the native Greece, which had changed over time. One is apt to retrieve this position of the uncertain, the introverted, the secretive contemplator in the work of the son of the emigrants. However, this would be considered too deterministic, for it understands man in his complete and contradictory molding and sees the artist as the skeleton of the social structure.