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 regime of individualism.

S: What are your experiences of growing up such a “Regime 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