KATERINA KOTSALA – SISYPHUS. Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center
Peter Linde Busk on Katerina Kotsala’s work, on the occasion of her solo exhibition, “Sisyphus”, in Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center in 2018
Far Away, So Close
Though in a way Katerina is just starting out (this being her first solo exhibition), she is a very mature artist and this exhibition shows this clearly. She is not trying to show everything she is capable of – and believe me, she is capable of a lot of things! – No, instead she is boiling it down, making it condensed and focused. When you are surrounded by the paintings this becomes even more impressive, as you get the sense that the sensations, moods and memories that Katerina had to revisit to make these paintings could have been difficult to be in and the act of painting very demanding, both physically and mentally. Camus made the myth of Sisyphus into a metaphor for the absurdity of life. But it also works as a metaphor for the act of painting, which, at least for me, more often than not is an endless series of failed attempts, disappointment and frustration. Even a successful painting is a disappointment to the artist, and that’s why the whole thing starts all over again.
Looking at Katerina’s new body of paintings it’s obvious that not only does she have a profound sense of colour and composition, she also has a strong knowledge of art history and an ability to create different moods and suggest different landscapes and narratives through dynamic, yet sensitive, brushwork. She can, with very limited means and the smallest variations, create a richness and an impressive sense of space.
In her compositions she moves freely and changes swiftly between different modes of observation and points of perspective. She masters different styles of painting and mixes them effortlessly. Her painterly vocabulary is very strong. She never overdoes anything and though the brushstrokes are free and fluid there is also a restraint, it’s never reduced to just vacant gestural bravura, never succumbs to quick flashy tricks, everything is tempered and considered. It’s obvious that Katerina knows what she wants to communicate and how she achieves this goal. Though the palette is reduced to muted purple and blues, she manages to create distinctly different moods and atmospheres in the individual paintings, like a musician changes effortlessly between minor and major. She can work with recurring motives without them appearing repetitive or contrived. Her use of the silhouette is also very interesting and is one example of how her work is embedded in knowledge of art history.
Katerina’s paintings are obviously beautiful, but there is a lot more to them than that, the lingering melancholia in the blueish purple strikes a more sinister, dark tone when you get closer to the paintings. There is actually something quite disturbing about these paintings, a bit like a Lars von Trier film, where the darkness slowly reveals itself onto the surface, and so when you go closer and look at the myriads of patterns and designs, you think, what is this? They could be read as beautiful crystals, but they could just as easily be read as cancerous cells or an aerial view on a bombed out city.
This ambiguity about what you are looking at in the paintings, and from which perspective (are we looking at something very close or very far away), also make you very aware of your own presence and of your own body. Are we flying up high above a post-apocalyptic landscape or are we looking at a biopsy through a tell-tale microscope. Are we moving through a disenchanted landscape or disintegrated cell wall, a coral reef or a wasteland, a map of a diseased mind or body? Who knows? Moving around the exhibition I am not sure if the landscape is inviting or terrifying but that keeps me on my toes. Step carefully.
There is a darkness below the surface, there is a current beneath the calm sea, we are in a world created by Katerina and the beauty and the terror are equally compelling.
Peter Linde Busk