Vasiliki Sarri is a painter but could very well be termed a multimedia artist. In her own words she does sculpture on canvas and mosaic composed of natural materials. Having received university training as a biologist, Sarri establishes a keen relationship to the materials she employs on her canvases: stones, glass in all its several forms, iron, bronze filings, quartz sand, pyrite, cast iron, sulfur, aluminum, copper, fabrics which she finds in mines and forges along with the more traditional oil and powder pigments.
As a consequence Sarri’s works dispose a rich relief surface that is very compelling to the eye of the beholder. No matter if her paintings involve some minimal representation, the shape of a female figure, a shell or the landscape of the sea bottom, attention is being drawn to the relief structure of her painterly work. This use of unconventional materials which has been ingrained in the modernist avant garde program since the days of futurism, makes Sarri’s work compete with reality rather than represent it. Her paintings are real objects, laden with meanings they carry in their everyday subsistence and as such form an antagonistic relationship to reality.
Her depictions of globe organized in a series of paintings bearing the title Globe I, Globe II, Globe III, give the impression that the title is a pretext to explore the possibilities of painting. Combining a light blue copper color with several shades of brown, the canvas surface contains an hollow form placed in the middle with calm brownish areas on the its margins until the edges of the canvas. The viewer that is keen on abstraction would have perhaps liked these pieces to be untitled so that the mind’s eye can enjoy the painting surface unadulterated from any obligations to reality. However, Sarri insists inserting some representational element as an aid to the viewer’s imagination when in fact the viewer needs no aid whatsoever.
Sarri’s stand with one foot in abstraction and the other in representation is not unprecedented. In the nineteen eighties, the return to representation was prompted after a long and adventurous journey in movements that ventured beyond painting. In Sandro Chia’s words:
I‘ve been through conceptualism, minimalism, everything. There is a new richness to our perception because we went through all that. Now that it’s possible to look at paintings again, we see it not only as paint on canvas, but as something else…A painting is not just an object: it has an aura again. There is a light around the work. It is a miracle in a way. A total concrete, physical miracle. Painting is made with heavy things-stretchers, canvas, paint. Heavy duty things. But they become light.
It is Sandro Chia in Italy, Anselm Kiefer in Germany and Julian Schnabel in the USA to name a few artists in selected countries that became the protagonists in the neoexpressionist return to painting which combined all that painting went through, abstraction and figuration, with the aim of reinstating the medium along with the other new forms of artistic intervention like installations, performances and happenings. Sarri may be said to follow that international tendency to explore the possibilities of painting after having discovered its postmodern counterparts and this is why she does not ascribe to abstraction alone.
This trait of combining abstraction with representation of course comes from far deeper than the nineteen eighties. It was first noted a propos Chaim Soutine’s work and the entire tradition of French expressionism as this was launched in the early twentieth century by Bonnard and Matisse and was appropriated by both abstract expressionism in New York and tachisme in Paris. Willem de Kooning on the one hand and Jean Fautrier on the other claimed to continue the work of the French expressionist masters in their intuitive forms of expression, spontaneous brushwork and thick impasto. In Greece, Rena Papaspyrou’s 1982 Image on Matter series as well as Yannis Kessanlis’s works form the appropriate context in which the international climate of exploration of painting is conveyed and in which one ought to understand Sarri’s paintings. They too, each in their way, combine abstraction and figuration while taking painting to its extreme limits.
Sarri’s itinerary in painting is uncompromising. Combining abstraction and representation, literal and metaphorical meanings, realism and fiction, she develops a personal idiom in painting that endeavors to establish an integral vision of both the medium and the world.
Dr Constantinos V. Proimos, Adjunct Lecturer at the Hellenic Open University and art critic
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