Alexander Kritselis: Travelers of Glow and Sorrow at Groundspace Project
written by Kathy Zimmerer
Large, brilliantly hued paintings encompassing epic themes comprise Alex Kritselis’ current work. Unfolding in cinematic fashion, his monumental narrative, Epitaphios in Alepo/Travelers of Glow and Sorrow, speaks cogently to the current anxieties and problems of our time. Echoing an ancient Greek bas-relief in format and structure but converted to a flat surface, this painting on vellum paper is a monumental homage to the brutal Syrian civil war. The action is expanded through broad areas of expressionistic strokes intertwined with veils of blood red paint. The ghostly figures of ancient warriors fight for their life in a long painterly passage populated with horses and chariots; which is a battle seemingly repeated every generation. Doomed to endlessly repeat the terrible cycle of killing and loss, these warriors become contemporary, fighting urgently for the existence of their country. Though not the tanks and missile launchers of the Syrian conflict, the underlying terror of war is portrayed in all its anguish.
In his large scale paintings, Kritselis’ laser eye absorbs the imagery of mass media and focuses on tragedy and injustice, beginning with the mutilation of foot binding, through the horrors Hiroshima, and the Syrian conflict. In Lotus Isn’t A Flower/Travelers of Glow and Sorrow, the beauty of an elegant Chinese shoe is juxtaposed with the distorted shape of a bound foot. While loosely painted drips run from the images, the richly colored embroidery of the shoe is in direct contrast to the x ray which shows the inherent disfiguration of the foot bones. In this painting, he effectively shows how the societal norms of the aristocratic Chinese trumped the normalcy of nature to encourage this mutilation.
Kritselis continues to juxtapose jarring images in the Ring Master/Travelers of Glow and Sorrow, as a sparkling wedding ring exists side by side with a man being hung from his feet. This narrative echoes his painting of a Siberian diamond mine that closed a decade ago, Unalterable/Places of Glow and Sorrow, leaving a desecrated landscape and thousands of miners out of work. In Ring Master, the brilliance of the wedding ring is effectively muted by his scumbling of the paint and the pixilation of the image. The tortuous image of the man hanging marks the huge contradictory human and environmental cost of the diamond mines where hardship is routine, all to produce glittering baubles of excessive consumption. Kritselis writes, “In the Ring Master I address the journey we engage with long-term relationships and the symbols that play out along the way (including) loaded promises, gleaming and precious gifts, major disappointments and an industry that exist(s) on the backs of people’s hard labor under hellish condition(s).”
Ineffaceable/Hiroshima/Places of Glow and Sorrow is a haunting view of e Hiroshima after the atomic bomb, with skeletal buildings, especially the Hiroshima Dome, arrayed in vivid hues of yellow, turquoise, magenta and red. This bright palette only makes the destruction all the more palpable, as an extensive cityscape begins to crumple in his deteriorating expanse of uneven and unfettered brushstrokes leaving the buildings as the only witness to the explosion. Joined in the narrative is the perfectly preserved footprint of Neil Armstrong on his first walk on the moon, which is depicted in blazing yellows and electric blues. As in much of his work, this juxtaposition of two images from pivotal moments in history is revealing. Both the footprint on the moon and the Hiroshima nuclear shadows, the elusive vestiges of the life, are forever frozen in time. The footprint on the moon represents the height of man’s triumph of exploration; the desolate remains of Hiroshima the depths of man’s inhumanity.
Alexander Kritselis: Travelers of Glow and Sorrow, Groundspace Project, Feb 25- March 25, 2017. Artist’s talk and closing reception March 25, 4 – 6 pm