Marianna Katsoulidi’s latest work departs from vivid color to arrive at non colors, at black, white, and grey. Her technique is original: oils and painting rollers. It is an intensely gestural painting lacking sketch, which lends dynamism to her works. The white canvas makes the paintings appear like large charcoal or ink drawings while she plays with the light and challenges the viewer to finish the story of each work with his own imagination. As for the large dimensions, they come to grace her subjects with an epic quality.
Her work is generally characterized by the dominance of the dreamy – imaginary element, the presence – at times – of objects of uncertain identity, and the quality of her subjects that often refer to life in nature. With man and his relationship with animals as her theme, some of her works are vividly reminiscent of Marc Chagall.
In antiquity, artists showed a distinct preference for depicting virtues, heroes and gods in the form of animals that were in some cases considered their incarnation. In the Greco – Roman pantheon, gods are also symbolized by various animals: Zeus by the eagle, Hera by the peacock… The first Christians symbolized Christ as a lamb, dove, deer, peacock or fish. The lamb is symbolic of Christ in the mosaics of the Gala Placidia mausoleum in Ravenna, and much later in Van Eyck’s The Lamb of God. In the zoomorphic symbolism of the Medieval Scholastics, the various monsters – the unicorn or the centaur – are often combined with real animals that may represent a specific phase of Christ’s life, while the goat depicts Satan.
Marianna Katsoulidi creates her own iconography and her own zoomorphic symbolism: the dog symbolizes faith, the dove freedom, the goat fertility and strength but also tragedy, the horse patience, loyalty and service. And each person is attributed a quality depending on the animal that stands beside him.
“I wish to create my own truth”, she tells us. And she makes a whole world – moulded as a dream – of divine justice, selflessness and the affection of animals. The features of the people she paints are not always clear, and often man looks like a toy. Games, as well as fairy tales, aspire at entertaining and exercising the mind while passing discreet messages. So, with an intense element of play and fairy tale, and in a romantic mood, Marianna Katsoulidi breaths on canvas an ‘old’ soul in a contemporary way: much like a faded photograph; or even a porcelain, in its clear lines but also its acutely fragile character.
She says about her work: “I use images from porcelains – bibelots of very small dimensions. I over magnify them and as a result they lose their initial scope. I don’t work naturalistically: I remove the color, I simplify the design and most of the times change it altogether. I use the porcelains solely as a stimulus. They are about some distant memory of my childhood. Looking at similar statuettes in my grandmother’s house, I would feel spellbound and create different stories about them depending on my mood. I remember I used to believe that they would come alive when nobody would be looking and that they would live various magical or simple stories… The figures are neat and simple, sometimes with an almost dancelike movement and other times rigid and frozen in the passing of time. Under no circumstances do I aspire to simply illustrate these figures. I wish to look at them again in good humor and nostalgia and play the part of the director making my own syntheses on the canvas”.
In contrast with what happens in reality, in her painting, man and nature coexist harmoniously, since fairy tale is a narrative coined with poetical imagination of the world of magic and the supernatural, and with no logical dependence on real life’s terms. So, her animals represent the joy of life, purity and innocence, and the people she paints stand for the fundamental principles of ethics. Her singular realism recalls the 18th and 19th century romanticism: the turn to nature, the emphasis on the subjective sensitivity, the emotion and imagination in contrast with logic, and the study of the past.
As for the title she gives to the exhibition, it is not arbitrary at all. Many a time, we need to return to innocence in order to be able to start once again from the beginning. And that is precisely the innocence she describes in her paintings. She pushes the viewer ahead by showing him what lay behind. It is about an affectionate, feminine look at things, so much needed in the era we are living in, and it is a counter proposal to the already standing art. A counter proposal, because it does not capture the world as it is but suggests solutions for a better life, with man at its center and the recovery of principles and values – in black and white – since they are threatened with extinction.
Art Historian & Critic