Remember me on this computer
Maria Xagorari
About this artwork
oil on canvas
h.40cm w.30cm d.0cm
Mar 2008

Maria's Description: This is a study for a bigger painting of my friend Peter. He has this idea of a large full body portrait he asked me to paint, which I find most intreaging and chalenging. I hope to be able to start it soon.

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2008-03-30 04:17

Dear Maria, if you keep making one breakthrough after another the whole building's going to collapse. Since that Madrid trip you've been on fire, was it the Rego show or just your El Greco experience at The Prado? Come on, don't be bashful tell us about both, I know you can. Write us an essay about either or both under the "Artist's Cafe" listing in the Forum.
This is a great little painting. your colours are getting very strong and just look at the great painting of the hair and novel forms around the neck. You're forcing me to change some of my ideas and notions. From your seemingly traditional art background I'm pleasantly surprised at the very contemporary work you seem to be moving towards, You can respond here, but I know it's good for a really thought provoking piece on your recent Prado experience so I'm prepared to wait for your essay

2008-03-30 12:22

I am not sure I understand the first sentence. Do you mean I am moving in different directions simultaneously and risk getting lost?
You might get your essay my dear but maybe not just so soon. The whole Madrid experience did inject new energy and ideas in my veins, as did too great Greeks, Papaloukas and Fidakis, I saw in Athens a month ago. For the record, it was first Goya, secondly Velasquez and not at all El Greco. Rego played her major part too. However, I have been trying to avoid giving a name to what happened inside for fear of lessening its power. I would rather put it on canvas first and afterwards in words. The reason is that this experience opened me up in a visual way and gave birth to something which I don’t want to confine in a limited descriptive effort. Not before it gets its roots strong and well planted. Also because I will be able to comprehend it completely only after it will have sprouted up and appropriate names can be chosen for its genre.

2008-03-30 17:36

Sorry I worded that poorly , I was trying to combine a couple of notions. One of them being that your work of late is changing and the other that deconstruction is necessary for reconstruction. For me that path has always begun with the experiments of the early 1900s. Inspired by Cezanne's constructed impressionism that led to all the isms that followed; cubism, orphism, suprematism, etc. All terrible names for essentially the same thing, the fragmenting and rethinking of the two dimensional picture plane. Whereas you seem to be coming at it from a completely different set of models and I find that very interesting.
For a time you worked with greys and I wondered why does Maria from sunny colour saturated Greece limit herself to grey now I see it was a part of your process to gain a better mastery of colour. Really my comments were meant to be complimentary because I'm excited about your new work and although I'm not sure exactly where you're coming from I sense you're definitely on the road to something unique and doing it in your own way.
Since I started responding to your comment I see you have posted a Forum entry and I've just read it. It's a lovely bit of writing and I'm going to have to reread it and give it some additional thought. Thanks for that.

2008-03-30 18:57

You see that is what I was trying to say once on a comment I made your Head #6. As I understand it, what happened in the early 1900 was the fragmenting and rethinking of the object first and the way we perceive it and then that of the two dimensional picture plane. Cezanne for example talked about representing the world using the cube, the cone and the sphere and not the square, the triangle and circle. It was all about understanding the most elementary structural elements beneath things and consequently learn to perceive nature through its structure. Once achieved, this new way of seeing, it was like revealing the matrix so you could enter the forms and play from the inside. Rearrange, decompose, reconstruct. All about the form. Colour came second. Allow me to believe that suprematism was the only –ism that had little to do with form and vision. Again, as I understand it, it was rather an iconoclastic movement that had more to do with theology than visual perception.

Now, thank you so much for believing in my efforts. I am extremely interested in understanding what you see in them, so I will ask you to try and define what you mean. When I was working with grays what I was looking for was the form i.e. the structure, and I still am. I suppose this improvement of the colours came naturally as I am becoming more experienced and less a chicken in front of the canvas. For the record again, my background, meaning what they were teaching when I went to school, is exactly the early 1900 breakthrough. That is why I think my work may have taken a promising turn but not an entirely new one. It is my turn to thank you for the “unique” and say I am not entirely sure I agree.

2008-03-31 01:33

My lesson from Cezanne is different than the way you perceive it but then everyone has there own take. The so called cubists are all very different maybe Leger comes the closest to using that Cezanne famous quote literally. My understanding is almost the opposite in learning to see two dimensional structure without any perception of the object but it doesn't matter, it's all subjective.

As for the second part of your comment and what it is that I find of interest in your newer work... well I see some loosening of the whole perspectival spatial thing, a relaxing and allowing earlier attempts to live as a kind of pentimento, like in your painting Travel, where I think you just left a bit of an earlier attempt at placement because you liked it. I don't think you did it on purpose but you did leave it on purpose for the sheer joy of the mystery and ambiguity of it. Or the two Twins paintings where there's a lot of ambiguity in many of the dark forms. What is it exactly we're looking at, well who cares? You know what it is and you trust your instincts enough to leave it alone because it just feels right. Whether I or anyone else can make it out doesn't matter as long as it makes abstract pictorial sense. The viewer's brain will make of it what it will.

Now in this painting there's again something new, as I said earlier I particularly like what's happening in the neck because you're digging deep looking for new form, different colour, I'm not sure exactly what's being described but I like it, it's mysterious and feels very masterful and reminds me of Velasques yet very much today. And I will defend the use of the word "unique" for although there's a lot of crossover in all the things we do, our understandings and takes on everything even the meaning of words varies from person to person. Take the word Cubism that probably meant something different to every so called practitioner of it. Yet it was only the writers and theorists who would come up with some supreme inviolable definition. So when you take a promising turn it's your unique promising turn based on your unique sensibility and vision.

Anyway that's the way I see it and you may disagree with all that I've said. But I do think you're on to something, keep digging, have no fear and rip open everything like you did here with that neck.

2008-03-31 20:28

Well, you may be right and I may be inventing things the way they suit me best. Sometimes we see what we want to see but it doesn’t matter really.

Thanks for the analysis. That’s the way I see what I do too and I am happy it is visible to others. Except the pentimento thing, which was in fact intentional. Actually, this is funny, it was one of the very few times I ever did a preparatory sketch! It was my first attempt to lose perspective and mix foreground with background, focusing at different parts at the same time. The result was a little timid, or maybe I just liked the composition and feared I might ruin it if I added more figures as I initially intended. I must tell you that this idea of multiple focusing, experimenting on which I will return to in time, occurred to me looking at some of your wrestling figures and your trains. If you look through your portfolio you will find an old comment of mine under Subway Painting II. What I saw in it was some sort of layers between all those vertical lines, very close to one another that seemed to flatten the image on the surface of the canvas, regardless the perspective. It felt like a back and forth visual vibration. The legs on your Staircase and Figures have also got me thinking a lot. You may have used the effect to capture motion or whatever but it got me thinking of multiple focusing. It is interesting how our brain works and what kind of completely different things we may connect.

In this little Peter’s portrait I can see the effect of having recently seen what a good painting’s surface should be like and how the brush should be heavy with colour if you want each brushstroke to be meaningful and self sufficient. I used to rub my paint a lot and get dull results before Madrid.

2008-03-31 22:36

Thanks for a very good conversation. Having reread your contribution to the Forum I think It's a beautiful piece of writing, I didn't want to respond there because I'd like to see it remain on the home page for a while before it gets buried. Hopefully other people will get some enjoyment from it. It's certainly a most evocative description of what seems to have been a very powerful and memorable gallery visit. Personally I've always been somewhat uneasy about those paintings although I recognize their importance and where they fit in Spanish history.

Here's a question for you, from what I know of the work you do and now this new found passion for those particular Goya paintings I'm just wondering if it's an ambition of yours to do away with models and photos and paint directly from your imagination?

By the way the legs on my Staircase and Figures was in a sense some kind of pentimento, it wasn't planned. It happens to me quite often where I'll try what I think is a better attempt at placement or whatever and then leave the remnant because it suggests movement or it just feels right. I guess my analysis was a projection on my part.

2008-04-01 11:30

To some extent, I already do paint from my imagination given the fact that I use the model (live or not) as a guide to anatomy and then set it in my own space. For the time being I still need my figures to be real people, with real stories and characters for I still tell tails that begin in the sphere of personal experience and hope to be later elevated to universal for the viewer who will project his own on them. You might have noticed how my paintings are always of one person only. This is a limitation which I am trying to overcome, especially since “Ditch”, which was an attempt to introduce a completely imaginary combination of members, even if shy and only at one corner. I trust I am experienced enough with anatomy in order to invent figures myself, but it takes guts to let go of mom nature’s hand and cross the road on my own. However, the road will be crossed sooner or later as it has been the plan from the beginning. One early painting that attempted that was “The Furies or The Step”. It was changed a zillion times and took two years to find a solution, but apart from the face and hands that came from photos shot on purpose, the rest was invented. I remember I was so happy with that clothing that, to me, was the most expressive part of the painting. It must have been worth something because somebody paid good money for it in the end.

Coming to our previous discussion on background, it is funny to think how at school, producing realistic images was looked down on after the third or fourth year. In some mysterious way we all felt as if there was some high imperative to reach “transformation” and “transfiguration” or whatever. You would be amazed to see what desperate efforts I used to make then, when I left my model the last two years. It took years of frustration to find that I wasn’t ready yet, and run back to nature for nurture.

Lately, I have been using this example that I thought of, which seems to apply on so many different cases. From confused adolescent students of mine, to human relationships, to art:
“Everybody complains that tomatoes don’t taste like tomatoes any more. This is because nobody waits for tomatoes to take their time growing any more.”

2008-04-01 21:30

I'll take that as a yes. There was no value judgement in my question, where art is involved there's always imagination at work. Take the work of one of our Art Process colleagues Jeroen Witvliet, if you take a look at his portfolio you'll see a few works based on newspaper images. If you've ever looked closely at a photo in the newspaper or anywhere else for that matter you quickly realize that there's very little information there and it takes a great deal of imagination to see into the image and bring something of life back to it.

Yes The Furies or The Step is one of your stand out works, I've often stopped to look at it and now when I look at it your love of the Black Paintings makes even more sense. You're quite right though painting figuratively from imagination requires a thorough knowledge of anatomy and the rules of perspective both of which I tried as best as I could to forget but then I have no desire to paint like that. I've met animators and comic strip artists who think I can't draw worth a damn yet the kind of drawing I do is quite different from what they do and I think fairly proficient for what I want to achieve. So there are no absolutes even when it comes to drawing.

We're constantly working around our own deficiencies and everyone has them, real or perceived. Take Bacon he generally couldn't paint multiple figures, I speculate that he couldn't get them to relate properly. The double image paintings from Muybridge's photos don't count as they're essentially one figure, so he devised a way around the whole thing, thus the tryptichs... pretty tricky, eh?

2008-04-03 09:15

Ah, drawing! This is by far my favourite subject. I always appreciate a chance to talk about it. Well, people who would ask you what it is that you paint at cocktail parties as well as comic strip artists, confuse what I call drawing with the ability to create convincing resemblance using outlines. The kind of drawing ability an artist needs, instead, is that of picking out and combining different bits and pieces from the immense stock of visual forms that sleep tight in our visual memory, in such a way that he/she can create new, unprecedented ones but yet full with emotionally accessible meaning. To add to this, the artist’s ability to draw serves as his tool for recognizing what elements are needed or need to be left out from the whole of his (painted or sculpted etc) creature in order to give it visual balance, guide the viewer through its scape of forms, and make it “readable”. Now whether the figures are realistic or not and whether the depth of the pictorial space (if needed) is created using traditional perspective or not are another matter. Viewers who look for all this in a work are simply confusing depiction with description and are any way less likely to appreciate any kind of art for its inherent qualities.

Speaking of Witvliet’s work, you can see good drawing, among other things, in his Buonas Noches. This is not because the cops’ gear is shown in a detailed manner nor because you see the outline of a German shepherd. But because of how the image gains all its power from its layout, the missing parts one can imagine, the choice and the positioning of coloured patches in the gray space. You can also see how the ability to draw directs you to eliminate the bed’s bars from your new painting and then reintroduce them differently and add the shape of a lamp and then duplicate it and another piece of white pillow and so on. Not because you need a pillow and a lamp and information about the bed being iron. But because you need those shapes and patches of colour and lines there that continue into other lines through the bodies and produce balance of this or the other kind, according to one’s intentions. All this is drawing. The distortion of perspective or proportion of the human body is good drawing when it is necessary to the painting’s content. Take the screaming figures in the Guernica. Their screams are louder and more deafening than any realistic figure with an open mouth. In order though to master such screaming figures, you need first to be able to draw open mouths. Once you conquer those you can do what you wish with them.

2008-04-03 22:47

Beautifully said and I certainly agree with all of it just allow me to add a few thoughts on the topic because drawing for me is everything. In my work I really can't differentiate between painting and drawing. Seemingly, according to all the folks that curate shows, judge competitions, etc. drawing seems to have to do with line and is done in medium such as graphite, charcoal, pen and ink, I think washes (watercolour or ink are allowed), recently oil stick and magic marker are acceptable but oil on canvas or acrylic or whatever on canvas enters the realm of painting. So as far as I can make out according to all the experts basically it's about the media used and the support (primarily paper) which if you analyze it doesn't make any sense but that's the case with a whole lot of things when it comes to the visual arts. The schools are churning out all kinds of experts with BFAs and MFAs for the purpose of what? Beats the hell out of me because, let's face it, art (at least the making of it) cannot be taught. Each individual artist has to rediscover it and reinvent it for their own selves

Sorry back to the topic, drawing to me is the record of an artist's thought and that's all. It's how artists tackle the measurement of their visual experience and everything a creative or unique artist does is all wrapped up in that, they have to discover their own process of measurement. All you can do, and I'm talking to you as a teacher, is try to put your students on the road to that. "Here's the three dimensional world and here's some stuff that makes marks (pencils, paint, crayons, mud, lipstick,shit, whatever) and the the two dimensional support, now go figure it out, use whatever means you can, rulers, camera obscura, whatever, there's no such thing as cheating simply find a way to translate your three dimensional view of things, two dimensionally and take your time because it will probably take your whole life to do it." What makes an artist unique is his/her signature style and that all comes down to their individual measure.

This is not not an abstract vs. realism issue. I tell my friends who are abstract painters, "Draw, just draw anything that's of interest, look deeply and don't be self conscious about your lack of skill (because most of them are, they can't shake off their art school training) I don't care how lame or inept your drawings will seem to you, they will inform and strengthen your abstract work".


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