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Kritikou : Familiar and unfamiliar illustrations in Vasilis’ Soulis work.

Painting is an independent, pragmatic practice, but at the same time something with inherent magical properties. Being in my lab is identical to being in my private theatre.
                                                                                                                                            Paula Rego




    In his first solo exhibition, Vasilis Soulis submits a series of paintings, mostly in large dimensions, depicting the solitary portraits of his intimates in paradoxical, sometimes, annoying ways. Many of these paintings have initially been created as smaller drafts, each experimenting with different movements, expressions, moods and compositional elements. They make immediate references to people preoccupying almost entirely the artist’s optical and emotional scope: his parents, other relatives, friends and young children who live in neighboring apartments are portrayed by Soulis in oxymoron and unexpected postures without the slightest intention of embellishment; initially as ‘directed’ photographic snapshots and then as painting portraits where models are dressed in clothes he chooses from their daily garments, converting them into makeshift costumes, occupying almost entirely the living space of the canvas and eliminating with their dominant presence the external environment they belong to. The objects, isolated from their natural environment but connected to his portraits, are presented scattered and magnified thus acquiring a new substance: a worn suitcase or a red children's train (where the seemingly innocent game turns into something latently harsh). Being painted in different versions, they turn into symbols in a narration of the invisible spacetime where the person portrayed resides. While painting, Soulis abandons the safety of a fixed plan and skilfully leads the viewer’s gaze to the basic core of his subject through the dense, dark colors, their perpetual melting and rewriting, the density and non finito included in the painting process.

   Influences from Lucian Freud, Paula Rego and Jean Rustin are visible in the painter’s work, where the depiction of the natural existence of his figures gradually turns into an obsessive representation of their solitary confinement in a predetermined ‘internal’ environment. Observing the new artist’s figures, we will probably agree with Freud’s view that ‘there is a mystery hovering over the scene-painting’, ‘something more or less expected, but certainly an individual style of painting, through which the artwork gradually emerges, even when we cannot exactly know the source of inspiration’. What one paints is added to our understanding of him; of the sources and skills that led him to this project. Through the painter’s eyes, the image gets an unexpected look and acquires a particular characteristic which according to Lawrence Gowing ‘nobody had previously observed’. We may even recognize in Vasilis’ Soulis work some of the principles underlying Paula’s Rego painting improvisations as in a similar way his portraits, apparently representing his family, reverse the obvious truth of the image, turning it into something unfamiliar, or more precisely, according to Judith Collins: ‘into a deconstructed intimacy that does not protect but sharpens, tying us to the innermost in a riveting and reflexive observation relationship’.

    His portraits, giving vent to the imagination of their creator as well as that of the viewer, are not easily arranged in the canvas. They are displayed in full body swelling, without actually looking at the viewer; in angular or serpentine poses. Choking within the specified canvas, they balance in straight but unstable positions. They twist, curl up, crawl and bend as they detect the ‘mystery’ of color, the raw material of the representational substance that makes eye contact exciting. The paintings refer to the fragile and sometimes tough nature of the portrayed images, the underlying joy and sorrow that along with their physical characteristics, rush to the canvas.

     Through his work, that moves to a compression frame which cannot be broken, the painter’s personal memories, tensions and childhood pressures emerge; the chaotic but precious parts of his personal experiences. His images emerging from his memory or imagination are full of inventive and often suggestive content. Thus, they organize claustrophobic interiors and hostile areas with hard shadows. Along with the artist’s unconscious thoughts, his paintings depict the underlying human cruelty and the potential humiliation as well as a desire to escape from the strict moral and social codes governing these figures that by definition cannot be broken.

    Looking ultimately at this fledgling painting by Soulis, we can also refer to its theatrical nature, which as in Paula’s Rego case the characters are exposed like theatrical heroes, setting up scenes in places where the painter himself curates and provides. Finally, we can even attempt a precipitation in the painter’s subconscious, who as complex processor, importing data, exporting to a different connotation: beyond their theatrical connotation, Vasilis’ Soulis images are still portrayed as real beings in the belief that ‘nature itself has a wider variety and more unexpected versions than any invented field can include.’
                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                    Iris Kritikou January 2009