Kiki Kolympari in Athens

The motifs that are depicted in Kiki Kolympari’s work have familiar features, yet it is not usually possible to fully identify what objects or situations the artist had in mind when she started the painting. Some of them behave like words on the tip of your tongue, almost but not fully  recognizable. What is depicted could be a bag, a trunk, a shopping cart, or a figure seeing itself in the mirror. In multiple paintings, there is a human presence – the color of skin, body-shaped curves, or hints of a person in an interior, a building, or a landscape.

The paintings have one foot in the world as we know it and the other foot in abstraction and imagination. The artist extracted certain shapes from what she saw, and then she changed the color, allowed a line or detail to grow, to have a life of its own. She let accidents happen, let paint run or drip. She moved away from what was observed and instead directed her attention to the dynamics the shapes evoke, creating an afterimage or a further development of the initial motif.

What happens when we look at a painting and cannot immediately name the things depicted? Instead of identifying a subject matter or a scene, we can look at other aspects: at texture, at details, at how a curve bends, at how two colors bond or contrast. The paintings offer us a range of sensibilities caused by colors at play. These aspects relate primarily to the question of how it was painted, not what was painted.

What can be appreciated in Kolympari’s approach is how she shifts gears within individual works. Firm, decisive brushstrokes evoking speed press against other areas where the paint is brought on thin or remains calm. Bold gestures give the paintings a general outline, a sense of stability, while softer and gentler areas create nuances. The works present themselves as a play of balancing forces.

The question of how something is painted points to the haptic quality of painting, a feeling of touch that can best be enjoyed close to the surface, practically right on top of the work, to observe precisely how things are made. A few steps further back, the focus is on the  orchestration of the whole, the play between fore- and background, the compositional balance, a feeling of floating or gravity, and, sometimes, a scene that reveals itself as an interior or view to the outside. There are competing conceptions of space within the paintings, the flatness of the painted surface broken by the occasional illusion of depth.

With these works, the artist does not attempt to educate  or make any points about the state of the world, the next crisis, or the right solution. Rather, she presents a series of visual situations that have their roots in daily life, but were transformed into something different. A painted presence that is just as much illusion as it is material fact.

This text was written on the occasion of the exhibition Kiki Kolympari ‘Afterimages’ at Athens Art Gallery. The exhibition is on view till Saturday 18.6.2022.