The New Paintings of Stella Viopoulos
by John Austin
Painters of the first rank assert their will onto the beholder of their works not through half-measures but through one dominant method. They make the invisible visible transforming it an unforgettable experience. Stella Viopoulos opens up the world of painting as few artists do. In her new work she begins to shake the very foundations of the prescribed ways of perceiving the world. She entices the beholder of her imagery, in works such as Balance, Abandonment, Harmony, to re-imagine a word through the device of defamiliarizing the viewer, by stripping away the veil of known quantities and effects.
In her paintings the artist applies paint onto somewhat circumspectly flat surfaces. The lower registers of each of her works are painted more darkly than the areas above them. The optical result is an insinuation of ground line or ground level. What hovers above is an open undifferentiated space. The meeting line between the two suggests a horizon line, which stretches, at least in the mind’s eye, forever. Thus, the illusion of planar frontality and undifferentiated space and mass is confronted by the presence and weight of prima materiae, earthen source material. Illusionistic force is met head on with the implaccable real.
For Stella Viopoulos to create such tension between the real and the imaginary is to create a symbolics of form which forces us to consider the role of all art: to create beauty through a transformation of material. A certain suspension of disbelief is critical in all art. In the visual arts there is always a form of gamesmanship that is often played out between a knowing artist who mesmerizes his or her audiences with a play, a circumvention of conventions, which allows what Jorge Luis Borges calls a “lucid dream that endures to become manifest”.
Judging from the abstracted forms with which the artist is immersed and keeping in mind the titles of her paintings Viopoulos is clearly investigating time, space, the passage of memory and the celebration of flux that binds the two together. The dream that endures is that of constant transformation, a reflection on the possibilities of meaning and experience without fixing the conditions or limits of communication. Stella Viopoulos is one of these artists who has mastered the art of the iconoclastic where shibboleths of prescribed forms are allowed to crash to the ground and splinter.
Viopoulos reinvigorates the over all skeins of paint which she covers her pictorial surfaces so as to create a near-Dionysian sense of delirium and amplitude. This frenzy is controlled to such a remarkable degree that the surfaces of the painter’s works assume a type of magical aestheticism, which caresses the eye and subjugates it through its harnessed beauty. It is this quality in which the artist achieves a kind of figuration, while distinct, are not perceived as illusively tangible, as contour or edge that permeates these pure abstractions.
This statement is not to minimize the sensuous, often opulent materiality of their surfaces. The claim this observer is making is that Stella Viopoulos allows materiality to be subsumed within a pictorial whole. Furthermore, in an important sense, her work is based on the negation of materiality as such. The beauty of the artist’s work lies in its many nuances: surfaces compel us whether they be granular, mat and rough; and colors, spill forms and brushstrokes inhere together like the qualities in an art object from nature, captivating us in their coarse substance. The internal articulations of her work all of which are experienced as illusively tangible, are the means by which the everyday mind is routed and the spirit is roused into another dimension.
John Austin is an art critic based in Manhattan, NY.