To observe Xanthippe Tsalimi’s work and see landscapes is to appreciate her work on a single, superficial dimension.
As human beings, we learn from an early age to cluster objects into groups. This helps us make sense of the world but by doing so we miss the nuances and the intricate details. As small children, we would be overwhelmed with so much complexity if we didn’t simplify to the lowest common denominator. Thus, at three years old we don’t learn about a high-backed, upholstered, dining chair, we just learn about a chair. As adults, when we look at art, we can’t help but do the same thing and look for something we recognize. When we spot something familiar, we feel reassurance. We quickly want to make sense of what’s in front of us, rather than sitting with the ambiguity. We want to apply meaning rather than living in a world of uncertainty.
To reach deeper levels of insight about ourselves and her paintings requires us to fight against our natural instinct to converge on the landscape explanation when observing Tsalimi’s work. To feel rather than look, to imagine rather than describe, to contemplate rather than to solve is to appreciate and be moved by Tsalimi’s work in a much more profound, substantial way.
In this recent body of work, we witness Tsalimi taking risks and being more vulnerable than in the past, while reassuring us with a degree of familiarity. Take for example, Down On Earth. What’s familiar is the exquisite proportions that are a hallmark of her work. Less typical are the three pronounced, contrasting bands of color that keep their own distinct identifies rather than partnering calmly with each other. The greatest departure in this piece is the explosion of deep umbers, ochres, and rusts, color seldom found in her work. These are made even more vivid and impactful by the darkness of the band above and the muted, understated grey tones at the top of the painting. Down on Earth conveys messages that are at once subtle and explicit. This piece literally cascades with emotions. Mood is such a strong feature and central tenant of Tsalimi’s work and this piece challenges us and how we are feeling multiple times over.
In paintings such as The Line, Two Worlds and Second Impression, we experience transcendence between the known and the unknown, between the outer core and the inner sanctum and between the exposed and the hidden. The runs in these pieces offer us a way to find a connection between the two halves. But it’s a fleeting, fragile connection. The two halves dance with each other while keeping their distance, tip toeing into each others’ space without ever fully committing to one another. The titles of these pieces beautifully reinforce these dichotomies.
Tsalimi is at her most vulnerable in Inner Self. We witness only brief moments of stillness that are synonymous with her work but, for the most part, this piece portrays a storm of swirling emotion imploding on itself, twisting deeper and deeper into a void.
To love and be moved by Tsalimi’s work is to devoid ourselves of all preconceptions, to move beyond our first thought of “contemporary landscape paintings”, to halt our search for reality and to just be.
Tsalimi’s show Dreamscapes, featuring more than 20 of her works, is opening on May 14th, 2015 at the prestigious Athens Art Gallery in the Kolonaki neighborhood of Athens, Greece. It’s her second solo exhibition at the gallery.