Scratching the Surface – portraiture by Christos Tsimaris, Lee Ellis and Laurence Perratzi at Lacey Contemporary Gallery, Holland Park
By James Brewer
What better vantage point than the beach for an artist who is fascinated by the human figure? There they are, half naked and parading by, scores of potential subjects who suspect they are not being watched, or in some cases are more than keen to be watched.
For the London-based, Greek-born artist Christos Tsimaris his seaside stays are opportune outings to what amount to open-air ateliers. The photos he takes in the resorts of passers-by are the raw material for his paintings which he executes back in his home studio. There, gathering an array of pigments and household odds and ends that he can brush within the frame, he embarks on a considerable reworking of the images he has taken with his camera.
The result is a series of dramatic expressionist canvases, five of which have been on show in a three-artist exhibition – described as a collaboration in portraiture – at the bright and airy Lacey Contemporary Gallery which is located in an elegant neighbourhood near Holland Park in west London.
His latest works began to take shape as he observed streams of holidaymakers on beaches in Italy and Spain – he has yet to perform this process in his native Greece despite its magnetic appeal to tourists.
Christos describes his works as autobiographical structures, and whether he paints self-portraits or studies of strangers, they are ever in flux. As he says, he jumps “from representational to almost abstract, and from very disciplined and precise to very gestural, to almost messy.” He makes no attempt to keep the two styles separate, producing a diffuse pictorial focus. He blends colours, textures and shapes in a random but ultimately subtle way.
Oils dominate, but he will rub into the surface an assortment of materials which could include coffee grains, cement powder, and tile adhesive. He then works on the surface with charcoal and other delineation, adding sometime surprising touches. In one of the current works, Woman in Deckchair, he stamps his own footprint or more accurately that of a well known brand of trainers.
Tessa Yee, associate director at Lacey Contemporary, who was curator for the exhibition, said: “I really like the way that Christos uses all the materials around him. You do not find that in your average painting.”
The finished articles – in fact in his own estimation he does not usually complete works, for he feels the need to go back over them – appear to the viewer to be fleetingly elusive, but tactile. “Quite often a painting is finished only because I stop working on it, although there is always a possibility that I will work on it again in the future.”
The many layers – he will not hesitate to chip some of them away — and “accidents” that spark rebuilding of the compositions take even the artist aback. “The more you look at them, the more you discover, ” says the artist. “I see things I had not seen before.”
In his artist’s statement Christos writes: “My main aim is to explore how the painting is created in terms of structure, composition, colour and mark making, rather than focusing solely on what it represents.”
His paintings bear titles that are simply descriptive, such as Ibiza, Mother & Child, Woman in Deckchair and Torvaianica[a beautiful stretch of coastline in the province of Rome], but impel the viewer to contemplate them intently.
Christos is originally from Evros, in the most eastern part of Greece, close to the border with Turkey. He grew up in Kozani, a city which is home to the largest electricity power plant in the country. He moved to Thessaloniki, 120 km distant, to study art, and on a scholarship from the Greek government spent a year at Byam Shaw School of Art in London and a second year at Winchester School of Art. He has participated in numerous exhibitions since then, including in London, Athens, Thessaloniki and Hamburg.
The Lacey gallery says that the works in its latest three-hander exhibition “attempt to break the mask and reveal the depths of the human condition and the disquieting human figure.”
An established artist, Christos is complemented for this show by the contribution of a painter who is in the “emerging” category. That is Lee Ellis who lives in Bristol. Both have in common that they half-seize abstraction from figuration, Lee in particular disrupting conventional portraiture with distortions of face and limbs. A graphic designer by profession, Lee is making the transition to full-time artist. He says that he “aims to make the invisible visible, looking at the psychological and emotional, and bringing it to the forefront.”
More clearly figurative are the exquisite bronze and bronze resin sculptures in limited editions fashioned by Laurence Perratzi, a French-born artist who graduated from business school in her home country in 1993 and travelled widely, to live in Paris, Hong Kong, San Francisco and now London.
She says that her work is a reflection on movement, influenced by her experience in athletics “where poise and balance are paramount.” Although the studies have the quality of delicate construction, the poses suggest both strength of character and inward reflection.
Collectively, says the gallery, the works “encourage viewers to observe and discover the subjects through the scratchings of the surfaces. The artists do not merely explore appearances but attempt to delve deeper, exploring and exposing their subjects’ psyche”.
The theme brings together works which “attempt to break the mask and reveal the depths of the human condition and the disquieting human figure.
Lacey Contemporary was launched in autumn 2014 by Andrew Lacey as a platform for UK-based and other contemporary artists.
Scratching the Surface is at Lacey Contemporary, 8 Clarendon Cross, London W11 until June 2 2016.