The angel in the painting of the former pontiff also has something real about him. It is not soaring through the painting, but rather stands there and makes – paralleling the pope – a rhetorical gesture that seems to be beckoning for that which has been promised. Instead of pathos and ceremoniousness, he seems to be demanding action. The lighting in the Kalaizis painting is appropriately focused heavily on Benedict XVI. who is illuminated heavenly (i.e. medially), while his antithesis and opponent is unjustly standing in the darker portion of the painting. No painter of the 17th century could have gotten away with such a provocation.
Between the New and the Old
But now there is, indeed, something new in »make-believe« that lifts the painting invented by Aris Kalaizis far beyond the realm of Baroque painting and leads it beyond the parallels that we see in this or that movement. It is the element that makes his modernity. The painting unfolds an open-ended story in ambivalent forms. He tells this story in a space that is accessible to the beholder. That space is obviously constructed and invented.
The 17th century couldn’t operate like this, but we may find points of contact in the visionary photo productions of the North Americans Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson. Orchestrated or staged photography was developed during the 1970s in the circle of Cindy Sherman and Jeff Wall. In the case of Crewdson, whom Kalaizis knows well and admires, the medium of film, along with surrealistic lighting, later became an element in his work. The photo artist builds his pictures in an elaborate set in film studios and emphasizes the lighting directions. The American art historian, Carol Strickland, invented the term »Sottorealism«.
It describes generally what Jusepe de Ribera could have meant when he subsumed his art theory in brief terms with respect to the portrait »Magdalena Ventura« (1631). On a painted stone in a corner of the work, we read: »Jusepe de Ribera, Spaniard, distinguished by Christ's Crucifix, a new Apelles of his age, painted this picture in wonderful manner according to life on March 14th, in the year of the Lord 1631, at the request of Fernando II, third Duke of Alcalá, Viceroy of Napels.« In a »wonderful manner« implies that this isn’t some straightforward Realism, and is yet the opposite of an idealized cosmos of Raffael or Annibale Carracci. Ribera exercised a type of craftsmanship that reveals a lot of imagination (»Wunderbares«), while it is at the same time guided by nature's example and by the issues of its period. Applying this rationale, but perhaps without the protectorate of a mighty employer, we see the fallen angel in »make-believe«.
The parallels with photography and film, as well as the meaning of the chiaroscuro, have been discussed in numerous commentaries of the work of Aris Kalaizis. However, craftsmanship is something that differentiates Aris Kalaizis from Crewdson. Pictures, such as »Homegrown« (2011) show this very strikingly. Crewdson also has the scarcely-dressed women that are being haunted by the waters in cold moonlight, but turning to Kalaizis, we only realize that the woman is actually standing in water upon second glance.
The artist Ribera came from a family of shoemakers in Valencia and had to integrate into a Neapolitan society that was to him very foreign. Kalaizis is the child of Greek exiles, who in 1949 on account of the Greek civil war were sent to the German Democratic Republic (the DDR, East Germany). According to Paul-Henri Campbell, artistic truth requires experience in order to understand the art of Aris Kalaizis. Both artists, Ribera like Kalaizis, achieve that integration and gain energy from their work and their experience: being determines the consciousness. Richard Sennett argues in favor of giving the opus back its dignity by once again immersing ourselves in experience. He who cultivates skill and does his work for its own sake also has something to profound to say. And it is indeed so that the work of Aris Kalaizis challenges its audience with respect to form as well as to theory.
… I met Aris Kalaizis because he is interested in El Greco, and he was the first to inform me about a El Greco exhibition that was being planned in the Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf, for which I then edited an art catalogue. It was a surprise for me to also find someone who is interested in Ribera as well, as I had been interested in him, too. Of course, the Spanish baroque painters are not his only influences, but they make up a solid basis and are a great topic of conversation while enjoying Rioja – which also tastes after a hard day's work.