Theater specialist, Dr in Art History,
Giorgos Rorris: At the inner side of the “self”
Catalogue text, Medusa Art gallery, Athens 2007
Giorgos Rorris’ portraits inhabit his studio. He likes to think that they wander around from room to room when he leaves at night; they make coffee and pick food from the fridge, listen to the radio or skim through books on the bookcase. To inhabit the old neoclassical house in Trofoniou Street, they must first come to life on the canvass. Their figures must be carved through light and shade for days until they acquire the airy heaviness of a sculptured figure. Giorgos Rorris does not part with his portraits until the moment he feels they are able to stand on their own two feet; when they have finally become Labrini, Yianna, Alexandra.
Giorgos Rorris’ new portraits are nude portraits. He does not present us simply with the human body in “space” but also with figures devoid of the social symbolism clothes entail, which are possessing specific characteristics as well. That we realize by their co-existence with the Portrait of Takis Pitselas in an orange tie (2005), which is the next step to the portraits of friends and acquaintances that the painter exhibited in Medusa Art Gallery seven years ago. With these nude portraits, Rorris “returns” to the lonely nude figures dating back to his years as a student and to his first solo exhibition in 1988. Today, though, the nude figure forms part of the composition, bearing –as the face does– the identity of the individual. Labrini (2002 - 2003) is a work of art characteristic of such a transition-return to a nude figure. Almost all of the painting’s plateau is taken up by the figure-scape while the feeling of disorder created by the opened-up drawers enhances even further its psychological dimension. The physical materiality of the model imposes on the onlooker a quasi tactile relation that brings to mind painters for which the “flesh” is their paint, such as Stanley Spencer and Lucian Freud.
In Giorgos Rorris’ painting, the body is in constant tension although we do not perceive any intention for action. The painter draws the body in the same way he draws the face; he insists on its individuality, exposes its perishableness. Despite the fact that his models do not retain a total face-to-face posture, they look at us with every bit and part of their body, they, themselves become a look. His painting makes its volume obvious through an “inward” monumentality that has purposely left behind any trace of idealism. His portraits seep through the world of realistic representation due to that very humble materiality. The transformation of what is visible is not achieved through imitation but through its exact depiction. Rorris draws the world in the modest perseverance of a craftsman; not as this world is but as he sees it through his own eyes.
In Giorgos Rorris’ work space is homogeneous. It is comprehensibly outlined as a whole while it remains identifiable in each painting; the few pieces of furniture attest to the fact that we are faced with versions of the same setting. However, it is not so much about a single-dimension space for the purposes of the exact depiction on canvass but rather about a “poetic space”; a space of possibilities, not of facts. It is a space easily shaped and opened to transformation that does not invite us to enter it painlessly. We cannot feel easily at home in Trofoniou’s studio. We sense the cold in the surfaces his models are in contact with, the roughness of gaps between the wooden floorboards, the hard surface of the table. We could say that the entire space gives the impression of a reserved familiarity. It may be so as the decay in the walls is not so different from the one perceived outside. They could form part of the city-scape, an indirect inference to the alienation of contemporary humans from their environment.
The relation that is built up by the human figure in this space in between –half house half road– remains a dialectical relation; it is defined both by it and through it. Giorgos Rorris’ painting begins the moment his models find their own place in the studio. In other words, space in the painting is not predefined by the frame. It develops around the body drawing its existence directly from the studio’s “real” space. The reason for its creation is ontological.
The large window shutters in the studio remain close, making models pose under strong artificial light for days. Only in Woman standing in a pink room (2007) do the sun rays penetrate the shutters timidly, serving more as a reminder of the outside world rather than a direct reference to it. The rooms painted by Rorris do not capture sun light. They capture time. Space, says Gaston Bachelard, “retains encapsulated time”, creates time. The notion of time is present in Rorris’ nude portraits as it is in the space they “inhabit”. We are not before a suspension in time but rather before “material time” that attributes to bodies and space a dramatic aspect. It is about time being present in joints and folds of the skin, in cracks in the walls and in the old furniture, in the pictures that are pinned on the walls. By transcribing time on the canvass, Rorris makes the duration of the painting act visible, makes us witnesses to the artistic event itself. Besides, he takes his time. He comes back on the canvass again and again, works on the “passages” from light to darkness, on the areas around the neck and below the bust, on the shadow the body casts on the walls. He “spatializes time”.
In Blue Alexandra (2005-2006), the dull blue colour of the wall “opens up” the room to a horizon - scape so tensely that reminds us of the silent seas painted by Friedrich. The almost single-coloured plateau gives life to that “other” space in which the figure seems to be absorbed, becomes its reflection. We are taken from real surroundings to the sphere of abstraction. The circular way in which the composition is organized enhances the unity between space and figure: sitting deep on her chair Alexandra seems to elude the law of gravity and “float” in the room, causing the impression of an ever-lasting circular movement. Echoing the model’s feelings, the wall is turned into an allegory of the act of painting. Shades get darker as they were when the painter used to set his figures in a direction opposite light. This is not unintentional. As Louis Marin writes, in painting “surface” becomes the area for the expression of the strongest tension. Blue Alexandra finds her place admiringly well in the long tradition of melancholic figures that have haunted western painting since Renaissance times.
Potentially (2005-2006) is Rorris only work which falls within a specific narrative context. A naked woman sits on a sofa on the right edge of the painting while the painter’s nude reflection can be seen at the mirror placed in the background. The balance of this composition is kept by the lower part of a Renaissance painting, Portrait of a young man by Lorenzo Lotto that can be glanced at on the left side wall. It is not the first time Rorris includes his image on a painting’s plateau through a mirror-symbol of the act of painting itself as well as the vanity of the human existence. Self portrait (2003) is the most recent example indicating the painter’s own space, that is to say a space which exists beyond the limits of the frame. However, it is the first time that his presence states a fact, an event that has taken place or is potentially about to take place. The painter becomes at the same time both, a witness and a part of “scenical” action. Potentially brings the narration into a world of observation, as it is the studio itself, rendering the atmosphere heavy due to the “disquietening foreignism” typical to story-making according to Freud, as both the imaginary and what is real co-exist in it. Enhancing the theatrical nature of each portrait, the scene remains enigmatic.
In Giorgos Rorris nude portraits, objects are the only narrative elements in the composition, reminding us of the “portraits” of trivial things which he painted with devotion in the early ‘90’s. They are objects meant for daily use: a pair of sandals, a radio, a radiator, a fridge. Banished to the circumference, they are signs of tenderness left from the painter’s encounter with his model. They slip in the painting in the form of details, of noises which break the silence that brings together both the act of creation and of contemplation. The objects in Rorris’ studio keep figures within a specific, tangible time. Being the last bonds with the day-to-day reality outside the studio, they act as time-related metaphors, they constitute time margins. In the meantime, they make obvious to us what Arasse describes as “the boundary of inwardness”. Even when the intimacy of the composition gives the impression that the distance between model and beholders is covered, we will be for ever shut out from the actual time the painting has been created.
Giorgos Rorris creations are portraits in the strict sense of the term. Posing in almost claustrophobic rooms, they incorporate the dialectic relation between the “inside” and the “outside” world. The models’ stillness enhances the dramatic element of the composition. Since we stay still, we dream about infinity, we recall images of infinity. Infinity lies in us, it is the motion of a still person, it relates –according to Bachelart– to “the intensification of existence”. It is not by mere chance that the corners of his studio exercise on the painter such an attraction. Every house corner signifies stillness; it acts as a kind of box echoing “the silence of thought”. Stillness is a primary value for human beings, “the inner side of the self” or “the existence of the inner side”. Giorgos Rorris’ nude portraits are inner scapes that manifest the tragic element of human existence. We are well aware of that since Courbet: a painter’s studio is “a real allegory” of the world. Such familiar infinity…