The Awkward Forms of Andreas Nicolaou

Massimiliano Sardina

The presence of the body as living and suffering matter pervades all of the Cypriot Andreas Nicolaou's art. From his early artistic offerings through to the most recent ones we can recognise the common denominator of corporeality as an inescapable and penetrating condition.

Stripped bare, the figures find themselves in contorted positions which at times seem almost impossible, trapped inside «striking a pose» or «being in the world». An example of this is provided by Runner (2001), a work which brings together all the artist's constants of content and expression. The protagonist of the painting is a model who, in the artist's usual "birthday suit", becomes the centre of attention, propped up by three precariously balanced folding chairs. As the title suggests, the indolently motionless limbs are counterbalanced by a feeling of floating dynamism.

Andreas Nicolaou's art is cultured, scattered with cross-references and mentions which are easy to identify and which range from extremely delicate Symbolist settings (most predominantly Redon and Moreau) to the mysterious visions of Fuseli and Blake. Reference to Caravaggio and more generally art of the early 1600s can be found in the use of dark and impenetrable backgrounds against which the figures are set. In other works the setting is the artist's studio and this is where the figures claim their nature as models and hence symbols.

Elective force and frailty seem to outline a common motif and irreparably overlap each other. With the outcome being that for the artist the body is a means but also a boundary.

This duality results in painting which is composed of flesh and darkness, aimed at examining the human enigma in its innermost recesses. The combining of both the sacred (see the works entitled Deposition or Ascension) and the profane (Eros, Narcissus ...) also form part of this poetics of contradiction. Therefore Nicolaou does not just borrow specific pictorial atmospheres from the past but also genuine iconography, be it Christological (as in Couple II, 1999) or deliberately drawn from Greek mythology.

Far from ending in simple anachronism, his art establishes a fruitful dialogue with the most recent creations in contemporary figurative arts.

Helped by matter-like brushwork, his style stands out for the coherence and homogeneity present in his various works without undermining distinctive traits. His use of the spatula and technique of scraping in the very core of the colour, and in particular on the surface where the marks left behind branch out to resemble mysterious ideograms, are of extreme importance.

Bright red streaks often peep out among the chiaroscuro dialogue of black and white, almost as if the work is oozing blood. His bloodstained Narcissus symbolises this and is one of the artist's most moving works, being perhaps a humanised, modern paradigm of the myth.

Free to move around in space or to become fixed and motionless in an ambiguous solemnity, his forms give life to a spectacle of gesture and abandon. Awkward figures - they seem to invite an emotional reaction from the viewer which goes beyond simple observation or admiration. However the body's omnipresence and persistence are not depicted with aggression but rather are diluted into complacent submission.

And so a complex and problematic artistic vision, which never wanders into the dead ends of serial repetitiveness, unfolds itself, swinging between tension and catharsis.

In his paintings countless varieties of gestures follow on one from another, all of them prompted by a powerful interior force which plunges them into space. Suspended in the air or propped up by everyday items such as chairs or armchairs. The bodies carry on a lacerating exchange with their own solitude. Stripped of their everyday role in society, they reveal the transitory and perishable condition of existence with their own vulnerable nudity.

In the last instance Nicolaou's artistic quest springs from a genuinely felt interior difference which continues to question itself, probing beyond the everyday answers.

Massimiliano Sardina
Art Historian

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