To observe Xanthippe Tsalimi’s work and see landscapes is to appreciate her work on a single, superficial dimension.
As human beings, we are cognitively lazy. We learn from an early age to cluster similar objects into groups. By doing so we miss the nuances and the intricate details but without learning in this way, there would be too much data and information in the world for us to comprehend. As small children, we would be overwhelmed with so much complexity and so many subtleties if we didn’t cluster objects together. Thus, we don’t learn about a high-backed dining chair when we are three years old, we learn that it’s just a chair. As adults, when we look at art, we can’t help but search for the familiar or reduce the image in front of us to it’s lowest common denominator, a landscape. When we spot something familiar in a painting, we feel a sense of accomplishment and we give ourselves a pat on the back. We process the world quickly and apply filters to narrow down the possibilities in order to quickly generate an answer. We tend to use the least amount of energy possible to reach a solution efficiently. We 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 new 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 halt our search for reality and to just be.
Neil R. Jacobs,
April 2015, Introduction for the catalogue of the exhibition "Dreamscapes", Athens Art Gallery