Multiple Colors and Abundant Light
By Gregory Volk
Several years ago, in 2003 to be exact, I had the opportunity to write about Karina Peisajovich at a decisive and risky turning point in her early career. A couple of years before, Peisajovich—who at that time was beginning to receive quite a lot of attention for her paintings of solitary women wearing dresses that also doubled as compelling examples of geometric abstraction—had moved off the canvas altogether and into actual architectural space, with mixed media installations made of projected lights, painted geometric forms on the walls and floor, suspended paper cut-outs, electrical tape, and cast shadows. Always rigorously conceived and in dialogue with the surrounding architecture, these works conflated two and three dimensions, stasis and motion (because of how lights and shadow moved), darkness and light, walls and floor, and they were also filled with perspectival shifts and surprises. You could look at them, alert to and fascinated by their mesh of constituent components, but you did so with joy and bewilderment, wonderment and excitation, because of how transformative and cathartic they really were: spatially, optically, and psychologically. Moreover, while they utilized basic geometric forms like squares, circles, triangles, and jutting diagonals, they also seemed magical and vaguely cosmic. Pools of light and shadow, for instance, drifting across the wall conjured orbiting planets and eclipses, while Peisajovich’s jutting painted forms suggested light beams coursing through the universe. Because these installations were conceived for and worked with specific architectural situations, they also operated according to a fascinating principle of simultaneity. The room as it normally was, and as it had been reconfigured and transformed by Peisajovich, coexisted, and it was for the viewer to constantly shuttle and navigate between these two contexts, the one familiar and mundane, the other eccentric, coolly spectacular, and marvelous. It is also intriguing that these breakthrough works—call them Peisajovich’s radically liberated and expanded “paintings”— were largely temporary. They happened, made their transformations of a quotidian space, and then vanished when the exhibition was done.
A major component of all of these spatial and volumetric works—realized in Lodz, Poland; New York, Buenos Aries, and Copenhagen—was Peisajovich’s intense inquiry into color and light, which have increasingly become her primary art materials. Peisajovich is a brilliant colorist, whether working with painted forms or projected light. She is acutely interested in the optical phenomena and physical properties of pure color and color combinations, and this includes her ardent interest in various theories of color through the ages, from Isaac Newton, to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Josef Albers, among others. She is also, one suspects, equally interested in the poetics of color and light, really in the psychological effect such phenomena can have on the viewer, which is a big reason why her works tend to be so deeply touching, and so mysteriously human.
This is especially apparent with Peisajovich’s wonderful, and justifiably lauded, RGB/CMY, 2011, which is being exhibited in the U.S. for the first time. Pure pigment —in essence the very foundation of a painting—in different tones of cyan, magenta, and yellow was applied to a painting-scaled section of wall. This is the CMY part of the work, referring to the CMY subtractive color model used in printing in which bright colors combine to form darker and more neutral tones. From the floor, six motorized projectors beam vertical, shifting, colored rectangles of light at the painted section of wall; this refers to the RGB additive color model used, for instance, in televisions and computer monitors. The dynamic interplay between these two color systems—encoded in material pigment and immaterial light—yields a complex visual field, with multiple, ever-changing colored bands. There is a tremendous, slow flux to the work, as it darkens and lightens, shifts and changes, while an ambient glow emanates from the edges. Color bands become exceptionally vivid and bright, but then somber and subdued, only to change once again. Colors are singular but also interact and merge in parts to form different tones, and as a viewer you are always oscillating between what you are seeing right now and the afterimage, or memory, of what you saw a couple of seconds ago. This work is flat out gorgeous, as well as entrancing and enthralling. You want to look at it for a long time--patiently, openly, freely, perhaps even in a way akin to what the Buddhists call “mindfulness,” with a concentration so keen and unfettered that you jettison a great deal of mental clutter: you think by seeing, in other words, and in a way that might go beyond words altogether.
As with many of Peisajovich’s works, including her mixed media installations from several years ago, there are suggestions of spectacle, excess, willful theatricality, and razzle-dazzle entertainment going on here, this from an artist with a background in the underground theater, costume design, and stage design. Peisajovich’s RGB/CMY is a novel variation on painting per se, and connects with various forms of pared down geometric abstraction, but also pulls in associations to flashing neon signs, amusement park colors, lush movies on the big screen, special props at the theater, and even the ceaseless glut of visual information to which we are all subjected these days. Still, as it does so, it especially functions as a visually riveting, meditative, and transportive force, and this is one of Peisajovich’s great strengths as an artist. Her works, which question, challenge, and manipulate how and what you perceive, also do peculiar things to your mind, take you to unexpected places, and trigger a gamut of psychological states operating simultaneously: agitation, excitation, reverie, bewilderment, bliss. And the more time you spend with this particular work, RGB/CMY, which is at once tangible and ephemeral, fixed and extraordinarily open, the more it seems supremely evocative and, quite frankly, sublime.
Complementing RGB/CMY are two series, both dealing with color, but from very different approaches. The photographs in Every Time I See A Rainbow are, on one level, quick attempts to capture and preserve fleeting rainbows, or color spectrums, whenever they appear—whenever, that is, a light beam passes through a medium like water or glass and refracts into prismatic colors. However, as you move through the series these optical and physical phenomena seem downright magical, and once again deeply touching: sudden gifts of sheer splendor, sudden revelations of a splendor that is otherwise invisible. There is a really impressive and dramatic rainbow arching above roadside buildings, which Peisajovich photographed while traveling to Mar del Sur, on the east coast of Argentina. There is a rainbow angling into tumultuous gray skies above Buenos Aries and an isolated rainbow curving through the clouds. There are wavy rainbows on a billowing white curtain, a small rainbow on a bag of cement and cement tiles in a workshop, and a really tiny rainbow in an empty container of chocolate pudding. In the photographs, these ephemeral and intangible colors suddenly have a structure and presence, and once again an aura of enchantment and wonderment. What’s left implicit is that these rainbows, these color spectrums, are personally and deeply meaningful for Peisjaovich, that they accompany her as she moves through the world, and that they may very well be a source for her profound artistic inquiry. The color pencil on paper drawings in Peisajovich’s series Color Theory arise from her ongoing study of the history of color theories and color schemes through the centuries, all the many attempts (by Newton, Goethe, the German physiologist Karl Ewald Konstantin Hering, the German Romantic painter Philipp Otto Runge, the French chemist Michel-Eugène Chevreul, and the English polymath Thomas Young, among many others) to explicate what color really is and how it functions. Some of Peisajovich’s spare yet lovely drawings—in which basic, seemingly free-floating geometric shapes like circles, spheres, diamonds, and rectangles use different methods to convey the ROYGBIV spectrum— are copies of color schemes previously advanced, while others are her interpretations of the ideas explored by different authors and thinkers. Especially important here is how Peisajovich’s drawings, with their constant interplay between rigid forms and complex color variations and gradations, are intensely physical and optical, inviting the viewer’s keyed-up concentration, but are also wonderfully open-ended and vast, responding to all the debates, inquiry, and mystery concerning what color is, how we perceive it, and what it means for us.
Text for the exhibition's catalogue: The Eyes, Sometimes
Alejandra Von Hartz Gallery