One City, One Summer
The title of the current exhibition by Simon Adjiashvili is a phrase from our conversation in his studio, where the window overlooks a bustling Tel Aviv street. Time and place, the basic matrix of existence, is the subject of Adjiashvili’s continuing research and observation.
Since the turn of the millennium, the artist has been portraying interiors of Tel Aviv apartments built in the International Style, or rather, what may be referred to as its banalized form. The interiors are handled in a gentle but sober manner, depicting the peeling paint and too-thin doors, the low ceilings, shaky hardware and exposed wiring channels added by tenants as they replaced previous residents over the years. The spaces are devoid of people and narrative. The few pieces of furniture in the paintings (a sofa, chair or table) stand alone, insinuating dysfunctional households. It is as if they remained behind after the residents left, with their fate, whether doom or grace, to be decided by owners yet to arrive.
In One City, One Summer, Adjiashvili’s poem of silence has undergone variation in the musical sense, in which the main theme is preserved but elements such as harmony or melody change. These interior spaces of the Israeli version of International Style continue to be the underpinnings of the paintings, but they are infiltrated with more pronounced aspects from the imagination, dreams and longings. The “one city” reflects many cities, and in the “one summer” are enfolded numerous summers saturated with yearning.
The universal concept of “home” is its stability, the Ithaca awaiting the traveler at the end of the odyssey. Adjiashvili’s new paintings are imbued with impermanence and the elusiveness of instability. The floors seem flooded with water (especially in Untitled 01, Untitled 08 and Untitled 10), alluding to primordial chaos, the deep, the subconscious of all existence. The waters seem to have seeped into the floor, into the orderly and well-defined architecture which at the beginning of the 20th century was considered to be the embodiment of rationalism and the key to humankind’s redemption.
The ambiguity of the floor filters into one’s consciousness, but Adjiashvili’s paintings do not depict moments of collapse, but of observation and perhaps reconciliation with an inexplicable event.
Light, symbolizing Time, constitutes the main material of the paintings. Adjiashvili freezes Time’s infinite changes, making it tangible. The stillness in his spaces challenges Time and the temporal process of life. In pieces such as Untitled 11, the sculptural manner in which Adjiashvili treats light brings to mind church paintings, such as Titian’s The Assumption of the Virgin in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice (1516-18). Titian uses two different types of light to define the spheres of reality: the cool light of the mundane, and the golden light of the heavens.
The association to Vermeer’s interiors is inescapable, especially Woman with a Pearl Necklace (1664) in which the nearly white light highlights the drama of the strip of shade along the yellow curtain, and two paintings in which a woman reads a letter. The warm light in Young Woman Reading a Letter at an Open Window (1659) in the Gemäldegalerie Berlin, contains crimson and ochre in the textiles in the painted room, while in Young Woman in Blue Reading a Letter (1663-64) in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the chilly light defines a circle focusing the gaze on the hands holding the letter too tightly.
The absence of figures distances Adjiashvili’s paintings from the above art historical associations. The light in his paintings illuminates a void bearing the dust of Time and reverberating with the beats of the invisible clock of existence. In Untitled 11, the light shed powerfully on the right side of the painting from a high window melts the contours of the chair and blurs the hues of the paint on the wall and breaks down into dark shadows where the walls become rust. What is beyond the light conceals a secret, the familiar is transformed into the uncanny. Depicted space is a maze of angles taken from various concrete spaces as different times. Windows, commonly symbolizing the link between the external and internal, turn their back to the outside. Adjiashvili leaves the chaos outside, but its long shadow is cast on the interior, the polar opposite and complement to the blinding light.
Disintegrating splendor and nostalgia are reflected in the paintings. The peeling paint in Untitled 16 and the objects which appear to have been placed on the table a moment before are bathed light enveloping them like a flexible shell. The “flooded” floor transforms the intimate immediate into the distant untouchable.
When I first encountered Adjiashvili’s paintings, I was reminded of Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershöi (1864-1916). Hammershöi’s paintings are nearly monochromatic and possess an intense stillness. In 2008, the Royal Academy in London held a comprehensive exhibition of his paintings, with some of the 60 interiors painted in the artist’s apartment at Strandgade 30 in Copenhagen and later when the artist moved down the street, at number 25. Hammershöi painted well-lit pictures of closed interiors which seem to be part of a maze leading to more and more silent rooms.
There are conspicuous similarities between Adjiashvili’s works and Hammershöi’s paintings, which preceded him by nearly a century. The differences are intriguing and disturbing.
Adjiashvili transformed concrete spaces into a springboard for the imagination. The fabrics in his paintings, which may be blankets, large shawls or perhaps furniture coverings which were removed, are covered with dust (Untitled 02, Untitled 07, Untitled 09, Untitled 13 and Untitled 16). They are the traces of human presence, of free movement or broad gestures, so different from the character of his carefully considered, precise, contemplative art. The sections of the space reflected in mirrors (Untitled 01, Untitled 02, Untitled 05 and Untitled 09) seem to be dislocated from their surrounding space. The doubt that comes with life experiences haunts Adjiashvili’s work. What seems innocent conceals a sleeping enigma.
The chair and sofa (whose form is definable from its lone armrest) in Untitled 05, as well as the box attached to the wall, are illuminated by a soft light entering from a room with an elongated window. They constitute a visual phrase which remains broken down into syllables, each with its own weight; together they form the music of attentive observation which we sense arising from the paintings.
The beauty which Adjiashvili creates holds back the aches of the past, mysteries and memories that Smay perhaps surface, consoling the one city, one summer.
Dr. Smadar Sheffi