Margarita Georgiadis: Dark thoughts - darker tones
Posted: 30 Apr 2010 | By: Prue Gibson
It makes sense that Margarita Georgiadis is "endlessly inspired" by TS Eliot's Four Quartets, in which the poet writes that "all time is unredeemable". This idea, that time does not forgive nor can it be forgiven and nor can it make amends, is useful for the interpretation of Georgiadis's paintings.
A feeling of being out of time, or missing a beat, is evident in Georgiadis's paintings of landscapes, portraits and her snippets of mythical narratives. This arrested or suspended quality in her work triggers an evocation of human consciousness. Why are we here? What must we do? Whom shall we follow? These kinds of existential questions echo through her paintings.
Georgiadis has been a painter for twenty years, having studied at Sydney's National Art School and Sydney College of the Arts. Her portraits have been regular finalists in the Portia Geach Portrait prize, the Salon des Réfuses and Mosman Art Prize, and her works are in no less than twenty corporate collections. Born in 1968 and of Greek and Turkish heritage, Georgiadis married fellow artist and actor Max Cullen in 2003. Shortly afterwards they bought an old movie cinema in Gunning with an acre of land. Georgiadis's connection to the landscape of Gunning, a small town between Goulburn and Yass, is evident in her work and has also provided her with a secondary obsession: gardening. "We acquired an acre of bare infertile land when we bought our property. I have been painstakingly landscaping, replenishing and cultivating it, using trees, foliage, flowers and vegetables as my palette. I love being outside in the fresh country air of Gunning, shovelling soil, creating compost, planting seeds and shaping our outdoor spaces." The energy required for gardening replaced her commitment to dance, which came to an abrupt end in 2003 when she broke her foot. This injury was soon followed by the onset of osteoarthritis. Petite but brimming with physical vitality, Georgiadis is well suited to the demands of a country garden and a vigorous art practice.
"Footfalls echo in the memory/down the passage which we did not take/towards the door we never opened/Into the rose-garden": again from the Four Quartets, Eliot could have written these lines specifically for Georgiadis. Whatever conspiring angels led her to the wealth and happiness of gardening, they did so without her conscious desire. When Georgiadis's father was ailing in 2006, she spent nine months travelling between Gunning and Sydney to be by his side. She began to plant seeds, and as they grew into plants and flowers, she would photograph them and show them to her ailing father, who had taught her to "look at micro-life ... and observe its constant wonder".
The artist's preoccupation with gardening is accompanied by another intense fixation that equally informs her work: death. When her father died, Georgiadis found it difficult to comprehend. And yet, she found solace in her artwork. "Art captures the life being lived at the moment," she says. And this, combined with her chance to create new life in her garden, gave her the ability to move forwards, out of the paralysing gloom and pain of loss.
Chris Townsend says in his 2008 book Art and Death that "death is about beginning as much as it is an ending. Death has in common with birth that it is an event that cannot belong to us, but rather only to those around us. Neither are events at which we can be consciously present." The compulsions of Georgiadis's painting and her interest in narratives of life as adjuncts to the ordeals of death respond to this kind of absence. It gives her paintings the quality of intense emotion as well as technical skill. She says, "I am interested in the paradox of memory, of time and of existence; life, death and the presence of absence." And it is exactly this element in her paintings which works so well. Memory and its eventual disintegration, after all, is the slow death of the mind. Georgiadis's paintings are entirely an embodiment of the "fuzzy, slightly out of focus way in which we recall visual experience".
Her compositional skills stretch across moody atmospheric landscapes and figures sheathed in draped fabric (often with eyes closed or blindfolded). These are places and people that are both specific and known but they are also everywhere and everyone: a collective interpretation of what it is to be human. Her palette is quiet and earthy and refers to her ancestral homes in Egypt and Greece: "Rocky islands, alabaster, pottery and olive groves, whitewashed buildings." Her layers of paint are interspersed with translucent glazes. This contributes to their ancient appearance and the suggestion of nostalgic memory.
Narratives are evident in both her landscapes and figure paintings: stories, fragments, elusive details, hints of dreams. Emotion and drama resonate and this in part is due to Georgiadis's love of theatre, film and fiction. She coordinates and orchestrates various technical elements to make an effective story, however dislocated or displaced it may be.
Death - its imminence, its permanence, the impossibility of avoiding it - is an unavoidable presence in her work. After the death of her father, Georgiadis spoke of finding herself somewhere between life and death, in a non-space. And this is what we see in her paintings. She has discovered that non-place and has also stumbled upon a valuable way to articulate it. Her landscapes remind us of the endlessness of time. They mock the idea of chasing anything (indulgences and vanities) that is unredeemable in the after life. The atmospheric light she manages to awaken in distant skies are supernatural evocations, realms where incorporeal interpretations are possible. She says, "There is a vastness out here where we live; big skies and seemingly endless hills and vistas. There are times when I simply cannot ignore the landscape."
Margarita Georgiadis draws on the complexity and contradictions of the landscapes around her and of the people she conjures in paint. Her greatest skill is her ability to access the fragility of the human spirit. In every single work, there is a suggestion of the painful fallibility of humankind and a reminder of the cyclical quality of everlasting time.
Images from top:
Margarita Georgiadis, The Presence of Absence, 2009, oil on canvas, 61 x 61cm.
Margarita Georgiadis, Shadowland I, 2008, oil on canvas, 61 x 61cm.
Margarita Georgiadis, Through the Unknown, Remembered Gate, 2009, oil on canvas, 122 x 102cm.
Margarita Georgiadis, The Ghosts Leavetaking, 2007, oil on canvas, 102cm x 102cm.