Anna Constantinou at Attic Salt
Radiant gold offers a vision of perfection, a spiritually uplifting sphere suggesting infinite optimism. Rich, impenetrable black holds everything within it, a cosmic force animated with dynamic energy.
All the works are bathed with an ethereal, elusive light which introduces a delicacy and fluidity, contrasting with the solidity of the black and gold planes. The apparently simple, elementary compositions are richly enigmatic, allowing us to contemplate infinitely diverse interpretations.
In the larger works, Constantinou explores the idea of containing the energy of her painting within a frame. The frame itself is no longer a confining structure, instead it allows the work to develop freely while still enveloping it firmly. The sturdy robustness of the untreated metal becomes a protective shield for the delicate beauty of the central panel, and the disparate elements each gather strength from the presence of the other.
These works evoke a sense of perfect calm and tranquility, yet at the same time they are stimulating and energizing thanks to the dynamic vitality of the contrasting materials.
Anna Constantinou at Inverleith House
Anna Constantinou spent her early years in Alexandria, Egypt. In the mid sixties she studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome where she settled and practised as an artist. She has been living in Edinburgh since 1977. Her work reflects a sensibility moulded equally by Leventine and European experience. Rome of the sixties was home to some of the artists of the Arte Povera movement, whose principles inform her work. Minimalist ideologies of the same period have also affected her. A Greek background has influenced the way she sees things: her elegantly balanced pictures reflect the perfect classicism inherent in ancient Hellenic art, while the symbols she uses can be read to refer to both Eastern and Western iconography.
The predominant forms in her work are the circle and the square. These are placed in different combinations on the flat surfaces of her chosen ground, sometimes canvas, other times paper, and sometimes directly on walls. These forms are positioned in varying spatial relationships to the pictorial ground, in configurations which seem to mimic the constant changes time and seasons make to the natural environment, while at the same time aspiring to an orderly formal balance.
Constantinou's art is one of minimal statements, often non-iconographic, and always eloquent, inviting the viewer to form visual associations and references which always expand the significance of her work. Throughout history, the circle and the square have been the two symbols most frequently used in spiritual morphology. Alchemists from about 1000 AD united them as their central symbol of the union of opposites. In Christian art, the circle has various spiritual significations: eternity, infinity, perfection. In mediaeval times, cities were sometimes designed on a circular plan, around a spiritual centre. All these symbolic references come to one's mind when looking at Constantinou's work.
This exhibition is a series of installations, in which the works have been especially created for each of the gallery rooms at Inverleith House.
In the last room on the ground floor, a red circle painted directly onto the wall contains at its centre a square of gold, the colour representing light, a ceremonial colour in rites, a symbol of material wealth and spiritual sublimity. On the opposite wall, in contrast to the red circle, is a tall solitary black vertical. A contrast of similar properties is repeated on the two side walls, black horizontal parallels on one and a series of pastel squares, which have the luminosity of a dawn sky, on the other.
In the preceding room, Constantinou has installed three works of equally opposing values. On one wall a dense black elongated shapeless form, its surface moulded by black paint poured over gauze, thick and encrusted, a mysterious object representing chaos; on the opposite wall a fragile tree finely drawn in pencil, with well ordered leaves of gold; on the central wall, a reassuring sensuous red square, an intermediary between the two.
The extremes of chaos and order, darkness and light, the commonplace and the sublime, are central to Constantinou's work.
Each of these installations forms a synthesis of opposites which creates tensions, contrasts, textures and rhythms. These are achieved with a deliberately limited visual vocabulary, with simplicity and clarity as the primary elements. Constantinou's statements are minimal and often austere.
The artist's palette is also confined. She uses four colours, but with these she achieves passages of great richness. The idea of a limited palette is traced back to antiquity by John Gage in his 'Colour and Culture' of 1993. He writes that, according to Pliny, some of the best artists of the Classical period used four basic colours; these were "white from Milos, Attic yellow, red from Sinope on the Black sea, and the black called atramentum."
White, gold, red and black are the colours Constantinou uses. Her colours are applied to create a pictorial flatness; no brush stroke is evident. When she needs a 'textured' surface this is built up with material, usually gauze rather than paint.
In the first room of the next floor the artist uses a fine brush as if it were a pencil for the series of six drawings. Each drawing is a sequential progression from a black square where the hatching and cross-hatching of the brush creates a sombre mass, to the final stage where a full red circle emerges from the darkness, a golden square at its centre.
Anna Constantinou's abstract compositions constantly hint at secondary significations. Her quest is for the ideal, the classical, the sublime.
The New York School' of 1973, quotes from one of Longinus's letters: "sublimity consists in a certain excellence and distinction in expression. . . For the effect of elevated language is, not to persuade the hearers, but to entrance them." Constantinou's visual language does just that.
Grazia Gunn, Edinburgh 1995
Intrigued by a fertile imagination
THE SCOTSMAN, Monday, 20 March 1995 – GALLERY REVIEW
Every now and again you come upon an exhibition which stops you in your tracks, surprises and delights you. A display of paintings by Anna Constantinou currently on show at Inverleith House, in Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden, is just such an exhibition.
Anna Constantinou grew up in Alexandria, Egypt. In the Sixties, she went to study painting in Rome, where she settled for many years and since 1977, she has lived and worked in Edinburgh. Over the past decade, she has had several one-person shows at the Demarco Gallery, yet remains relatively unknown.So it comes as a pleasant surprise to stumble upon this intriguing exhibition and discover a fully fledged, highly individual artist.
The works were created specifically for Inverleith House, one of the finest spaces in Scotland. Inspired by the natural world, by creation and life, the seasons and cycles, Constantinou's work is minimal, largely abstract, stark yet evocative.
The first room focuses on about 30 small pictures, hung in loose clusters, two or three deep. The unusual grouping somehow enhances the individual impact of each piece, and jolts you out of the customary shuffle round the walls. This room sets the tone for the rest of the exhibition and introduces the formal components which recur throughout. Simple, geometric shapes-in particular the circle, square and rectangle-feature prominently, painted in a single, bold colour against a uniform background. Horizontal bands of shading or cross-hatching, suggestive of ground and growth, often serve to anchor the composition. The resonance of the paintings derives from the subtle relationship between forms, and the impact of the colour combinations.
Constantinou uses a deliberately restricted palette, confining herself to black and white, red and gold (the latter being applied in the form of gold leaf). On the whole the colour is flat; when she wants to create texture, she does so by introducing mixed media-sand,gauze or crumpled paper-to which she applies colour. One of the most striking pieces in the exhibition comprises a large red circle painted directly on the white wall, with a small white canvas, gilded, in the centre. Her economy of means serves only to increase the power of the paintings.
Many of the works of the exhibition are concieved as a series, in which similar element shift a little in each composition, suggesting the passing of time, the tide rising, the earth rotating, plant-life growing; to some extent, interpretation is left to the spectator.
The only exception to Constantinou's clear preference for abstraction is the recurrent motif of slender, stylised tree with a scattering of leaves. In one work, the series idea is taken one step further, with the skeletal tree trunk divided between three seperate, vertical canvases which are hung one above another.
Perfectly suited to the setting, the exhibition has great integrity. Constantinou's works are cool but not cold; simple but not straightforward; quiet but eloquent.
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