GIAN MARIA ERBESATO
Consideré que estabamos, comosiempre, en el fin de los tiempos. (L. Borges)
Critical interpretations that tend to underestimate and critical interpretations that exaggerate are the two biggest risks for those writing a first time reviewon works of art that are high-profile but as yet little known in the art world. Also, when it comes to appraising a foreign artist in birth and training, it is not always possible to evaluate a them correctly, since it is fairly widespread conviction that one never really gets to the very heart of a work of art. Rainer Maria Rilke commented that works of artlive in an impenetrable solitude. Perhaps this is whyone senses in the beautiful acrylic paintings of Albanian artist, Orion Shima,that knowing the possibilities of figurative representation compensates for life’s inadequacies; while knowledge of life compensates for the ghostlinessof the representations. The exhibition of Shima’s work, hosted by the ever-hospitable Casa del Mantegna in Mantua, is represented by large paintings that conjure upa charmed world of freespontaneous, fragrant coloursdissolved in a dreamy atmosphere, like a fairy tale in which the characters chase a fantasy of light, transparency, emotion and morning glow.
Orion Shima’s work from the early nineties is gradually pervaded by the seductive theme of the fairy tale. The narrator is mysterious. All of his stories are stories of a lonely man, who only through the uniquely precious experience of art, fallen to the lot of a human being as exceptional as Orion, who tells through painting his fairy tales teeming with naked youths, sated by their tender years, onverges of greeny blue waters,helpless fawns wandering in the forest, woodlands and clearings crammed with trees and multi-coloured foliage, snow-covered landscapes in the deep of winter nights, in air as clear as ice, ghostly figures in landscapes so desolate as to be metaphysical, rainbows embroidering the vault of a bright and, at times, dazzling sky. The confidence with which Shima selects the colours, mixes and reassembles them, thickens and thins them, almost as if his were the hands of a medieval alchemist, varies depending on his familiarity with the mystery that is at the root of the magic narrative, always suggested in all the best fairy tales. That this mystery is so present in every little story is plain from all the elements of the tale itself: Beauty, first of all, in its immeasurable dimension. Shima knows that in a fairy tale one does not act for something that is not pure abstract beauty. The most recent works of this Albanian painter – as pointed out by Arturo Calzona in the interview in this catalogue – are initially abstract, in the style of one of Shima’s legends: the great Spanish painter, Antoni Tapies, whoseattitude toward history is nihilistic. But as time goes by Orion sets aside the Informal Abstraction of Tapies; that very abstraction that American artists of the famous New York School practice with a rare flair for experimentation with a vengeance, while Shima opens up to a different kind of painting that becomes something very much like a lyrical song, unusual and original. It is rather a poetic projection of natural, well-defined events, enveloped in a light that flows radiant and intimate (though not commonplace), which combines delicacy and power, glaze and thickness, poetry and truth. In the eyes of Shima the legendary New York school, the native home of Abstract Expressionism, with its brilliant and unruly characters (Hartung, Pollock, Rothko, De Kooning, Schumacher, Gorky, Kline, Newman and Rosenberg), represents the experimental avant-garde of a painting at the opposite extreme to that heavy, leaden, expressionless style known as Socialist Realism repudiated by the painter. Beauty walks hand in hand with the traveller, who desperately seeks it; like the Archangel Raphael, guardian of Tobias. Indeed, Orion, more or less unconsciously, always carries within him the thrilling sense of beauty, journeying between blooms of symbolic colour (the black forests, white fawns, black and purple walls, the inexhaustible variety and quality of greens, the black sea) towards the motionless centre of his own artistic existence.
Beauty created by the author, for the numinous quality of the images he obtains, remains shrouded in the same fascination that his own painting creates. But for that fascination to happen the artist has to reach the peak of maturity through his own work, as is the case of Shima. It was the most important Anglo-American poet and dramatist of the twentieth century, T S Eliot (1888-1965), who said that human and cultural maturity is everything to the true artist. And maturity is somewhat unpredictable, a flash of lightning concluding a long voyage of the imagination, of which no artist never really reaches the limits within the time he is given; not even if all the messengers of heaven should come down to assist him. The long tale painted by Orion is a litany of “apparitions”, all equally enigmatic and eloquent. Truly inspired artists such as Shima seem to bear within them mysterious bodies of prophecy and to have a special understanding with Beauty. A profound and lapidary line by Ezra Pound leads us to the indisputable truth: Beauty is difficult.
As the flower testifies to the invisible tree, so each picture by Orion Shima proffers the basic elements of his complex ars poeticain a state of ready pureness; first of all the very rare coexistence of extreme lightness and strong roots, which are the very essence of art, in conjunction with the maximum poetic profundity of all painting, of which Orion Shima is a proven master. Hisworksleave secret imprintsand an awareness of the magical tale their author communicates with his paintings. Meanwhile, the enchanted story continues to flow like an underground river through the stuff of Beauty; while multi-coloured shadows lay themselves down on the ground or disperse among the clouds, where something indecipherable trembles (quod patet in nimbo?), like an elusive snatch of music. Every so often the wind laments through the woods and along the beaches, to show that Nature, painted by Orion Shima, can be deeply moved.
Especially Shima’s beloved natural landscapes (landscapes which – as he himself says- have nothing to do with the Plein-air of the Impressionists), almost transcendentallydisclose the most secret dreams of the artist. We find the same theme persistently; first as a fragile seed, then as a tree where the birds nest, relentlessly, in their thousands. Orion Shima is not simply an artist of thought, because he is first and foremost a knowledgeable artist that sometimes repeats his paintings, so that they reach perfection and wisdom.
Unusual is the series of works entitled Walls (2011), in black, purple, brown or yellow hues. Around the walls the time of day is between noon and early evening. In the darkness of the scenes kindles a flicker of blue water; perhaps the sea, quick to appear but disappearing like lightning so as to seemunreal. Shima’s exhibition brings together mostly recent works that, nonetheless, never repeator superimpose each other. Who will remain to bear witness to the unique artistic adventure of Shima in a world that by confusing, separating, opposing soul, mind and body has lost them all and is dying for this loss? Orion Shima, Hero and Poet of painted fairy tales, helps us not to suffer the helpless, inglorious end of all passions, all dreams and all truths.
Shima paints heavens that are not only, symbolically, the holy place of the Divine, but of everything that in man has a relationship with the Sacred. In the paintings the sky is also the most mysterious of nature’s places: the place of lightness, of light, of flight, the anxiety of elevation, of the imagination, instability, the infinite, the unknown, and, finally, the dream. That dream, Shakespeare reminds us, is nothing but the shadow of life. Orion Shima knows all art’s secrets;how to make a figure come alive, how itfits in space, how to paint the air all around. He is a painter who more than others widens the gap between the “simplicity” of applying the paint and the “sublime” of its meaning. Often his paintings elude words, and thus the ancient conflict is renewed: can the image of the painting no longer be explained beyond a certain point? So it seems that Beauty bears in itself a regret for things lost or being lost; as if we were to be its final, painful witnesses. Some of the pictures appear in front of us like arcane surfaces, like windows open not onto the “real”, or ontothe “landscape”, but onto the poetic consciousness of “real” and “landscape”.
If we think about it carefully, the work of this enigmatic artist is like a feather, not only for its lightness, but also for the strength and endurance of its remiges and rectrices.
And then there’s the very thing that appears least of all, that is less noted yet exists most of all in the paintings: light, since everything in these paintings without light happens “through light”, which imbues the colours, shadows and the shapes; diluted and elusive as a mysterious liquid, alive with its own lack of brightness: few colours that create a beautiful monotony kept to whispered tones, light and yet dense, brittle and yet intense.
More than anything else, the series of landscapes shows the delicacy, the immediacy, the evanescence of time and light. Shima creates roving images, made up of a difficult equilibrium that the smallest breath would be enough to break; a breath of air that would make them vanish. Time seems to have stopped for a moment over the landscapes, which now appear so eternal and so ephemeral, so happy and so desolate. Orion Shima, perhaps without knowing it, is an artist of silence and of spiritual and religious depth.
Perhaps it is not so surprising to see a certain affinity of poetic spirit (which has no geographical or temporal limits) between Leopardi and Shima; between Leopardi’shedgeand Shima’swalls. In his writing Leopardi often speaks of the apparition in a dream of his beloved, stolen away from his love by her early death. As the hedge and thewalls prevent the eye from travelling further, so they increase the momentum, pressing beyond the obstacle of the hedge (but sitting and gazing/ endless
spaces beyond it). The light on the walls painted by Orion is always at a certain distance, as if impeded by a veil of deep melancholy. Not surprisingly, the fairy tale, this essential figure of the journey, begins and ends in the presence of death or in that of its premonition. A hedge, a wall, beyond which the life of mankind seems not to exist.
It may be, finally, that dream and fairy tale blend together people and things in one vast universal feeling.
Some argue that creators of fairy tales are similar to those who find four-leaf clovers, and, as the German writer Ernst Junker says, acquire special powers and clairvoyance. Some unknown person begins to tell a story to give pleasure to children and, suddenly, the fairy tale becomes a magnetic field where inexpressible figures converge from all sides to compose his life and that of others. And whoever is forced by the fairy-tale narrative to make constant use of metaphors, even though dissimilar to one another, is unlikely to forego the risky and wonderful gift of grasping any secret content. Even love between humans has its share of fairy tale; indeed, perhaps that love is nothing more than a fairy tale. To give an example, Checov’s dream is not so unlike that of Dostoevskij at the end of the long debate in the Idiot; Myshkin and Ragozin are like the two poles of human love; like two forces opposing and complementary in equal measure.
There is a fairy tale, not even a very old one, which would undoubtedly seduce that incomparable dispenser of dreams represented by the work of Orion Shima, in which the journey is otherworldly. A little girl goes in search of her dead mother. Beyond the forests and oceans, labyrinthine cities and thunderous mountains, crossed from one end to the other by the inhospitable valleys of the moon, the child is shown the garden ofParadise. It is the first amenable place she encounters. But soon the tall and ancient oaks and the fragrant and purple leaves seem familiar: it is the forest near her home, where she had chosen to lose herself at the beginning of her oneiric pilgrimage. And it is not surprising that ,shortly afterwards, the child sees her mother sitting in a small cave near the fairy tale source, so dear to her earliestchildhood games.
The exhibition at Casa del Mantegna is a happy discovery. It is to be hoped that in time, and with increasing frequency, the museum space will poke its head out through the doorway to meet other foreign artists of standing. This brings to mind the splendidwords of Art Historian, Ernst Gombrich: art does not exist, only artists.
I was kindly asked to try and elucidate the values and meanings concealedin the painting of Albanian artist, Orion Shima. At a certain point, I took my courage in both hands, perhaps to ask, perhaps to confide to Shima, what might be the future of the contemporary art that Shima still represents with his inspired, incorruptible and poetic work.
Lately, I seem to sense the weight of a huge void or silence around the places and people who have perhaps tried to keep alive the reasons for poetry and art; a profound and widespread silence, deeply embedded in the thoughts and soul of both the artist and the art critic.
It is partial consolation that the very face of life, in deed and in spirit, can begin to reappear from the substance of silence.
GIAN MARIA ERBESATO