Anniversarial year of the art institution of 'PLOES'

In this anniversary year of the art institution of 'PLOES', which is completing 15 years of life at the P. & M. Kydoniefs Foundation, I have chosen to propose the works, of all three of their units, of Haris Lambert, an outstanding representative of pop art in its contemporary versions. I did not know, naturally, last winter that this choice of mine would coincide with the major exhibition which is shortly to be held by the Tate Modern on the successors of pop, entitled: 'Pop Life: Art in a material world'. It seems, then, that on a world scale, pop art - a movement which first emerged in the '50s - not only did not reach its zenith after 30 years (in the 1980s), but even today the varying expressions of it are of intense concern to artists, the public, and the theoreticians.
The fact is that pop culture (in conjunction with the corresponding music, among other things) has mutated, particularly in the Andy Warhol period and subsequently, with the interpolation (together with trends employed and critical tendencies) of the mass means of production, consumption, mythopoeia of the 'ego', and of the information media. Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Keith Haring, Martin Kippenberger, Jeff Koons, Sarah Lucas, Takashi Murakami, and a series of other artists - whom in the interests of brevity we will not name - have not only enlivened the interest - which is constantly on the increase - of their works' numerous public, but are significantly distant from the original positions of the initiators of this post-War movement - the movement which, by way of reaction, would impersonate through the works of the artists, as they originally believed, the mechanisms of the enslavement of consciousness, as that had been entrapped by advertising, prosperity, and the breathless rhythms of consumerism, in order, by the use of irony and sometimes by a caustic critique, to rein them in. But by way of contrast, we see that artists by their pop works today do not comment simply on the media culture, but take part actively in commercialisation and in the penetration of the methods of publicity which ends in the cult of celebrity. That is, instead of the system of such values and ways of life being undermined through art, the coils of the same all-powerful system use art, proclaiming everyday routine of this type to be the most desirable mode of life, and of its globalised needs and behaviours.
Haris Lambert, born and bred in this modern age, which he experiences and gives expression to in his works, has proposed, from as early as the 1980s, a different and philosophically based angle of vision, which he formulates without reservation, in swimming against the current. He has not dissociated himself from the idiom of pop, either because he has been a failure or because he has ever abandoned pop. He has used it not as an end in itself, but as a means of setting forth towards other horizons, in order to throw light on new pathways, indifferent to familiar 'recipes', and with assured success, which he had already gained when he decided to turn towards other directions.
Haris Lambert experienced the life, the mind-sets, and the rhythms of the decades of the '80s and '90s through all the tension and the contradictions, the enchantments and the disappointments, as he turned into tonic ranges and chromatic natural frequencies the sounds of jazz, rock, and, above all, pop music, the after-sensations of which lent something like electric charges to his works. A devotee of tension, of rapid alternations, of paradoxical mutability, and of a joyful everyday life, he was particularly fond in his youth of the language of comics, while he succeeded at the same time in becoming a much-sought-after producer of musical video clips, as he provided the sets and, moreover, painted entire 'installations' on international television networks with high audience ratings.
In his purely artistic works, Lambert did not choose to follow fashion, either in France, where he studied, lived for 11 years, and achieved recognition, or in Japan, where he lived for as long (and acquired a numerous 'fan club', which has followed and supported him in all his artistic activities). In 1981, in Paris, he presented his own 'New Pop Art' with painted images drawn from the rapid interpenetration of cinema and television shots, combined with details from advertising, 'fashion' photography, and computer graphics, 'cine-romances', and aspects of a diffuse eudaemonism, which activated the constant transpositions and successive metamorphoses of consciousness, in its perpetual flight and its constant take-off, through that spontaneous and vital joy which is generated by the seduction of the ephemeral.
By means of his 'New Pop Paintings' works (1981), a world of humour and quirkiness, a phantasmagoric world, full of unfulfilled promises and everyday dreams, which presuppose emotional shedding of guilt, erotic fantasies, defections and fruitful illusions reached through a commercialised life of 'paradisal' promises, came to the forefront. The artist shows the models which he draws and colours expressionistically (retaining a number of features of dynamic abstraction in his style) as 'living', through the celluloid of film, in their two-dimensional and hovering world, which becomes convincing in its verisimilitude as it defines likely realities, without anything being given a hypostasis in the kinesiology of its vortex.
In 1985, Lambert felt that in single-dimension pop, in spite of its apparent multifariousness, saturation-point had been reached. It was at this point that he left Paris for Tokyo, the city, as he says, which before all others had passed over the threshold of the new millennium. After a period of reflection, of the study of philosophical theories, and creative silence, he began to work on 'Spiritual Pop Painting' (his own term), in order to graft spiritual quests, which he saw to be missing from the 'image', together with responses to the existential needs of the viewer on to the way of thinking and acting of his own artistic experience. The missing spirituality which the artist identified in all probability has its roots in the 'lost and recovered time' of Proust and also in the aim of linking man in the closing decades of the twentieth century with the broken bridges of the forgotten past, but without nostalgia, ancestor-worship, and embellishments, and without the forces and the tensions of a contemporary, inconsistently attractive, multifaceted everyday reality being betrayed. His objective at that time was to give a 'perspective' and depth of meaning to the 'discourses' of reference of the image, in such a way that it would denote its qualities through what were now multi-level correlations.
By the phosphorescent painting which the artist began to use in his brush-strokes (or in the different areas of his compositions), and with the help of ultraviolet radiation, he succeeded in giving a primary role to light itself. Light became a means for the awareness of the gradual process of transformation of a latent reality which co-exists behind and beyond that of the surface. Light becomes in those works of the artist a sequence of reshapings of the apparent. It also becomes a mode of conversation between the past and the present, consciousness and the unconscious, 'archetypes' and allegories. Light also serves as a catalyst for transformations and re-articulations of the image. Light in the end becomes a topological component and a spatio-temporal vector of the role which is now entrusted to the alternatingly transubstantiated image, so that the principles of its image-making can be endowed with fresh meaning through its imperilling.
In 1992, Lambert, through his painting, took a leap forward which came as a surprise. The works in the group which would follow were first exhibited in 1993 (in Nicosia, Cyprus, and at the International Art Fair of Tokyo), when he unveiled his own 'New Renaissance'. At the very centre of this new group of works (which he formed without compromising any of his previous conquests of 'pop' and 'spiritual pop') is man in his phenomenological, existential, and ontological dimension. Man in this case, whom he renders through the realism of the 'new representationalism', is staged as a re-mythologised 'story' of his enigmatic reality, which seeks its transcendence from decay and alienation, but without its earthly, worldly character making its appearance.
From 1987 onwards, Lambert, through 'spiritual pop', and addressing himself to the collective memory, had already, in his own way, 're-inscribed' famous and sublime works, milestone works, such as those of Vermeer, Velasquez, Rubens, Ribera, seeking out behind those 'models' an uncorrupted focus to be a source of inner emotional experiences and an atmosphere and temperature which suggested the greatness of the human condition - a psychodynamic condition, activated by the successive 'readings' undertaken by the beholder in each case.
In the case of the 'New Renaissance', the 'model' becomes everyday man himself, with what he conceals and what he reveals through the concepts which constitute him and through his fleeting reality, which never gives a full account of him. For this reason, the artist, in this instance, uses models which he chooses from among ordinary people who circulate among us - or are ourselves - as old and ever new, illumined from a seemingly secret source which brings to the surface questions about the causes and reasons for existence, and about the pathways which open up through the realisation, and the simultaneous expulsion, of fascinating deceptiveness and of the limits of illusion. His works in this group exude a suggestive and reflective silence which usually immobilises the viewer, conveying to him the need to review his safety-valves of adequacy as regards the values of the standards and measures which he adopts in the formation of his life, which he is being called upon to look at afresh.
The works of the 'New Humanism' to which Lambert gives shape manifest a 'dramaturgically' mutating image that serves as a bridgehead between yesterday and today, linking aesthetics with reflection, philosophy with the act of life and painting, which take on a 'moral' - not moralistic - dimension. This is a dimension which makes it possible for the viewer to re-interpret what is before him and to develop antibodies against Sirens of every description of everyday life, without his 'self' becoming other-worldly and reclusive, but, rather, a manager of those very ways of life and of seeing by which he experiences and re-creates his world.
Dostoyevsky wrote in his 'Journal': 'don't judge a man by the way he walks, but by the road that he's following'. And Haris Lambert throws light upon roads and points out allusive pathways, locating the importance of the form, and, more generally, of depiction, in its re-endowment with meaning, because it is this, through his own artistic 'renaissance', that he wishes his beholder to review. From this point of view, his painting relates more closely to conceptual art than to contemporary realism, which he uses as a tool rather than a desideratum.
The artist (and he is alone in this) today uses through his painting and the exploitation of aspects of modern technology, the three idioms of his style together. He employs in terms of expression all three of his modes, proportionately and in combination, in each of his works, with a view to conveying through the after-sensations and the semantics of the functioning of light itself, the new humanistic spirituality which light and the visual behaviour of our society with it (and through its work) can take on. Not idealistically, but in a relation of 'osmosis' with today's reality which we experience of what is, in every other respect, our 'pop' age, the reality of its various 'mixtures' and of the conceptual investments which we attempt afresh and in a different way, reflecting, over and beyond the ways of life, our inner and forgotten self. It is in this direction that Haris Lambert provides incentives and hints: each individual chooses for himself whether to take this road and how to do it - undertaking, at the same time, the responsibility which goes with that.
Athena Schina
Critic and Art Historian
April 2009