Reason and Intuition. By Andrew Christofides. Nancy Sever Gallery, Gorman Arts Centre, 55 Ainslie Ave, Braddon. Until August 19.
Andrew Christofides is a rare and exquisite Sydney-based artist who progressively grows in stature with every exhibition.
Born in Nicosia in Cyprus, he came to Australia as a five-year-old child in 1951 and completed an economics degree in Sydney before working for a couple of years in the taxation office in Canberra. By 1974, Christofides’ passion for art grew stronger than his desire for economic security and he quit his job, travelled to Cyprus, and then on to London where he was accepted into the Byam Shaw School of Drawing and Painting and subsequently the Chelsea School of Art.
Christofides’ earliest paintings had a minimal, geometric austerity, but with time his art has mellowed; it has become more personal, complex and imbued with a growing spiritual content. Although he works in acrylics, he applies his colour in thin glazes, so that there is an inner radiance and depth in the resonance of colour. The palette is rich, but subdued, while the compositional balance and structure is painstakingly and exactly calculated.
This is an exhibition where there are no duds; a collection of quiet meditations on themes close to the artist’s heart. The painting Byzantium II (2009) may take some of its geometric forms from the episcopal markings found on the garments of Greek Orthodox bishops as depicted in the medieval murals and icons of Cyprus, but the forms have been carefully distilled. There is a pattern within a pattern in the form of a subtle variation on a theme. The ochres, reds and whites are more reminiscent of the palette encountered in Australian Aboriginal art, than that of Byzantium. A quiet spiritualism prevails in the work.
The painting Iconoclast II (2017) may also relate to a Byzantine theme, but the colour combinations are bolder, the geometric structure is more dynamic and the space looser and more ambitious. One could think of pavement tiles in archaeological sites on Cyprus or the strange floors in Italian Renaissance paintings. The use of the Golden Section in the pictorial structure adds the note of classical resolution to the painting. It is a painting that appears to glow and radiate with a secret power.
Iconostasis (2016), the largest painting in the show, takes its title from icon-screens found in Orthodox churches, which separate the sacred area of the altar and the apsidal conch from the rest of the church. The screen is like a visual parable, where the individual elements symbolically allude to the mysteries of the church ceremony found behind them. The structure is opaque, but can be penetrated through prayer and meditation.
It would be wrong to try to figuratively decipher the individual elements in the composition as icons placed on a screen or the layout of the church, but an atmosphere of peace and sanctity prevails within the work. The darkened squares with luminous ovals inside them concentrate the gaze as the geometric elements dominate the asymmetric compositional structure. You are spiritually and visually absorbed into the painting and then travel into another realm.
One of the beauties of Christofides’ paintings is that unlike much of geometric abstraction, in them the cerebral aspect and clinical conceptual objectivity are tempered with a profoundly personal spiritual and emotional content.