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Close to the Edge
Gelis Staros
May 2010
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BY CARLOS M. LUIS
Author of “ The Office of the Sigth”, Ed. Universal, Miami
Ex Director of the Cuban Art Museum, Miami


Art historians now accept that the entrance of the vanguard art meant a radical rupture with our conception of reality. The first three decades of the twentieth century have presented how the distinct movements of modern art were destroyed systematically this conception while, at the same time, they were replaced by others. Abstract art radicalized this process by definitively erasing from the canvas whatever allusion to a tangle reality. In this way abstract art, in its distinct manifestations came to an even newer position, decisively breaking with the restraints that were kept with regard to reality.

In the early 20th century, when abstraction took a pounding at our perception of reality, a new horizon opened for painting. This horizon presented a challenge to painters such as Kandinsky, Mondrian or the Russian constructivists: the challenge of unceasing renewal. On the one hand, abstract art took the form of well-defined geometric forms. On the other hand, thanks to Kandinsky’s improvisations, it allowed the artist’s imagination to embark on different directions. Today, both tendencies continue to show signs of vitality precisely because that horizon has served them as a goal never actually to be attained. There exists in abstract painting, then, a sort of utopia that attempts to visualize the hidden “forms” that feed reality. All of it, naturally, obeys profound universal laws designated in nature.

Kandinsky was among those who had a revelation early on with regards to the laws that compose (in its musical sense) the interrelation among colors. Thus, he was able to carry out his initial abstract experiments, as if following the advice of the Taoist author Shih-Tao (1641-1717 DC): “In the beginning, there was no method. During the primitive chaos, there was no differentiation. Once primitive chaos started to be differentiated, a method (law) came into being. How did this method come into being? From the stroke of a brush.” From those strokes that the Russian master applied to the canvas, a new abstract current finally emerged that began to make its way in what is known in the United States as “abstract expressionism” and “lyrical abstraction” or “tachism” in France, initiating what Chinese writers described as a romance between the brush and the paint. Henceforward, many painters started to work along that route, some even influenced by the gaze of surrealism as evidenced by the first works of Matta, Enrico Donati or Arshile Gorky.

Within that context, then, we may see Gelis Staros’ painting as belonging in the afore-mentioned abstract currents. Every painter—and Gelis Staros is no exception—senses which components work best for him in constructing his artistic universe. In Gelis Staros’ case, the fluidity of the composition is interrupted in some of his paintings as he interposes into the composition a kind of richly-textured barrier. The contrast that results from it makes us ponder if his ultimate goal is to alter the painting’s harmonious unit. Towards the mid 1940’s, those artists that gathered around the MADI current attempted to break the square or rectangular enclosure of the frame, creating works irregular in their geometry. The effect they achieved would follow a road contrary to the type of organization that a Mondrian would imprint in his compositions. By thus altering the flow of his strokes, Gelis Staros apparently has wanted to fragment the visual unity of the painting, dividing it into two or three segments. The result produced compels us to carry out a non-continuous reading of it, making a halt, rather, at each of the segments to finally come to a grasp of the whole. If hua defines the stroke of a brush, according to the mentality of Chinese painters, that allows forms to flow, it would be necessary, then, to find a term that defined the interruption of this flow. We run into this dilemma with many of the works of this artist. His look frees the forms to create within a closed space relations of poetic character. The space constitutes for Gelis Staros an element that permits the exploration of relations between color and form. The effects produced by the gamut of colors he applies to amoeba-like forms in some cases, more diffused in other cases, strikes us by surprise, but his ability to prevent the composition from escaping the space also astounds us. However, there is no doubting that this painter has known how to avoid the danger of monotony that at times befalls many works of an abstract tendency.

We have spoken of space. But space is devoid of a soul if abandoned in its vacuum. Does absolute vacuum exist? Let us leave it to the mystics to resolve the problem from the angle of their speculations. What does exist is a space that painters perceive as a recipient for their vision. For Gelis Staros, space offers new and consecutive opportunities to set down the strokes for his. First of all, the painter’s spatial sense partly adopts and partly rejects that of the Orientals’. What catches our attention in the spaces of Chinese or Japanese artists is their poetic organization. In other words, while for Westerners it is at times a violent conquest, for those artists space is an invitation to venerate it through subtle gestures that evoke a contemplative spirit.

We perceive in some of Gelis Staros’ compositions—those that are not divided—a similar spatial approximation. Although his work falls within the influence of Western abstraction currents, these were not, as is well-known, entirely alien to the Oriental concept of painting. We perceive in Staros’ work, then, a tension that, while obeying the dictates of an interpretation of reality characteristic of its Western legacy, translates it at the same time through processes precious to Eastern cultures. The richness that always ensues from these encounters, as occurs with this painter, has yielded results that open for us a new hermeneutic dimension. In this manner, we may see that every secret function of nature that may be revealed to us through serious contemplation appears as a portion of a painting that will explore its deepest secrets.

The art of Gelis Staros, like that of others who like him have been able to extract from reality a fragment of its mysteries, positions itself then in the crossroads of the critical process in which today’s art finds itself. If conceptualism, minimalism and other more current tendencies are beginning to show signs of distress, abstract painting seems to follow along routes that still hold for us new surprises, as I mentioned before, by aiming to adopt the horizon as the insignia for its search. It is within the context of such surprises that the work of this artist erects itself.

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