• Buried Motifs: The Work of Kristina Garon

    Date posted: May 17, 2011 Author: jolanta
    Kristina Garon

    In this work, Garon creates an incredibly evocative atmosphere

    “In this work, Garon creates an incredibly evocative atmosphere replete with the majesty an awe of these natural phenomena.”

    Kristina Garon,

    Kristina Garon, Growing Awareness of Thoughts and Feelings 1, Acrylic on canvas, 48×36 inches, Courtesy of the artist.


    Kristina Garon

    Kristina Garon, Growing Awareness of Thoughts and Feelings 2, Mixed Media, Acrylic on Canvas, 48×36 inches, Courtesy of the artist.

    Robert J. Sternberg in the “Nature of Creativity” states that “creativity requires a confluence of six distinct but interrelated re-sources: intellectual abilities, knowledge, and styles of thinking, personality, motivation, and environment.” This confluence of forces can be seen as culmination of all that we desire, manifest. In the work of Kristina Garon we witness this manifestation as a universal rhythm or pulse that captures the breadth and scope of human emotion. Her technique utilizes unique, complex, and bold mark making contrasted with delicate passageways of paint. In many works gestural, skeins of paint are mixed with drips and swaths of heavy paint application. Working with abstract motifs, many works employ hidden images and totemic compositions. The scale and sheer physicality of her work allow us to examine her process as autobiographical in nature and romantic in sentiment. Spending time with her work invites us to examine a world beyond our perceptual; world one that is full of unlimited possibility. Kristina Garon is an American artist, born to a French family in Lithuania when it was a part of the Soviet Union. Following in the footsteps of her mother, Garon expressed an interest in art from an early age. After moving to the United States Garon left behind her classical training to find new, experimental motifs. Her mature work balances the oscillation between figuration and abstraction. In many works, she employs an all-over field that reveals and conceals under layers of paint application. Certain remarkable themes persist, notably specific colors and totemic images. It is clear that she is driven by an insatiable curiosity and the reactive/responsive nature of the Abstract Expressionists. In this sense her work carries on a pictorial tradition dating back to modernists such as Willem de Kooning and contemporary artists such as Cecily Brown. It is a tradition that implies that each new phase of Modernist art should be hailed as the start of a whole new epoch in art, marking a decisive break with all the customs and conventions of the past. Garon’s paintings make this a decisive break and yet seek a total unity of artistic impulses of the 20th century.

    Through her work, Garon is ultimately interested in expressing basic human emotions such as joy, despair, and hope. Universal human expression is precisely one of the most notable things about her paintings. In works such as Growing Awareness of Thoughts and Feelings1, crimson reds, yellow ochres, and touches of blue swirl and drip in unexpected fashion. At first glance, what appears as a total abstraction actually contains male and female faces fading in and out of opacity. Embedded in a totemic composition they seem to be echoes: stand-ins for all of humanity. These portraits are the collective face of mankind engaging in dialog and creating the world around them. The multiplicity of the faces hidden within the labyrinth of swaths, skeins, and drips of paint represent buried information. These buried, seemingly scarified images share a similarity with other well know painters such as Cecily Brown. Brown uses the tenets of gestural Abstract Expressionism to create painterly, highly erotic tableaus. What first appears as a sensuous, flat abstraction upon closer observation reveals a buried, sexual narrative. With Garon’s painting the faces represent a symbolic prism of perspectives, influences, and inspirations. Similarly, our contemporary culture is prism-like, rife with multiple perspectives in constant transition. In optics, light changes speed as it moves from one surface to another. This speed change causes the light to be refracted and to enter the new medium at a different angle. The refractive index of many materials such as glass varies with the wavelength or color of the light used. This causes light of different colors to be refracted differently and to leave the prism at different angles, creating an effect similar to a rainbow, encompassing all of the perceptual colors we see in nature. One could say that Garon’s painting encompasses all of humanity to give voice to collective thought or the collective unconscious. Carl Jung claims that everyone has his or her own Personal Unconscious. The Collective Unconscious in contrast is universal. It cannot be built up like one’s personal unconscious is; rather, it predates the individual. It is the repository of all the religious, spiritual, and mythological symbols and experiences. These primary structures are called archetypes, which make up existence and are rooted deep within the psyche.

    Kristina Garon

    Kristina Garon, Eruption of Volcano, Acrylic on canvas, 36×48 inches, Courtesy of the artist

    A complimentary work to the first in this series, her painting Growing Awareness of Thoughts and Feelings 2 is another stunning abstraction. In this work green and yellow predominates the picture plane. Bold, aggressive swaths of paint create heavy impastos and stains. Yellowish-orange drips splatter the bottom edge of the canvas dangling like a fiery thread. In the center of the work a massive, dripping greenish-yellow area creates a mysterious focal point. Upon closer inspection, one can see a large female head in profile with adjacent smaller heads nearby. Upon seeing this work one is reminded of the mythological Earth Goddess Gaia. Gaia is typically understood to be the original deity behind the Oracle at Delphi and the original Mother Earth figure. As the legend goes, she supposedly passed her power on to Poseidon, Apollo or Themis. Oaths sworn in the name of Gaia, in ancient Greece, were considered the most binding of all. In classical art Gaia was represented in one of two ways. In Athenian vase painting she was shown as a matronly woman only half risen from the earth, often in later mosaic representations she appears as a woman reclining upon the earth surrounded by a host of Carpi, infant gods of the fruits of the earth. Garon’s painting suggests that the female voice and influence in the world has the capacity to heal the earth with powers of restoration, regeneration, and rebirth. This work offers a refreshing sense of hope in a world full of unfortunate tragedies. Further, there is a compelling flatness to this work and yet an allusion to three-dimensionality. The great Abstract Expressionist critic Clement Greenberg noted that the “flatness towards which Modernist painting orients itself can never be an absolute flatness. The heightened sensitivity of the picture plane may no longer permit sculptural illusion, or trompe-l’oeil, but it does and must permit optical illusion.” The pronounced opticality and sculptural nature of this work permits us to see beyond the edge of the canvas. With this painting we experience what Garon truly seeks, which is a synthesis of seemingly contradictory impulses, that of figuration and abstraction, the imaginary and the real.

    Another aspect of Garon’s work has to do with emotional memory. In Kevin S LaBar and Roberto Cabeza’s article “Cognitive Neuroscience of Emotional Memory” they discuss emotional memory as constituting the foundation of our personal history. This history is broken into two categories of arousal and valence where we experience explicit and implicit states of recollection. The implicit region of human memory could be understood as the unconscious, which is the seat of latent desire. Garon’s paintings peak our emotional awareness that is often buried between the daily realities of banality and heightened sensory experience. Tapping into this intersection can be a challenge. Garon comments, “Art is creativity bursting through our souls! When I am creating art, I don’t sweat it or labor it, it just comes to me naturally. I never look for my style. I believe that the only way to develop a style is continue to work. I strongly believe that the more an artist works the stronger his artistic voice becomes. Possibilities for discovery are endless. Art means always knocking loudly at the door of the unknown.” For Garon, the journey into the unknown is a vast landscape of limitless potential. The unknown implores us to ponder the unexplained, inexplicable events and phenomenon that elicit a state of absolute uncertainty. At times it can lead to personal epiphanies. Such an epiphany occurred to me while viewing Garon’s work entitled Eruption of Volcano. Here, the form follows the function. Over top a dark field of color a red and yellow mass of paint bleeds in the center. Black splatters of paint rise and fall in arching, diagonal patterns. The piece literally seems to fold onto itself as it charges towards the viewer. The physicality of the mark making suggests an overflowing mass of some viscous substance – read paint as magma. Interestingly enough, when a part of the earth’s upper mantle or lower crust melts, magma forms. A volcano is essentially an opening or a vent through which this magma and the dissolved gases it contains are discharged. Although there are several factors triggering a volcanic eruption, three predominate: the buoyancy of the magma, the pressure from the extolled gases in the magma, and the injection of a new batch of magma into an already filled magma chamber. These processes are actually quite fascinating. It all begins with a rock inside the earth. As it melts, its mass remains the same while its volume increases–producing a melt that is less dense than the surrounding rock. This lighter magma then rises toward the surface by way of its buoyancy. If the density of the magma between the zone of its generation and the surface is less than that of the surrounding and overlying rocks, the magma reaches the surface and erupts. Truly, volcanic eruptions are a mesmerizing and frightening phenomena that elicit a sense of the sublime. In this work, Garon creates an incredibly evocative atmosphere replete with the majesty and awe of these natural phenomena. In 1757 the English philospher Edmund Burke wrote his seminal work concerning the sublime entitled “Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful.” In it, he posits terror as the ruling principle of the sublime and this terrifying aspect can be violently emotional and overwhelming in its scope. This attraction and repulsion is exactly what draws thrill seeking crowds to roller coaster rides to experience the rush of excitement mixed with the right proportion of danger. Yet for Burke, this sensation is most profoundly expressed in the visual arts. He also honed in on the passion caused by the great and sublime in nature, which leads to astonishment. Astonishment is the state of mind or soul in which one surrenders to nature’s capacity to leave one feeling suspended in time. These two aesthetic categories are a major source of pleasure and pain. According to Burke, the pleasure of beauty has a relaxing effect on the fibers of the body, whereas sublimity, in contrast, tightens these fibers. He notes “The ideas of the sublime and the beautiful stand on foundations so different, that it is hard, I had almost said impossible, to think of reconciling them in the same subject, without considerably lessening the effect of the one or the other upon the passions’.” Resolving the tensions between these seemingly opposing forces can be a challenge. Perhaps the artists most successful in finding a delicate balance with these forces would be J.W.M Turner and Mark Rothko. Garon joins this legacy of image making yet from the perspective of painters such as Peter Paul Rubens and Willem de Kooning. Updating this technique, Garon creates gestures that have been liberated from the use of simply a brush. Rather, her drips, stains, and swaths reference the physicality of the body. In her work, she uses the body as another tool or device to create a sense of real, animated space. Thus, when we view her works, we are actually viewing a trace or residue of the movements of her physical body in phenomenological space. In this sense, her artwork is a signifier of presence and thereby a definition of oneself.

    Kristina Garon has established herself in the art world as an abstract painter who expands on the history of Abstract Expressionism in an incredibly contemporary way. Her layered and buried compositions draw us to examine her process and simultaneously provide a gateway to revelatory, sublime experiences. We sense a full range of human emotion that propels us into the primacy of existence and implores us further into the unknown.

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