Essay for Look at Me When I'm talking to You catalogue by Francois Escalmel
Kristi Ropeleski is out to reinvent the portrait.
Figures in an empty space, naked bodies, bare walls. Immobilized, bargaining a little bit of eternal life, participating to the great tradition of painting, these images are powerful. They engage you in a silent dialogue. Hey! Look at me when I'm talking to you! The paint speaks volumes without saying a word. But it's all there in the twinkle of the eyes, the twitch of a mouth in a shy smile, the small frown of an eyebrow.
The handling of the paint is beautiful, luscious, wet, exquisiste, fresh. The brush is alive, flying, vibrating and wide; the colors shift. But the real miracle happens when we forget about the technique. The moment when the model becomes alive, when the instant captured appears so real that we feel to be in the presence of another human being, strangely fixed in time. The brushstrokes are then transfigured, paint becomes flesh. These paintings need to be experienced. You need to be in the same room with them.
This painter performs a real high-wire act and she does so with a lot of courage: running on a thin line between showing too little and a state of grace where simplicity becomes all-powerful. How does one paint an eye? I don't know. Let's find out. Intuition is in command here and the success, if it comes, is in measure with the risks taken. In this exhibition, the artist presents us with many self portraits, a few other humans and two animals, a baboon and a piranha both showing big menacing teeth, symbols it seems, of agression. Worried eyes, questionning looks, beckon us. Trapped inside the human box, the figures shiver, swayed by forces that remain invisible. These humans, captured within the cage of the limits of the canvas, show compassion, humanity. On the upper torso of the artist, we see a blood-red tatooed bird named rambo. Like struck by an invisible bullet, it's falling from the sky. Is it a tribute to failed gods? A proclamation of faith in the anti-hero, in the strength of choosing vulnerability? Through her paintings, Kristi seems to be saying: i am here, i exist, i am young but i have lived through some. I am strong but fragile.
This is not a bleak world. The seriousness of the images are often alleviated by humorous titles: The Blond identity, Drama in Brown, Panic in Blue. Clearly, color is a key element in this exploration of the human psyche. Stripped of most of their social enveloppes, these portraits are not skin-deep. Their creator aims deeper, dig, reveal: the soul, the personnality and let it shine through the crude matter of the body. Hands at the throat, hands covering the mouth or performing some outlandish sign langage, exploding here is an immense thirst for communication, for sharing, with images that hopefully go beyond the restraints of words.
So you're invited, meet the paintings of Kristi Ropeleski!