Whenever there is condensation on a bus window or bathroom mirror, the child in us all is tempted to make our mark: a heart, our initials, an emoticon face – smiling or frowning, depending on our mood. The adult in us merely wipes the surface to see reflected back the world as it is, rather than as our own projection.
Early humans carved their stories into the rock of their caves and lovers their initials into trees. Since time began, we’ve wanted it to be known that ‘we were here’, to leave behind something indelible of our touch on the world, our connection to our time. It’s an urge we witness on a daily basis throughout the urban landscape as ever more ubiquitous graffiti. We take this personal tagging, mark-making, or public art for granted, as part of the constant flow of information that shrieks at us in testament to the unrelenting nature of our contemporary visual culture. It’s usually witnessed on the move; we clock it, then ride, run or walk on.
It’s not so curious, therefore, that the Unwiped Windows series of paintings and monoprints by Endri Kosturi should, like other artists, take this desire to make a graphic statement and place it like a personal manifesto within the alternative context of pigment on canvas: contemplation and reflection of a different kind. What are these works – paintings or poems? More to the point, is there any value in separating the two?
The artist’s approach to creativity is in itself inseparable from the cultures that make his life story and which continue to influence his thinking and feeling. Having spent his early childhood in Albania known as, ‘the Italian’ (due to his Italian heritage via his grandparents), aged ten, he moved with his parents to Italy to be identified as ‘the Albanian’, given this is his first language; the essence of all he does ensues from this. Even now that he lives and works in London, there is very little that is identifiably ‘british’ about his art. Unsurprisingly, given this background, Kosturi’s approach to communication via the marriage between colour and poetry is unerringly passionate and romantic – both in its language and the palette used to speak it. Even the words he uses to describe what he does and why and how seem to inhabit a prosaic place quite apart from what we brits are used to. As he says, “Every language has its own expression”.
In regard to his work he explains that, “The love part is Italian. It’s about the experiences that one relates to and like a melody there are various intensities. Love is a chase. Keeping that intensity is the challenge….. Italians are very emotional. Growing up you absorb this and my emotional intelligence has developed in a particular way.”
In relation to whether he is a poet or painter he adds, “I play with colour, but there is always that conflict….. The painting and the poem actually live in symbiosis. The colour makes the writing grow in a different way. The writing becomes calligraphy, the calligraphy becomes personality and personality becomes a painting”.
Such a statement could be construed as a pretention, yet Kosturi’s sincerity and belief in the origins of his work are unquestionable. Delving with him in to what the paintings mean and exploring how their construction is part of this, reveals a depth that goes beyond what is understood at first glance. Although this could be said of any painting, with Kosturi’s work, one confronts a multilayered approach, in a literal sense, to the unveiling of two art forms. On the surface, we are looking at a body of work that combines the material capability of painting with the act of writing; sentiments are inscribed through and into layers of granular, acrylic modeling paste – Kosturi’s use of which the artist likens to fresco. The result in some cases is reminiscent of the wax crayon drawings one might have done at school. Perhaps you may remember building layers, stripes and circles of vivid colours, then covering them all with a heavy final layer of shiny black. Taking a blunt compass or a hard lead pencil you may then have etched a scene, sgraffito-like, into the top black coat, revealing the wilder hues beneath like self-made magic….. If you did, you’ll remember the delight of creating the result.
However, as joyful and expressionistic as Kosturi’s paintings may seem going on pure aesthetics alone, the majority of them actually emerge from a need to impose order on chaos. He is also concerned with beauty, which he identifies as ‘hope’. Pressing him about the inevitable underside of this, he reveals there is also a dark side: “It’s in the final process, (knowing) that everything, including it, is perishable. At the end of the process I take off all the coats (of impasto) I’ve been putting on, to try and destroy what I’ve done, to add something that is not calmness. It’s pure chance that I don’t destroy it completely. The beauty is also in the journey of doing this”. In the light of the works themselves, the insight is surprising.
Themes recur in the artist’s work. These stem from an initial, emotive response to seeing Romeo and Juliet’s balcony in Verona; on the wall were numerous scratches of love and longing attached to dates and names. Windows have become the current focus and the formal device by which the artist can maintain an organised structure within a frame. All of the pictures in the series are portrait format and the majority unframed, as if the frame within the frame of the canvas itself is sufficient to box-in the potential for some kind of mayhem, “The blank canvas is chaos to me; I don’t see calmness in a white canvas. So I try to elevate the state that I have – my energy, my emotion; I want to pull it all out and let it settle for a bit. I want to impose order, to tidy it. If I just let it go, I would lose myself and it would look like a caveman’s work, as if I hadn’t passed the stage into being a human being. Taking charge is what makes us (civilised) people”.
There is an Abstract Expressionist spirit hidden within the gestural application of coloured layers. Yet although, appropriately, Kosturi cites Rothko as a key inspiration, it is the emotional effect on him of more figurative masters Caravaggio and Van Gogh that more truly informs what we are seeing here. Although working at extreme ends of the technical spectrum, the turmoil of their respective personal lives cannot have gone unnoticed by Kosturi and his love of Dubuffet also seems, vicariously, to channel this somewhat unsettled spirit.
© Libby Anson October 2010