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Ēriks Apaļais. Family

From 7 February to 29 March 2020, the Latvian National Museum of Art in Riga (Jaņa Rozentāla laukums 1) will present the solo exhibition of Ēriks Apaļais “Family”. Ēriks Apaļais is one of the most original and inventive younger generation painters to emerge from Latvia in recent years. The exhibition will be a survey of the artist’s works to date and will be split up into five distinct chapters. The first part, or Prelude, will present his little-seen early paintings created in the latter part of the 2000s. These consist of a dense body of predominantly small, colourful, playful yet ominous and dark, loosely executed figurative paintings, which refer to childhood memories and traumas.

The second part of the exhibition will include a number of his enigmatic letter paintings. These have been informed by the artist’s extensive readings – from Lacan to Mallarmé – readings that have profoundly influenced his practice and reflect, also, the artist’s study of philology. Here letters hover and glide in the grayscale, empty pictorial space, intimating the inter-related elements of reading and writing, meaning and signification, literature and linguistics. In these paintings which, as the artist says “oscillate between the seeable and the readable”, deconstructed elements – letters torn from words, images separated from context – mutedly occupy the canvas as unearthed fragments of forgotten memories, episodes, experiences. This body of work was pivotal for the artist since it consolidated his highly distinctive, recogniseable style – one that combines conceptualism, symbolism, abstraction, and figuration.

Subsequently Apaļais has become known for his signature sparse, monochrome colour fields where figures and objects float in space; and for his allusive and elliptical narratives, which unfolds on the basis of minimal pictorial ‘clues’. This stylistic distinction unfolds boldly in the next section, Diaries from Earth, which feature earthly objects levitating in what appears to be the blackness of outer space. But is it? The meaning underlying Apaļais’ paintings is not easy to determine, and this is precisely what makes his work so intriguing. The artist provides us clues, but it is up to us to decipher what we see. The only cue Apaļais provides is a hint into an autobiographical domain, hence also the title of the exhibition Family. From then on, it is up to the viewer to create meaning, to fill in the semantic gaps of voided memory.

Finally, the artist will present a new series of work, Tukums–Tomsk (2019–2020) which digs further into the past, and into both family and collective history, and which re-corporates colour into the canvas. The paintings refer to the infamous deportations of Latvians to Siberia by the Soviet occupiers during the Second World War, of which the artist’s grandmother was also a victim. As this memory retreats further into the past, Apaļais attempts to rescue it, whilst at the same time acknowledging it is beyond his grasp. These paintings therefore occupy a hazy space in between memory and and the difficulty underlying its reconstruction, history and myth making, reality and imagination.

With this body of work on view for the first time all together – Apaļais demonstrates the subtle manner in which he navigates the slippery territory of memory and the past. One could say that he manages to achieve the painterly equivalent of what Leo Strauss has called “esoteric writing” in reference to the written word, that is, an oblique manner of communication which eschews both linear narrative and literal description. The exhibition will conclude with a dreamy, immersive colour-saturated environment which will include both a video and painting installation that brings the exhibition full-circle. It will also include a series of footnotes, or reference points, that have been seminal for the artist’s practice, including film excerpts by Andrej Tarkovsky, Orson Welles, video by Marcel Broodthaers and work of Vija Celmins.

The exhibition is designed scenography by Rihards Funts. The scenography for the Prelude has been designed by Golf Clayderman. The exhibition is curated by Katerina Gregos, who curated the highly successful edition of the first Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art (RIBOCA), in which Ēriks Apaļais’ work was included.

It is organized in collaboration with Alma Gallery, who has represented Ēriks Apaļais for more than a decade.