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April 15 - May 28, 2005 at Forum Gallery, West Hollywood

by Bill Lasarow

“Helen's Exile #12," 2005, secco, 24 x 80".

“We have exiled beauty; the Greeks took up arms for her.”
--Albert Camus, “Helen’s Exile”

The horizon line is one of the most basic devices in landscape painting, providing a defining anchor of place and scale. Peter Krausz eschews that and more in order to set up important and contradictory crosscurrents in what at first blush appear to be simple celebrations of nature’s grand theater.

The sheer expanse of each image is striking, depicting miles of countryside from a mountain perch or even from the air. We look down and out towards the horizon line, but only land appears, no sky. While there is always a play of light and shadow, and an atmospheric use of color to record the receding space of aerial perspective, the contrasts are repressed. While hardly flat, the pictorial space is toned down. You aren’t about to miss that these are extremely large spaces, but rather than inspiring awe, these fragments of the earth are placid, geared more to inspire serenity, or perhaps more to the point, somber reflection.

The views are primarily of valleys, and the forces of nature, if not quite dormant, are hardly aroused. There is some indirect evidence of man’s presence--the pattern of cultivated fields or the snaking thread of roads--but the dominating presence of cities or industry is absent. Rather than coming across as the elysian fields of an environmental utopia, the curves, wrinkles and forested clumps simply swallow the presence of civilization.

“Helen's Exile #10,"
2005, secco, 80 x 36".

"Helen's Exile #1," 2004,
secco (egg tempera
and alkyd), 36 x 24".

Krausz is one of those artists for whom an image is a talisman of rumination, and given that he appropriates the title of Camus’ short essay as the title for the current series it is apparent that beauty is the real subject here. If most serious art of our time is suspicious of hierarchy and fixed order, Krausz is one artist trying to assess where this has left us. If there is a calm sense to “Helen’s Exile #1,” it is one that follows upheaval.

Knowing the artist’s personal history, that he abandoned his native Romania (then under Communist dictatorship) soon after completing artistic training at the Bucharest Academy of Fine Arts, makes if easier to enter into the bitter sweetness of this vision. Having established himself in Montreal ever since immigrating there 35 years ago, the “Helen’s Exile” series, along with his earlier work, add up to a highly literate reflection on the land left behind, and an operatic assessment of Western civilization.

It is a conceit to believe that by simply occupying a high aerie from which much may be seen that a true vision of the world is gained. Krausz sets you up to accept his paintings in this way, only to pull the rug out. His formal strategies slyly contradict the assumption of romantic grandiosity. Compositions emphasize extremes of vertical or horizontal framing. The effect is to cramp the initial sense of space and scale. After the initial moments you must wonder where the golden field at the center of “Helen’s Exile #10” leads off to, or long to get a view of the distance to the horizon beyond the wide expanse of “Helen’s Exile #12.”

But that is not all. Think of all those diligent plein air artists who, from the time of the Impressionists, gather up their art materials to work on site. We’ve come to expect this as normative practice. But Krausz works from his imagination in his studio, painting with egg tempera in transparent layers on a surface prepared with plaster. This all hearkens to the long centuries that preceded the modernist revolt.

Krausz’ work, far from being a reactionary visual throwback, has the look of a poignantly felt yearning for the reconciliation of grand opposing forces. If he falls short, like Sisyphus the spectacle of his effort is memorable.