Not This, But That

A viewer might be surprised to learn that the grayscale, hard-edged, geometric abstractions of Chicago artist Rimas Ciurlionis are inspired by nature. It’s not the raw organicness of the natural world that the artist gravitates to, it’s the inherent patterns that permeate all forms of life: radials, fractals and symmetries. Despite all this, Ciurlionis’ paintings are decidedly not illustrative; in fact, these motifs are totally transformed, becoming a purely formalist language. The lines and marks of these compositions are just that. In a Greenberg-ian way, Ciurlionis’ works are paintings, not pictures --modernist in the sense that they are referential of nothing but painting. Steering viewers away from associations from nature, or even everyday life, Ciurlionis creates a dialogue that occurs entirely within the rectangle. 

Likewise, Ciurlionis uses his neutral palette so as to not distract with color, shifting the emphasis instead onto his utmost concerns: form and texture. In works like those of the series “same perspective (2016-2017),” masses of marble dust and paper pulp are built upon the surface of the canvas, a gray-ish matting of voluminous, layered marks. On top of it all, a perspective drawing of a cuboid shapes is rendered in thick, black line. The shapes suggest three-dimensionality, but in Ciurlionis’ hand, they’re a bit off, the illusion dissolved and their flatness reinforced. Their “dimensionality” pales in comparison to the true dimensionality of that marble and pulp ground. 

Ciurlionis’ practice is all about comparisons. The precise lines in the gridwork of “nothing is complete” look precise on their own until they’re compared to the supremely intricate, increasingly condensed grid in “back from the clouds”, as the artist delineates the pattern tighter and tighter until the lines are practically edge-to-edge. In “allegory” and “allegory 4”, masses of rod-shaped carvings of paper pulp and marble dust are cross-hatched across surface of the canvases. While the artist’s hand is identical in both pieces, the difference in scale of these canvases is key. On modestly sized panels, the marks in “allegory 4” make up a kind of figure-ground composition in their relatively high relief. In “allegory”, a 20 panel assemblage that sprawls over 80 square feet, these very same sculptural marks are multiplied and flattened into an all-over texture, rendering the final product more of a minimalist monument than a formalist painting. 

The potential for comparisons is present within each work, though the breadth of Ciurlionis’ use of contrasts and proportions is only truly evident when a viewer can look at multiple paintings in sequence. The meaning of each work becomes both clearer and more complex when flanked by others. This process of comparing a piece within the context of the ones that came before or after is a reflection of the way Ciurlionis works: not with multiple series at once, or circling back around to earlier ideas, but linearly, from one painting to the next. Though these works are in no way illustrative of any particular story, the sequential nature of the artist’s practice is almost narrative in its own formalist, fabricated conditions. The artist’s oeuvre progresses forward like a plot, and as viewers we are in anticipation of what might come next.

-Robin Dluzen, Artist & Critic