Joachim Lothar Gartner

On Stylianos Schicho’s pictures:

In the last few years, there has been a growing trend towards panel painting – often declared to be a dead art form – as well as representational painting even though concept and context art, (video-) installation, multimedia projections as well as internet projects have dominated the art scene for the last 25 years.

Photography, film, and electronic media have dramatically changed the way we perceive the world and also the role of the artist. The advertising. industry and its continual torrent of pictures, its breath-taking speed, its psychological and aesthetic power, determines how we perceive and assimilate the world. The insecurity of the artist about what the significance of an individual painting is, and what it can still achieve, is understandable in this context.

The fact that increasing numbers of students at art academies and universities choose to begin their careers using the traditional brush and canvas, combating with their painterly style the disappearance of reality, has to be understood as a reaction.

One of those who chose this path is Stylianos Schicho; born in Vienna in 1977, who studied painting at the University of Applied Arts under professor Herzig, where he finished his studies in 2005.

Stylianos Schicho’s views of man are, in many respects, remarkable and surprising.
His theme is „observation“. Thanks to him the portrait genre has once more attained both a monumentality and an intimacy. Yet behind the masterly portraits, the virtuosity of both line and brush-stroke, is a socially aware and critical approach to our times.

This exceedingly complex subject area begs a large number of questions. I would like to pose a few to the artist himself:

Gartner: As a viewer of your paintings I feel like a foreign body, an anonymous intruder. Something is happening in another room, without being noticed. All of a sudden I am „discovered“. I become one of the actors.

Schicho: The pictures show mostly public, social spaces, which represent not only one but a number of inter-connected observed spaces. This is because those portrayed in the pictures act like individual observers. They observe objects and people that are never, for the viewer, pinned down or definable. The gaze of the portrayed figures wander; so to speak; out, into an imaginary observed space, which remains hidden and invisible to the viewer.

Gartner: In nearly all pictures there is a person – often the artist himself -, who seeks direct eye-contact with the viewer.

Schicho: That’s true. In this way a relationship of looking and being looked at is established between picture and viewer. This is taken to such extremes that when I depict myself, it is the painter who is the observer, the one gazing from the picture. In this case I become the observer who observes himself.
This unique case of self-observation naturally only functions with me.
The phenomenon creates a new observation space, which; at the end of the day; remains self-contained.

Gartner: The actors seem isolated, their faces impassive, resigned, their mouths shut, silent, lonely, almost expressionless.

Schicho: The individual figures don’t, although they are very close together, interact. That way I strengthen the impression that they are alone in their own individuality and perception. The contrast between physical closeness and emotional isolation begs the question: Is it possible to communicate with another universe (human-being)?
Accordingly all the portrayed figures, without exception, have an expression of resignation, often aggression. Their eyes are empty and they convey to the viewer a feeling of coldness. This in turn throws him back on a reality marked by social hardship and a lack of solidarity.

Gartner: The glances of the portrayed don’t meet – they look past one another, toward spaces beyond the canvas.

Schicho: A tension is created; by this absence of interaction between the individual figures; that quite literally gives the pictures an „explosive power“. This reaches beyond the edges of the picture. One could also call it an „architecture of the gaze“, which defines, not just illusory, space.

Gartner: In the picture „A sad angry – no…just a fucking day in the gym!“, from the year 2005, an everyday situation in a fitness studio is depicted, with three people completing their training programs. On closer inspection though their expressions betray an inner dejection and a lack of freedom.

Schicho: In contrast to other pictures this one depicts a purely „inner state of emergency“. The expression of two of the three portrayed immediately relativises the first impression: the young woman in the middle appears to be without aim or orientation. Her look also betrays a sense of resignation in face of a task that appears too difficult for her. Yet it is not just a question of the training plan. Here, the ambivalence of our society is illustrated in another way: we all sit in our own self-imposed prisons. We are both guard and prisoner in one, and angrily observe how we serve time.

Gartner: All of your works reveal a love of detail, which in turn lends them a force and fascination, illustrating and reinforcing reality without creating illusions.

Schicho: The studies of detail, the selections with regard to my concept, are, for me, the most significant bases and points of departure for the creative process. Important are both the analysis of the real situation and the experience of it. These are means of attaining the greatest unity with those portrayed.
After all I – and we – can’t rely on our perceptions and we are often deceived.
Gartner: In all the pictures the classical perspective of the CCTV is used as a stylistic device.

Schicho: That is how I establish a relationship between observer and observed. The CCTV has become our continual and questionable companion. Every inhabitant of London is – statistically speaking – observed and digitally captured three hundred times a day. Is it for our own security? For our own protection?

The discussion between Prof. Joachim Gartner, painter, vice-president of Vienna’s Künstlerhaus, and Stylianos Schicho took place in Café Sperl on 16th September 2006.