Triada Samaras at the Paterson Museum (Paterson, New Jersey)

Triada Samaras comes from a Greek family, but she was born in New England and educated at Smith College (BFA) and Museum School of Fine Arts, Boston, where she was awarded a Traveling Fellowship.  Later, she studied interdisciplinary art at Goddard College (MFA). Her show “Unbound: Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures” indicates an emotional resolve, on the artist’s part, to develop themes of home, family, American cultural geography that she belongs and does not belong to. In conversation, Samaras is a warm, intelligent woman who is aware of the intense contrasts and contradictions of belonging to both Greek and American traditions. Working both figuratively and abstractly, she seeks an expressiveness that would do justice to her complex (if also evidently American) cultural tradition of hybridity. For this artist, one way of acknowledging the cultural complexity of her legacy is to emphasize the primal emotion associated with symbolic constructions such as homes, the open palm of the hand, and more nonobjective effects in abstract paintings. Her diligence as an artist results in an array of imagery emblematic in its function and attack, being the consequence of her sensitivity to the suggestive subject matter as well as a gifted hand.

 

While the work does seem to belong to the general expressionist tendency of the 1980s, at the same time Samaras’s work is powerfully idiosyncratic--being offbeat enough to engage her audience beyond the general paradigm of a movement that peaked roughly two generations ago. Moving On (2017) is a marvelous expressionist work made with ink on paper, in which abstraction vies with the suggestion of four figures, depicted with curling lines and areas of light gray. The overall configuration of the piece is ghostly and evocative in the extreme, while the artist’s technical skill makes it clear she is proceeding in a direction established considerably earlier, in the abstract-expressionist manner. Darker skeins and blotches and ribbon-like lines embellish the figures beneath these abstract effects. The work is filled with strong emotion, but it is implied rather than directly stated. The black, gray, and white tonal differences give Moving On the complexity of range, even if these tonalities cannot be said to be colors. The image is notable for its combination of technical freedom and its suggestion of an emotional formalism one would not necessarily expect from the style of the drawing.

 

The house, or home, is an ongoing metaphor both generally for artists and for Samaras in particular. In The Door 2 (2016), a tall brown/orange/rust house, with a slanted roof and a small, dark door in front, is defined or seemingly captured by a net of casually connected white lines. Surrounding the home is a very beautiful atmosphere of green and blue and gray--it is as if the very air had turned colors. The home is a powerful metaphor, visually and literarily. It is a place everyone wants to return to. In this exquisite watercolor, Samaras is rendering not only a site for renewal, she is also creating a visionary ambiance anchored by a safe haven. Something similar happens in Bounded 3 (2016), another small work, in which a white house with a tiny door is drizzled with thick drips of paint. Surrounded by a wide pink frame, the home serves as a symbol of psychic--and physical--repose. Samaras, a person who is well educated and informed within the spaces of Greek and American cultures, surely is aware of the symbolic meaning of these two paintings. But they are convinced not because they embody an idea so much as they convey a painterly skill, both in acrylic and watercolor, that stays with us for a long time.

 

Letting Go (2018), an ink drawing, underscores Samaras’s technical ability. An outspread left hand, with its palm facing us, is covered with linear patterns dividing up the palm and extended fingers; the wrist and part of the arm are visible as well. Behind the hand, which is drawn so that it feels truly three-dimensional, are lines of a poem by Samaras, scattered in different angles but readable. The lines on the hand look rather like a street-by-street urban map--which makes sense as the artist has lived for decades in New York City. But the linear scheme, backed by the cursive handwriting of Samaras, may be an attempt to establish a visual order on the body, which is notorious, generally speaking, for resisting rational constraints! It is a fine work of art, whose symbolic motive cannot be fully explained, even if the title suggests the loss of control. Another ink drawing, called Brain on Fire 3 (2017), consists of an ovoid head lacking features, although the figure seems to be a woman, given that the head has a bun of hair in the back. The neck and shoulders of the woman are rendered in dark gray--ostensibly a piece of clothing. The background is composed of abstract effects: dots, ladder-like lines, etc. Inside the head are strange phrases, such as “The brain was confirmed.” Where the eye might be in the head is a group of homes, with lines shooting from the eye across the head into the empty space beyond. The image is a portrait of a mind either at work--or at sea.

 

Uprising (2017) combines the familiar image of a house, in this case, painted red, with a standing female figure with outraised arms, painted yellow. The words--” bright light finds the empty spot in my mind”-- written on the body follow up along the length of her rising, risen mass. A mostly dark-brown background prevails, lending weight and some psychic darkness to an image that is implicitly in revolt--the woman is leaving the home to rise into the obscure atmosphere above it. A series of thin, dark-blue polygonal shapes continue upward with the woman’s body, from her belly to her raised arms and hands--perhaps support for her movement toward the sky. Clearly, this is about revolt and about ascension at the same time--it may be that the two are inexorably linked! The words indicate a spiritual reality that has likely been with Samaras a long time; light is regularly understood to be a vehicle for and the substance of transcendence. In a large way, then, this show is about transcendence--the artist’s need, and ours as well, to move beyond the binds of circumstance. While Samaras is a woman artist, feminism does not overtly enter into the work. Instead, her art enacts a visual parable of emotion, mediated by symbolic objects and readings of experience. While it is very dangerous to read life symbolically--too often it locks into place events and feelings that should remain free-- in the case of Samaras, we interpret the imagery as a conduit through which we can achieve what we are capable of--the best of what we are.

 

Jonathan Goodman

images courtesy of the artist

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Triada Samaras, The Door 2, 2016, Watercolor on Paper, 10 x 14 inches

Triada Samaras, Brain on Fire 3, 2017, Pen on Paper,  11 x 14 inches