Jannis Varelas: The Island
September 18–October 18, 2020
In his new exhibition The Island, the Greek artist Jannis Varelas (b. 1977) offers a gritty glimpse of family life in images of ordinary living rooms that revel in their banality. The anonymous characters mimic the poses of old portraits, yet they exude an atmosphere of jarring uncanniness. The artist blurs their facial features behind masks, and some figures are even half-cropped out of the picture or captured while doing something highly unconventional. Another eye-catching element is the vast profusion of plants in the background. The human figures and objects are portrayed against colorful botanical backdrops that look intentionally artificial. Varelas furthermore defies the laws of perspective by consciously inverting the foreground and background in an ambiguously shifting relationship.
The family life and exuberant jungle-like backgrounds are in fact idealized versions of some remote, unspecified reality. The characters and objects – such as generic white plastic chairs and controversial furs – are brought into a tension-fraught dialogue. This ironic style of narrative is typical of Varelas, whose imaginative art often addresses social issues in a subtle yet playful way. Varelas is never coy to question prevailing social norms, which he does in his own distinctively expressive, surreal and naïvist style.
Varelas works across the mediums of painting, collage, sculpture, video art, and performance. His work is found in prominent private and institutional collections among which are the Saatchi Collection, London; the Dakis Joannou Collection, Athens; the Irene Panagopoulos Collection, Athens; the Zabludowicz Collection, London; The Onassis Foundation Collection, New York; The Hort Family Collection, New York; the Gilbert and Doreen Bassin Collection, New York; the Oliver Frankel and Carole Server Collection, New York; Lenikus Collection, Vienna; Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki and Belvedere Museum, Vienna.