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Art & Culture

“Riga and World Cities: Live Paintings by Aleksejs Naumovs and Kristaps Zarins”

[from Nov. 2012]

To view images full size, left click on each

With the recently closed paintings show in the Art Space annex adjacent to the Embassy of Latvia on Sheridan Circle, visions of spring came early to Washington — this in the form of several bouquets of brightly colorful, exuberantly composed paintings, most of which are festooned with gloriously flowering plants, shrubs, and trees but all of which are painted and presented in both urban and exotic landscapes with clear skies and engaging visual narratives.

Kristaps Zarins, Riga (2014). This painting also depicts the new National Library of Latvia (the pyramid-looking building across the river), which will be opening this year.

Kristaps Zarins, Riga (2014). This painting also depicts the new National Library of Latvia (the pyramid-looking building across the river), which will be opening this year.

These landscape settings circle the globe, from historic European cities to global metropolises, Mediterranean seaside resorts and villages on islands in Venetian lagoons, to remote Far Eastern venues such as Kyoto and the Taj Mahal. The Middle East and America’s northeast are additional focuses for these two well-known Latvian  artists being celebrated by this show, and combining this celebration with that occasioned by the naming by the European Union of Latvia’s capital city Riga as the European Union’s capital city of 2014.

The show’s charming subtitle, “Live Paintings,” is Naumovs and Zarins’ characterization of their plein air painting practice — an outdoor setting in all kinds of weather — and their processes for planning and completing their work; for example, two hours of careful preparation for 20 minutes of seizing the perfect moment of light, atmospheric effects, and color for intensely creating the executed work to capture that perfect moment.

Both painters use bold brushstrokes, bright primary colors and myriad of shades of color between the primaries and are especially proud of their prowess at mixing their pigments on the canvases in front of them as they paint rather than on a separate palette. As light and atmospheric effects change during the course of their painting, so too do their colors and shadings evolve.

The Embassy apparently encouraged the painters to continue their practice of painting cityscapes all over the world in preparation for the present show. This they have done and the Embassy has filled its Art Space, which is in the mansion next door to the formal Embassy in the historic Alice Pike Barney Studio House on Sheridan Circle, with canvases that pulsate with aliveness in familiar places and mystery in less well known exotic locales.

Aleksejs Naumovs, Venice Santa Maria Della Salute (2011).

Aleksejs Naumovs, Venice Santa Maria Della Salute (2011).

The two-dozen cities depicted in these canvases include Riga and Paris, where both artists studied, other Baltic and Scandinavian sites, Venice, Vienna and Budapest, and such exotic locations as Jaffa and Jerusalem and the wonderments of global metropolises like Hong Kong. New York and Washington are also favorites of both artists and they are pictured in the catalog painting side by side the skyline of Manhattan from the Brooklyn Heights promenade across the East River, and elsewhere painting the White House from the other side of Lafayette Square.

While there are great similarities in the work of these two artists — beginning with their infectious joy in painting and their skills in presenting their respective visions of the scenes they capture — there are also great differences.

Kristaps Zarins, Washington Square (2013).

Kristaps Zarins, Washington Square (2013).

Much of Naumovs’s work, for example, is more geometric and precise with much of the paintings’ visual narrative carried in his programmatic color schemes — for example, in his terrific paintings of houses on the Venetian lagoon island of Burano.

Aleksejs Naumovs, Burano. Rose House,/em> (2011.

Aleksejs Naumovs, Burano. Rose House,/em> (2011.

Zarins is looser with his brushstrokes and more expressionistic in his compositions. This is especially true in his capturing of bright light and brilliant colors on clear, sunny days in the resort towns on the French Mediterranean coast. Zarins also has a delightful sense of humor, as displayed in his wonderful summing up of Toledo, Spain, as though it were wound up like a top by the Tagus River, which mostly surrounds it, and in the many colored domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square.

A handsomely produced pamphlet-style catalog accompanied the show in the Embassy’s Art Space at 2304 Massachusetts Avenue, NW which closed on March 8, 2014.

 

Aleksejs Naumovs, Noon in Riga (2014).

Aleksejs Naumovs, Noon in Riga (2014).