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“The dream of a shadow is a human”, the Greek poet Pindar used to say. We don’t know if the Latvian artist Janis Avotins had Pindar in mind when painting his figurative works; what is certain is that, consciously or not, he translated Pindar’s quote in the visual lexicon of his oneiric, grainy signature style. In his paintings, humans really are the shadows of a far and forgotten past, ephemeral figures “on the brink of being subsumed by the hungry amorphousness of the surrounding blackness”, as the critic Gabriel Coxhead once subtly noted.
Sourced from real photographs of the Soviet era, his figures – be them female characters, patriarchal busts or Soviet bureaucrats – recall the editing power of history and the impotence of individuals in front of it. From a technical standpoint, the diaphanous, speckled atmosphere is achieved by covering the canvas with a thin imprimatura wash of dark oil paint and by leaving some areas unshaded, so to emphasize the ghostly-like appearance of the human figures. The result is an eerie impression of presence and absence, luminescence and overwhelming darkness; an impression which is rendered even more poetic by the consciousness of its fragility.