“Imagine me; I shall not exist if you do not imagine me.”
– Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
Ornela Vorpsi’s work in visual arts makes use of a wide range of media, processes, and aesthetic concerns, peaking in a significant number of impressive, focused works. Through painting, photography and video she builds a narrative trilogy, just as equally powerful and identifying as her writing and storytelling. With such works, Ornela Vorpsi deepens the thematic diameter and scope through which she has built her artistic canon over the last two decades: feminine fragility and strength; physical beauty as artistic concern; aesthetics as inescapable obsession; the failure to possess one another; the impossibility of the subjective as the etalon for the measurement of the general; and the idea of the body as life’s nest, as a cylinder under the pressure of emotions. Vorpsi, though best known for her prose, first written directly in Italian, and for several years now, directly in French, has full academic training in visual arts, initially in Tirana and later on in Brera, Milan. The narrative and the visual are sequels of a sort in Vorpsi’s artworks; they stimulate one another and cannot be separated.
Vorpsi’s visual work is based on the sensual, the emotional. In contrast to most conceptual and contemporary art, she expresses herself through a clear structure and balanced pace, giving each work the depth of a double space – both internal and external. Through realistic, figurative language, simple, primary media such as pencil drawings and oil paintings and, most especially, a classical form of composition, Vorpsi focuses intensely on the formal qualities of the portrayed subject, aiming at opening up her work to new narrative interpretations while reflecting from a humanist, poetic approach. Thus, in her creative endeavors, she ably combines two apparently contradictory principles – the poetry of painting and structured classical composition.
If there is a surprise to be found in Vorpsi’s current work – her first personal exhibition in Albania since she left the country for Italy in 1991, it’s that she successfully bypasses the turbulent Albanian political and historical narratives that are such a prominent component in her novels. But this occurs because she is not concerned with grand, general ideas: they simply do not generate curiosity in her. Vorpsi, like all gifted, penetrating artists, is interested in a particular vision of subtleties, especially the little devil dwelling in the house of fine details, in those things that have an end (in short, the mortal things), the mundane, the ephemeral and the fleeting. Like Nabokov (with whom she shares a great deal), the images she crafts confirm once again: “Reality is neither the subject nor the object of true art, which creates its own special reality, having nothing to do with the average “reality” perceived by the communal eye.” True to this maxim, Vorpsi exhibits complete control over the chosen matter as content and as treatment.
Vorpsi’s self-portraits are some of her strongest offerings in this exhibition. In these canvases, retrospective, introspective and perspective dissolve their formal boundaries to form a poignant mass of emotional turbulence, reflecting with amazement and melancholy the discovery of the very vision that creates these paintings. Through a series of metamorphosis, the artist morphs into the face of a cat and then into the face of a bloody animal, seeking to comprehend the depth of her emotional desire to escape; flight as a psychological liberating mechanism, but also as a way to live beyond standard human lifespan (cats in the folklore of many peoples have more than one life, from six to nine). Her self-portraits do not belie so much the presence of existential doubt, the meaninglessness of life and the passage of time, but accentuate the absolute confusion facing the phenomenon of life itself. In the self-portraits of Vorpsi, Superego, Ego and Id meet, in amazement, on the surface of the pictorial plane, as they recognize each other’s existence. This is the same surprise each of us feels meeting one’s own face in front of a mirror. Or as Carlo Levi would say “the classic, aching melancholy of living in our time.”
The ‘Out For a Stroll’ series focuses on simple mundane scenes between a father and a daughter, on family connection, on moments that each of us pulls out of the tree of life and transforms into a visual, personal and existential journal. The characters in the works here, her real life husband and daughter, do not pose, do not freeze in meaningful moments, but continue to live routinely. Like Pierre Bonnard (with whom Ornela Vorpsi shares a great deal too), who painted Marthe, his wife, over and over again, Vorpsi, likewise, finds the pictorial, the artistic in the conventional. The artist also claims this attitude when she says: “My artistic research needs to dig deep into the depths of the human soul. My subjects are faces, bodies. I observe through the painting as they “rest” in this “non-evident” existence.” Paraphrasing Kimmelman when he writes on Bonnard, this stance “…proves [that] a circumscribed world can be made to seem enormous through a rich enough imagination.”
Photography is one of the mediums with which Vorpsi has an organic connection. Through full series, starting from ‘Nothing Obvious’ (2001), Vorpsi has found a medium through which she displays another side of her creative instinct, an additional apparatus to replicate her self-portrait, multi-layered and multi-faceted. The artist has found a new pen, the camera, with which she writes visually. Her vast majority of images portray naked women in which the body is partly or nearly completely in shadow. The female form found in these pictures, seems to live between dream and reality, and exhibits nearly every ideal of physical beauty. But the power of her photographic work ultimately lies in dissonance, where the focus is actually not the physically perfect, but a sustained, inner spiritual pain that has neither name nor cure.
And from this strategic position, as both creative and demiurge, Vorpsi seeks to heal the body, the man, and the soul, no matter how crude, filled with injustice or absurd the reality may be.