Ēriks Apaļais at 427 Gallery

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For more than a decade, artist Ēriks Apaļais has explored the bounds of autobiography. This interest in the desire to retroactively construct one’s identity through narrative steeps his paintings in the semantics of self-reflection. The exhibition “Mailbox No. 12” offers a constellation of what curator Katerina Gregos has called “Memory Objects,” floating recollections that conjure the atmosphere and inner workings of the Riga-adjacent Babīte parish, where the artist lived during the turmoil of the post-Soviet 1990s. Reinterpreted today in the deliberately childish style of fairy tales, the memories depicted in these paintings—many attached to building snowmen in the yard—combine letters and symbols with more personal elements, including portraits of the artist, his sister, his mother, his partner, the painter Amanda Ziemele, and his father, who appears in the abstracted form of a juniper branch. The sensation produced is one akin to the struggle to speak while still searching for a word.

Previously, Apaļais’s paintings tended to have a flat, matte surface, often in a monochrome black or gray tone, upon which linguistic and iconographic elements seem to levitate. Here, the background has become looser, with brushstrokes somewhat wilder and messier. But it is the foreground that has changed most noticeably. In works like Self-Portrait, 2022, and Mailbox No. 12 (Santa), 2022, the painter depicts himself and his immediate family as snowmen with realistically rendered heads atop bodies conceptualized as two circles drawn on the canvas using dinner plates, a play on the fact that Apaļš, the root of the artist’s surname, means “circular” in Latvian. Complementary smaller compositions vary in cuteness and scale. In Christmas, 2020, oversize strawberries rest next to a fir tree, while The Spring, 2022, couples a tiny bunny with a poplar branch. Predetermined by cultural and personal context but stripped of didactics, this is a body of work that suggests more than it directly expresses. The motifs pervading Apaļais’s oeuvre now appear to be at ease in navigating the artist’s ever-shifting registers of the autobiographical.

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