By Shannon Anderson for Carousel Magazine

Each twist and curve of Jaime Angelopoulos’s sculptures contributes to saying something about the way our bodies communicate. A gestural language emanates from them, often reduced to its most essential forms yet still managing to touch on a rich vocabulary of emotions. Take Role Model (2017), for instance: the “w” shape that curves along its uppermost part strongly suggests two outstretched arms, but the gesture encompasses a shrug, a question, even a provocation. Headless, arched, and balanced on a single leg,  all attention focuses to the arch of the body and the disproportioned arms in order to emphasize a layered and nuanced body language. The sculpture is one of many recent works I encountered during a visit to the artists’ studio that point to a particular direction in Angelopoulos’s current work: a focus on abstract forms that embody complex characters, each with their own distinct combination of sensitivities, hesitations, and proclivities,  and a shared struggle toward empowerment.

It may sound strange to describe sculpture this way, particularly of forms that border on abstraction, but Angelopoulos’s practice is all about expressing human emotional complexity through minimal means. Her bodily terrain envelopes varying, even contradictory gestural readings. Rise Up (2015) is an orange-and-white-striped sculpture that is nearly twice the height as Role Model. It hovers over the viewer in a gesture that can be perceived as sheltering (as a protector) or menacing (like a cobra), but either way, as the title indicates, it is about perseverance. The artist had noticed this arched stance in a few different situations, such as seeing a homeless person staying warm in the street, or a downtrodden child in need of a hug. It strikes me as a deeply weighted pose full of many possible associations.

The “voice” in these sculptures can be partially attributed to Angelopoulos’s colour choices. Each displays a dominant, bold colour, or colour combination, that she selects for its symbolic impact. According to the artist, her use of colour is about “activating their physical presence—waking them up.” In Role Model, the monochromatic neon yellow gives the piece a celebratory and uplifting presence, but also exposes its vulnerability. It is highly saturated, causing the sculpture to emit a kind of glow that makes its edges hard to decipher. I’m reminded of one of those dollar store Jesus night lights, and suddenly the gesture takes on religious overtones. “Role Model is a monument to revolutionary persons who have ignited social protest and progress in contemporary culture,” notes the artist. But it is a complicated expression of redemption, because while the arms are outstretched, they are not entirely welcoming; the “shrug” lingers, denoting the precarious line between resilience and indifference.

Despite these various emotional connotations and inferences, Angelopoulos always maintains an element of humour in her work. Usually, it’s on a surface level, almost like a veneer wrapped around something more deep and layered. The artist remarks that children are naturally drawn to her work, and that it’s important for her that these works remain friendly, for many reasons.  Approachability is key, otherwise the complexities don’t quite resonate in the same way. She describes a recent body of work that she made in 2016 for Parisian Laundry in Montreal called Opaque Architectures, where she attempted to push further into the darkness of her work, working largely in blacks and leaning on heavier emotions. It’s not a series she lives comfortably with, but one that was likely necessary to the trajectory of her sculptures, as part of a continual process of balancing the communication of many sensations simultaneously.

Each of these sculptures is so distinctive in its own particular blend of emotions and figural references that they become characters. Their layers resonate in ways that make me think of a character-driven novel, like something written by Anne Tyler or Carol Shields. Their stories portray the inner life of each individual through what the writer chooses to show you, what the individuals show each other, how they view others around them, and themselves. In the best of these books, the characters resonate with a common familiarity that compels us to start making connections with the people in our own lives, or with ourselves, shining a carefully directed light on aspects we may not have fully understood. Angelopoulos “writes” her work in a similar fashion. We can see aspects of ourselves, and others, through the compelling and layered ways her forms are portrayed. But she explains that the delicacy of the emotive content she is attempting to convey can be demanding: “When it’s so intimate it’s a real challenge. How do you translate these emotions into words and form?” Her work draws from her own personal experiences and feelings, but equally considers the people and community around her. It signals to what curator Renée van der Avoird observes to be “a profound empathy that is at the very core of her work.”[1]

It may be unsurprising to hear that writing is a fundamental aspect of Angelopoulos’s process, although neither her sculptures nor her paper works contain text. Her “sketches” partly come in the form of poems, or lists of words that resonate with the ideas she seeks to impart.  The only textual aspect that viewers can access, however, is the artwork titles, which are the intensely considered results arising from this accumulation of privately written thoughts and ideas.


In Angelopoulos’s studio, a few familiar, older pieces sit wrapped in plastic in the back corner, including Just Passing Through (2011), a baby blue object that reads like a collection of bubbles stacked into a figural, lumpish form; and Stand Up For Yourself (2012), a large, baby pink object. When I ask her about these, she notes that they are more closely tied to the ground and weighted, informed by explorations of alienation, reclusiveness and inner turmoil. By contrast, it’s clear that something different is being examined in her most recent works. Conceptually, most of them contain gestures of resistance, as though maintaining the continuous effort toward overcoming inner conflict and moving forward. 

And visually, they are less singular in the sense that they are nearly all articulated through the same tubular form. They seem more like drawings in space for this reason, something that serves to emphasize gesture, and forges a closer connection to her drawings and collages. While Angelopoulos has always maintained a drawing practice, a dialogue is now more pronounced between the various mediums. She remarks that her sculptures can be seen as “pieces of a drawing sprinkled around the space in the gallery.” Echoes of her sculptures also make appearances in the collage work. In among the various elements that comprise Act Natural (2017), for instance, a two-dimensional version of Rise Up appears; and in Faith/Triangles (2017), a form that seems to echo Role Model is present. Her collages are a relatively new aspect of her practice. They employ bold pronouncements of colour and carry a Matisse- like joy of colour and form, while still holding onto a complex language of expression. She appreciates the breathing room between forms that collage allows for, something she is also developing in her drawing practice as she reconciles a desire to untangle her forms and lend them more internal strength and stability. In the studio, Angelopoulos points to a new series of works on the wall—Heal Right (2017), Oxygenate (2017) and Canaries (2017)—indicating how she has introduced softer colours and less contrast to give the work a different kind of energy. The drawings seem less self-contained, allowing for a kind of lightness and positivity to enter them. 

As with any individual, to properly see Angelopoulos’s drawings and sculptures necessitates going beyond their surfaces. Some viewers (even critics and collectors), have categorized her work as simply fun(ny) and playful. When I ask her about this response, she remarks, “this isn’t just candy.” Looking at Overtake (2015)—a green form wrapped around a flagpole—one certainly can’t ignore the humour of this strange form pulling down (or rising up?) a flag, but the gesture is riddled with other sensations. Pathos emits from this piece, and the confusion between the rise or fall communicates the precarity of resistance, and the vulnerability in standing up for a cause. Like so much of Angelopoulos’s work, it speaks to an inner strength that is essential and universal to human nature and its struggles. In this present moment of Indigenous reconciliation, the Black Lives Matter movement, civilizational upheaval, and sexual misconduct allegations, these are the kinds of artistic gestures that remind us of the incredible courage and fragility involved in speaking out.

[1] Renée van der Avoird, Jaime Angelopoulos: Act Naturally, online publication (Barrie, ON: MacLaren Art Centre, 2017), 9. Https://

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