What you see is also what you see

Reality and pure pattern co-exist, at once stably and uneasily, in Sergei Firerís painting, drawing, and printmaking. His is a carefully wrought but full-blown modernism, capable of impressionist delicateness, expressionist force, surrealist invention, and the beguiling structure and mystery of both geometric and gestural abstraction. Sensitivity to line and texture modifies this stylistic variety without suppressing it, revealing an integrated yet still eclectic artistic personality. Firer works between picture and pure composition, never realistic (although featuring exquisite passages of exacting detail) but always referential (although as often as not to no one specific thing).

Firerís visual language, highly graphic, relies on images, symbols, and formal transitions, described by lines and given atmosphere by shades and colors. Shadow plays a notable role in many of his depictions, giving a sense of volume to even the most abstract and indistinct presences. Conversely, such visual nuances help to cast doubt as to the exact identity of the most precise forms. A single, simple image can go in and out of "reality" as if the artist were pacing back and forth between two rooms, one brightly lit and full of objects and the other shrouded in obscurity, its contents hinted at by subtle interplays of light and dark. It is not as if Firer cannot or does not want to work with color for its own sake. His landscape paintings are capable of nearly dissolving into areas of luminous color, their tranquil subject matter practically swallowed up in looming clouds of bright but tender hues, a few strategically laid-in lines serving to describe the vegetation or topography that would otherwise be sensed rather than seen. But this process of apparent dissolution is in fact just the opposite: if Monet could shiver the world into color, what Firer is doing is bringing the world back from such vaporous integration, giving the eye just enough formal reference to build its own world out of color-clouds and tone-oceans.

In his work on paper, by contrast, Firer conjures the subtle, brittle lines that fairly haunt the paintings into presences - even characters - in their own right. They can take the form of ornate vessels, windows in a wall, clusters of buildings, curvaceous nudes, game fish laid out for preparation, or strange hybrid apparitions whose scale, substance, purpose, and vitality can hover between the vibrantly organic and the menacingly mechanistic. While some of these pictures retain a prosaic certainty - a womanís body is a womanís body, a fish is a fish - and serve primarily to exercise Firerís virtuosic hand and distinctive calligraphy, the majority propose a metamorphic condition in which, much as in the paintings, things are what they seem and not what they seem at the same time.

Sergei Firer is asking us to depend on our eyes but not trust them. What we see in his images seems to be there and not there at the same time. Identities are blurred and seem to shift, conceptually and functionally as well as optically. Firerís knowing synthesis of modernist methods is more than a simple blend of readily recognizable tropes: it is an investigation into perception and epistemology, a challenge to the process of seeing and knowing that attracts us with its deft craft and keeps us with its conundra. These visions, quickly seen but slowly grasped, are not just figments of Firerís imagination; they are figments of ours.

Peter Frank, Los Angeles