Kristaps Gelzis

Kristaps Gelzis (1962)

      Purvitis Award 2011

Kristaps Gelzis’ personality and artis one of the most significant and topical phenomena in Latvian contemporary art. Kristaps Gelzis is a sharp observer and a smart thinker, which materializes in his works as a definite message. The main focus of his artworks is to examine the things we don’t mention and speak about on a daily basis. 

Already since the beginning of his artistic career in the second part of the 1980s, Kristaps Gelzis has been talking about the developments of the era in an outright and genuine manner, using an international language of art – symbols and archetypes. The artistic content of his works is about how people feel today, their country and their place in it. Especially, it has gained topicality in the works of recent years, where Kristaps Gelzis’ chosen words most of the time concern the problematic of national identity and statehood.

Kristaps Gelzis is an artist who is able to work in any of the available materials, technologies and mediums of nowadays – from classical drawing and watercolour painting to ready-made objects, high-tech materials, photography, digital prints, video etc. The chosen technique is closely linked with what Gelzis wants to say – the main idea of the work and the atmosphere of the time. It always takes viewer by surprise. In 2012, after working with large-scale watercolours, for which Kristaps Gelzis received Purvitis Prize 2011, fluorescent paintings of landscape, which attracted international attention at the 54th Venice Biennale, and black drawings, Kristaps Gelzis came up with plastic paintings – his own author-technique, where the used materials are polyethylene and plastic tapes, adhesive tape and acrylic pigment.

Nevertheless, in 2012 the plastic paintings were an unexpected and puzzling surprise for the public, and many were not convinced. It was a real manifestation of plastic works, where the materiality of plastic dominated and in certain places even overwhelmed the traditional and known expression of Gelzis.

Since 2015, Kristaps Gelzis’ plastic works have turn into paintings. In the author-technique, only known for Gelzis himself, the brutal materiality of the polyethylene has matured in painterly structures, subtle colour tonality and layers of glaze. Viewers with interest can engage in unravelling how it has been achieved, and for a long time observing the complex structures of the works. However, stepping back a little, another truth reveals itself – the message of the painting is rising above us like a gigantic shadow. This message tells a story about each of us and our country – rigorous and genuine as a mirror of the daily life.
                                                                                                              Mg.Art. Ilze Zeivate

“They are paintings, albeit created in my own “plastic” technique based on the intarsia principle where the material used is polythene, adhesive plastic film and sticky tape combined with acrylic pigment. I like to replace the whole material structure of traditional “painting” with an obviously artificial, synthetic package. It is an updated eternal repair process so typical of today.

Black polyethylene plastic for greenhouse structures to rationalize and speed up the expected growth process, or a disposable rubbish sack as canvas. Household adhesive that covers up and repairs all the carelessness of modern man, both brown and transparent. Double-sided sticky, tape to remove and transfer the arty acryl pigment fingerprints like the forensic investigators do. In technical terms it may be a different non-traditional material but the structure of all the artworks is essentially very traditional

I am looking for nowadays facture. Facture that testify the time, so that form of expression is typical to this period. As a human in this pictures I find pure state of mind – world and environment like an eternal repair which surrounds us. Eternal noise. Everything is not really packed or unpacked, something like a life on trunks, interim existence. Take a look on environment in which we live! Everything is spoiled – everything is plastic, chemicals, garbage mountains. However, I like the beauty of this terrible material.

In the latest works from 2015, my interest was captured by texts and their conversion into a visual language in this way trying to fin a visual subtext for them. The content for the words I have selected is most often national. The newly created font is also nationally digitalised and consists of hybrids. The dash between nationalism is individuality. I’m certainly not against that individuality that has been nourished by the place where I live. I think that it is the power that automatically makes everything better, not indeterminately generalised. I’m not keen on Esperanto.

If in my exhibition of plastic works in 2012 I said I was flirting with painting, then with the 2015 exhibition I dared to say I was no longer flirting but painting.

One could, perhaps, characterise my paintings as the packaging of my Today’s careful observations into a big box, ready for transfer to the next place,” Kristaps Ģelzis, 2016.


Kristaps Ģelzis has graduated from the Art Academy of Latvia (1986).
He has worked in a number of media, including print making, video installations, installations, sculpture, environmental art, digital printing, drawing, watercolour, book illustration, stage design, money design, as well as exhibition set-up.
Since 2011, Kristaps Gelzis is an Associate Professor at the Department of Graphic Art of  the Art Academy of Latvia.
In 2011 Kristaps Gelzis was representing Latvia at the 54 La Biennale de Venezia with the solo show “Artificial Peace. Contemporary Landscape” (fluorescent paintings).
In 2011 Kristaps Gelzis received Purvitis Prize 2011 for watercolour paintings on paper at his solo exhibition "Maybe" (Maksla XO gallery, 2009).
Since 1985, Kristaps Gelzis has organized 21 solo exhibitions and participated in more than 100 group show in Latvia and abroad.

Since 2012 Kristaps Gelzis has been developing his author-technique of plastic painting. The plastic paintings by Kristaps Gelzis have been previously shown in Latvia (Maksla XO gallery), Lithuania (16th International Vilnius Painting Triennial “Nomadic Images” and Art Vilnius 2016), Italy (during the 56th Venice Biennale at exhibitions "Personal Structures - Crossing Borders" and “Ornamentalism. Purvītis Prize. Latvian Contemporary Art”) and Germany (Grafik Museum Stiftung Schreiner, Bad Steben, 2012. Preview Berlin 2012, 2013; ART.FAIR 2013 in Cologne; POSITIONS Berlin 2014, 2017).