Saturday, August 13, 2022

Triada Samaras "Unbound" at the Paterson Museum review by Mary Birmingham

After my solo exhibition "Unbound" at the Paterson Museum in 2019, I had intended to publish a catalogue. This piece of writing by Mary Birmingham, Curator, Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, was intended for that purpose.  The pandemic upended my plans. But I do want this piece of writing to be available to my readers and followers. Therefore I am featuring it below until the catalogue gets finally made.  Triada Samaras August, 2022

     In her solo exhibition, “Unbound,” Triada Samaras explores themes of personal

identity and transformation in vibrant paintings, sculptures, and works on paper.

Working intuitively, she approaches each new work as an inquiry with its own

unique energy. A multi-disciplinary artist, Samaras is also a poet, educator, and

community activist who addresses issues like housing, clean water, and land

use—especially as they relate to gentrification. Although she has frequently used

her socially engaged art to raise awareness and affect change, with this exhibition

she shifts her focus to the personal and turns her activist energy inward.

Comprising more than thirty works, the exhibition is a comprehensive and personal


     Incorporating iconic images of house, hand, and body, Samaras layers these forms

with words and lines from her poetry, giving viewers an intimate glimpse into her

journey toward self-actualization. In two small paintings, Bounded 1 and Bounded 2,

a windowless house with a tiny door fills almost the entire area of each painting, as

if it is about to burst out of its frame. This tension between constriction and

freedom is a recurring theme for Samaras. 

Triada Samaras

Above: Take Away, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 50 x 62 inches

A larger painting, Take Away, repeats the motif of the abstracted house, situating it behind a 

figure with outstretched arms. Like many of the artist’s works, its meaning is ambiguous. Is the 

figure embracing the house, or letting it go? Is she attached to the house or escaping its hold? 

Within the outlined shape of the figure Samaras has superimposed lines from her

poetry—some words legible and others veiled in layers of paint: “The wind blows

through me / Bright light finds the empty spot in my mind.”

     These lines or fragments of poetry appear in many other works in the exhibition. In

the ink drawing, Letting Go, an intricate network of lines and text covers the surface

of an outstretched hand, like an elaborate tattoo. A vortex of hand-written words

fills the background, repeating the lines quoted above. Samaras employs this open

hand image in several other works as she explores the dichotomy between grasping

and letting go. Reaching 1 also highlights the outstretched hand, placing it against a

dark background on which a fragment of the same line of poetry is painted. In the

exhibition’s most recent work, Emancipation, a disembodied hand reaches down

from within a light-filled grove of trees, releasing a pair of hand grenades. Bathed in

light, it is a powerful, surrealistic image.

     If there is a signature work in the exhibition it could be the painting Unbound, in

which a seated woman seen from behind is silhouetted against a gold background,

like a religious icon. A forearm and hand extends from the area of her heart up into

her head, lending new meaning to the repeated line, “Bright light finds the empty

spot in my mind.” Loose spirals of rope and text loop around her body. Despite the

ambiguity of the image, its title implies a loosening of bonds and hints at liberation.

Uprising is yet another painting that brings together house, body, and poem, and can

be seen as a coda to Unbound. Red and blue houses set in an earth-toned space

create a backdrop for a yellow female figure that diagonally bisects the canvas from

top to bottom. This figure is covered with text that restates the simple message

from Samaras’s poem, “Bright light finds the empty space.” A series of blue roofs

lines up in a perfect diagonal behind the nude figure, their pointed peaks forming

arrows that direct our eyes upward along the outstretched body, emphasizing the

work’s dynamic composition. The elemental nature of the words and image is

underscored by the artist’s use of primary colors.

     Looking deeply into Samaras’s abstracted forms, gestural brushwork, and

straightforward words, the viewer may detect a hint of hopefulness, despite their

darkness. The titles of the exhibition as well as the individual works hint at this

idea. With so much of the work expressing concepts of liberation and breaking free

and the belief that “light” will always find a home within us, the artist makes a good

argument for optimism. Like the figure in her painting, Uprising, Samaras’s work

ultimately leans toward hope. Viewed together, the works in “Unbound” release a

kind of energy that can also be described as “unbounded,” since it is limitless and

free of restraints or boundaries. We should celebrate this energy that is both timely

and timeless.

Mary Birmingham

Curator, Visual Arts Center of New Jersey