The polar vortex sweeping across the United States has infected many of us with cabin fever but for others, it’s just one more excuse to hang out alone indoors. The feeling of loneliness that city inhabitants often feel may grow when paired with blizzards and extreme cold. This feeling of desolation, which is often so intangible, is remarkably captured through the lush photographs of Aristotle Roufanis.
The artist illuminates the lonely lives of city-dwellers through rich urban landscapes. I first encountered the Greek artist’s series of hyper-definition images, Alone Together, at Pulse 2018 Miami Beach. Roufanis’ deep surfaces and strong contrast of light and shadow drew my attention. Initially, I thought the large-scale cityscapes were paintings, but as I inspected the surface more closely, they contained the depth of a painting but not the texture.
The artist, who was standing nearby, noticed my curiosity and engaged me in conversation. I asked Roufanis what his medium was and he explained how his artistic process was entirely different from other artists exhibiting under the white tent. The artist capture’s the forlorn spirit of metropolises overnight, from dusk to dawn, click-by-click, layer by layer, in hopes of raising awareness of the loneliness epidemic.
Although always drawn to architecture, Aristotle Roufanis (b. 1983, Athens, Greece) discovered his fascination with isolation through his experience as an expat in London. As a self-taught artist, experienced photographer, and civil engineer graduate, Roufanis travels the world distilling the essence of urban habitats.
His series, Alone Together, consists of several large-scale tiered photographs of London, Paris, Hong Kong, Miami, and Athens. Whether the perspective of the works is from a hilltop or skyscraper, the viewer is placed in the position of voyeur – gazing at an abyss of constructed darkness save for a few illuminated windows.
In Roufanis’ Alone Together VIII, 2017, one corner apartment blazes among a sea of empty windows and abandoned balconies. Diaphanous curtains reveal an obscure living room scene. The viewer looks slightly down from what is likely an opposing skyscraper – not close enough to uncover the scene but near enough to decipher a living room; Is it dawn or is this a restless night?
Roufanis isolates a single living space to highlight how although metropolitan citizen surrounded by other citizens their experience is often isolated. In the artist’s words, “The bigger the city, the lonelier we feel. It is important for people to understand that although lonely, they are not alone. Individuality does not equal to alienation.” Even though the viewer can instantly see the breath of solitude, it also has a cathartic effect – I am not the only one awake, and I am not the only one feeling alone.
Urbanization is not a novel phenomena, but it continues to expand with rising population and increased migration to urban city centers –with it, grows mutual feelings of loneliness. Throughout art history, artists such as Edward Hopper highlight the alienating side of moving to a city. In his pivotal work, Nighthawks, 1942, viewers peer into a New York City dinner where four night-owls separately congregate. Each crouching figure is lost under the florescent lights and behind their glazed expressions.
Similar to Roufanis’ Alone Together series, hopper focuses on a single lit space foregrounded in a sleeping city. Although the forlorn figures are clearly more clearly outlined in Hopper’s work, they still radiate a similar feeling of desolation. Hopper later said that while painting Nighthawks “unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.”
Photos courtesy of artist.