Art historian Charis Kambouridis was pleasantly surprised when he encountered quite a few more art lovers than he had expected, to turn up for his talk/guided tour of the new show at the Evripides Gallery on Sunday, December 13. Entitled ‘The New Landscape Painting’, this exhibition presents how a particular generation of 18 artists have focused on the Greek landscape (and still do), in a contemporary, postmodern frame of mind. Their artistic oeuvre blossomed in the 1980s, a time when, as Kambouridis pointed out, Greece was exploring its new European identity (seeing as the country became an EU member on January 1, 1981). Since then, these artists have firmly established a name for themselves on the Greek art scene (and beyond).
Back in the ‘80s, as the new European spirit of Greece evolved, some Greek artists were trying to grapple with more ‘radical’ European trends in art, while others, preferred in a sense, to revive an old Greek (and European of course), tradition – landscape painting. But that’s viable too in the context of postmodernism’s pluralist spirit. The blending of a past tradition with a contemporary perspective on art, that the landscapes at the Evripides gallery present, exemplify how the landscape can have its own niche on the postmodern spectrum.
Kambouridis took us by all the art works in the show, focusing on their particular characteristics: for example the way Kottis’ work turned landscape into art, and how he enjoyed to ‘mould’ colour, adding bits of other materials onto the canvas in the process. He focused on the EQ of Verghi’s landscapes and how they had a sensual dimension to them, seeing as the artist enjoys painting in nature and becoming one with the landscape. Iliopoulou’s paintings stood out for their depictions of moonlit woods – mystical, magical, almost verging on the surreal. To me, they brought to mind Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
Vordonis’ works stood out for their ‘fairytale’ rendering of a butterfly filled countryside – incorporating modern materials in her work also, such as plexiglass. Kambouridis focused on Rinas’ grand scene of New York as an example of how Greek artists didn’t only paint Greek landscapes (or cityscapes in this instance). There are also two new works by Rinas in the show that haven’t been exhibited before, that present the artist’s move towards a more abstract expressive style, as evident in his rendering of rock formations.
Kanas’ works stood out for their exploration of ‘matiere’ and their thick, almost cement-like surface from which she moulds her art, full of colour. This exploration of ‘matter’ contrasts so effectively with her ethereal, dreamlike renditions of the land and sea.
Furthermore, Kambouridis described how artist Feidakis had an ability to capture a scene through the eyes of a child – a fresh and youthful rendering – and how Adamakos’ art takes the landscape onto a journey towards ultimate abstraction. Filopoulous’ mastery of watery nature was also discussed, while particular focus was made on Hadoulis, the youngest of the artists – the intrigue of his art lying in the ‘nervous haste’ of his technique and his ‘fearless’ use of colour.
Kambouridis did not of course leave any artist out, focusing also on the works of Xenos and Papanikolaou, explaining the different senses of abstraction and expressionism in the works of Ioannou and Koukos, and also elaborating on the dark, mysterious nature of Mantzavinos’ more sinister scenes. Furthermore, Charos’ approach to expressionism and colour brought to mind the influence of child art, while Stamatopoulou’s beautiful incorporation of the decorative arts ‘a la Matisse’ with landscape painting were also ‘examined’, as was one of Samios’ quintessential odes to the Greek summer, which stood out for its characteristic painting technique and subject-matter.
I had the pleasure of seeing Samios’ solo exhibition this summer on the island of Hydra, so it was lovely to get another glimpse of his intriguing combination of objects (such as a slice of watermelon, grapes, a transistor radio on a table) with the Greek landscape. There are so many elements at play in his works: the tradition of nature morte, pointillism, landscape painting, even a touch of surrealism in the way he has combined all his influences into something altogether different.
This show was a real catalyst that got me thinking: I felt that it had opened a Pandora’s box of a theme, that begs to be analysed even further. Maybe it is time to re-examine the Greek landscape genre in general – through the ages up to the present day. What an interesting venture that would be, to undertake in terms of an exhibition. If such a venture were ever to be realized, other contemporary Greek landscape painters out there could also be included (such as Kechagioglou for example), while it would also then be interesting to juxtapose these contemporary perspectives with the artists of the older landscape tradition (eg Tetsis, Prekas). Plus, there are other artists who might not have been solely dedicated to this genre, but who, during their own artistic journey, have made a significant stop at ‘the landscape’, and have produced some interesting works in the process. One such artist that comes to mind is Fassianos.
My mind also went to the new more ‘European’ Greece of the eighties and after, which attracted many people to this country, some of them also artists. Multi-culturalism started to establish itself here too, as did a hope for a better future for this country. Tsiopou’s work comes to mind – her poppy fields in particular. She has now moved on from Greece to America and Hawaii (and now signs her works with her maiden name Pochinski). But her ‘Greek Chapter’ was ever so dynamic. Some beautiful landscapes with intriguing purple shadows among ancient ruins by Cherry Pickles also came to mind. Both artists were represented by the Jill Yakas gallery – that special haven for expat artists in Greece. They too added their own special perspective on the Greek landscape, bringing to it a whole host of other artistic influences and cultural baggage. Maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to slip out of the ‘net’.
But then of course, way back in other centuries (the 19th in particular), there were those other ‘travellers’, who had come to Greece and had marvelled at this country’s beauty, painting and drawing its ancient ruins and rustic scenes, creating lovely engravings and maps. Yet one could argue that this is an altogether different chapter in Greek landscape painting… Just a few thoughts…
As you can see, the current show in its own way sheds light on how Greek landscape painting in general is an incredibly vast subject, waiting to be examined in its entirety. So a big ‘thank you’ to the Evripides Gallery and to the show’s curator (Charis Kambouridis) for focusing on this tradition’s contemporary side – the latest dimension of a much-loved Greek genre.
It is always a delight to hear the experts talk about art, so if anyone is interested, there will be another talk/tour by Charis Kambouridis (on Saturday, January 9, at noon), which is also a great opportunity to see this wonderful show that lifts the spirits, and at the same time gives one the opportunity to learn more about the artists.
• The Evripides gallery is on 10 Irakleitou St, Athens (Kolonaki area). Tel: 210-361-5909. http://www.evripides-art.gr
Below, works by Kanas, Samios, Mantzavinos and Iliopoulou