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Waiting for the ‘resurrection’ of Greece: Pallantzas talks about art and the crisis

EVERYONE has felt some kind of loss during the Greek crisis. Christos Pallantzas’ current show at the Evripides Gallery focuses exactly on this subject – capturing in his paintings, what isn’t there. From portraits to nudes, humans and their relationships are analysed, explored and exposed. What they lack, takes centre stage: These narratives ask of you to read between the lines – or brushstrokes in this case, to decipher what hasn’t been said: A couple who have fallen out of love, an Ethiopian immigrant who has lost his home, an old woman (the painter’s mother), who has lost her memory, a middle-aged woman in a bath tub, who has lost her happiness and hope. The melancholy nature of these works is bittersweet, a bit like that sad love that Viola in Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ had expressed: ‘’She sat like patience on a monument/Smiling at grief’’. Because above all, these works show that people continue, despite their loss, stoically, to endure, to be patient, to live.

Some of the works display a predominant use of the blue spectrum on the painter’s palette, while others focus on more earthy shades. The results in each case are exquisite, poetic hymns to grief, cathartic in nature. Because, as someone said to me recently, grief and happiness walk hand in hand throughout one’s life. In fact being able to embrace grief, makes you happier. Pallantzas might be singing the blues through his painting process, but it is a melodic, lyrical and mellow tune. And above all, it is therapeutic.
The title of Pallantzas’ current show ‘If you were here’ has a biblical reference, to the words of Martha, who awaits the resurrection of Lazarus. Again here, the idea of loss and happiness come hand in hand, seeing as Lazarus came back from the dead. Similarly, in Greece, we are all awaiting the ‘miracle’ recovery of this country.
Pallantzas studied at the Athens School of Fine Arts (ASFA), with teachers D. Mytaras, D. Kokkinidis, N. Kessanlis and of course with the inspirational Marina Lambraki-Plaka teaching history of art. He continued his studies at the Beaux-Art in Paris. But Pallantzas is one of those versatile artists who – apart from developing his own painting practice – has worked artistically in many other fields: from educational programmes with the culture ministry, to helping in the restoration of ancient frescoes in Santorini and teaching at the AKTO school of art and design. His work was also included in an artists’ group that represented contemporary Greek art for the Olympic Games of 2004.
With a long list of both solo and group exhibitions in Greece and abroad (his show in Italy met with great success last year), one could say that Pallantzas is a well-rounded artist. But maybe the most interesting art mission he has undertaken in his life up till now, is the project of 2011, at the Child Psychology department of the Children’s hospital ‘Aghia Sophia’, where he worked as an art therapist in a research programme funded by the Niarchos Foundation. Here, he had the opportunity to put some of his art theories into practice:
”During the crisis, I had this amazing experience, to work with kids that were suffering from cancer and other diseases. Vaso Hantzara who was director of the Child Psychology Department – and who has also specialised in childhood depression – wanted to research how art and music could help sick children, maybe even aid in their recovery” explains Pallantzas to ‘Art Scene Athens’ and continues:
”The programme comprised of psychotherapy, for the sick kids but also their siblings who would often have problems – especially with aggression. There was psychological support also for the families – that were often destroyed due to dealing with illness. Now this is something that is a sign of our times, because in the past, the Mediterranean family would deal with illness very differently.”
Hantzara was intrigued by some of Pallantzas’ theories – of how the artistic process can open many roads for people, and help them overcome: ”Firstly, through art you can fight fear. I have seen this happen with children who I’ve helped prepare for the ASFA exams. Art also helps your sense of perception. Hantzara liked the idea that art can be used to overcome fear. And so I worked with the kids at the hospital by giving them art lessons and helping them understand art. The work they produced was amazing. Some of them went on to study art at the ASFA, and one of them was so impressed with the work of Monet, that she wants to become a Monet specialist.” The results from this programme proved that art is therapeutic.
Pallantzas is committed to perfecting his painting process: ”Art is a personal deeper agony, a type of prayer which gives us the opportunity to become better people. In 1993, at my first solo show, the great poet Sikelianos’s wife Anna, had come to see my work. I asked her what she thought of my it and she said to me ‘I can’t tell you, but it looks as if it is experiential. But I’ll tell you one thing – I’m 82 and I still go out and sweep my pavement every day,, trying to make it more perfect every time. That makes me a better person, according to my beliefs. If you can do that in your art, you will remember me one day.’ And that’s what I did. I’ve kept it as a rule.”
However the crisis has made Pallantzas rethink his role as an artist: ”When I enter my studio these days, and see from my window the beggar going through the garbage, it makes me think what exactly it is that I am doing here, and why. But for me, art is about the art-making experience – I can’t create a work for any other reason but to share through it with other people an experience on a deeper level – on a spiritual level. That which we have lost in present day society.”
According to Pallantzas, when we manage to go to this spiritual level of existence, we go beyond our fears and our selves, beyond the ego: ”We don’t know who we are in this phaze”, it’s rather like being in love.
As far as the crisis is concerned, Pallantzas believes that it’s not just a matter of economics, but also of ethics: ”I always believed that the crisis on a deeper level was basically ethical. If someone has a secure sense of identity, he can cope with anything. The tragedy today, when I talk with people, is that their fear and agony is that they have lost tomorrow. They can’t hope for anything. They have lost the dream that organised their very existence. For example, as an artist, I have an ideal I want to achieve. If this is taken away from me, then I have nothing to aim for. That’s what people feel like in Greece too. Their dream has died and they are waiting for its ‘resurrection’.”
On a deeper level though, Pallantzas believes that all is not lost, because it’s a matter of resurrecting our spirit first, because the spirit can endure everything. It’s time to realise the importance of human relationships, to get back in touch with the spiritual side of our existence that consumerism has castrated:
”It was as if consumerism was imposed on us in Greece. The TV started showing people dancing on the tables and having fun. It made you feel that if you were a bit more sceptical about things, you were a bit ‘quaint’. Then everyone started wondering where all the thinkers had gone – well, they ran and hid. Suddenly, if you didn’t have a Cayenne jeep, two houses and expensive clothes, you were nothing.”
The Greeks not only lost their money at the end of this consumerist adventure, but also their identity. An identity that Pallantzas argues, they never had properly formed in the first place. He refers to Greek historian Glykatzi-Ahrweiler’s belief that this country never freed its ancient capital, in the sense that we have clutched onto our ancient heritage, and stuck to just that. ”But are we finally, a bit more Byzantine than we believe?” ponders Pallantzas.
Pallantzas is happy in his artmaking process, in fact, he knows that this is the way he wants to die: ”One day, I was walking up to my studio and I thought to myself, Pallantzas, this is where you will die, and that’s great. Because it is here that I have found the process that I want to keep on perfecting throughout my life. One which makes other people feel better too. Because every time I create something beautiful, someone will see it and be moved by it.”
The painting process was once upon a time at the epicentre of art, but nowadays, it could even be considered anarchic, in the sense that contemporary art has travelled a very different path, putting contemporary painting in the outer margins of its plethora of postmodern mediums. To continue to stick to the medium of painting, in a contemporary art environment that seems to be slowly banishing it, is indeed a brave stance.
Yet, for Pallantzas, the shock-tactics of some mainstream contemporary artists, are futile in modern day society, one in which all you have to do is switch on the TV and watch all the shock and horror around the world by just changing the channels – whilst sipping on your glass of wine. ”How can art be revolutionary in such a world?” Pallantzas argues. Therefore, maybe it is time for art to take on a different role, to help us find what we have lost today in this society in which consumerism and science have been put on a divine pedestal.
Pallantzas’ art helps us get in touch with ourselves, to explore our essential needs, our primordial existence, the importance of human relationships and of the spiritual self. They are meditative works that bring peace of mind to the viewer; Prisms that have captured what we have lost, offering it back to us, via expressive brushstrokes and seductive colour harmonies. They offer a haven of serenity amidst this world of crisis chaos.
• The exhibition of works by Christos Pallantzas runs till March 26 at the Evripides Gallery (10 Iraklitou St, Kolonaki, tel 210-3615909),

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