ACCLAIMED artist Christos Bokoros has described himself as ‘serving an ancient iconolatric tradition’. In fact he does this with such clarity and verisimilitude in his paintings, with such perfectionism and emphasis on detail, that the results are awe-inspiring. But in contrast with the intricacy and complexity of his mastery of representational painting – creating a slice of Greek life with photographic exactitude – the message in his works is about simple universal truths: Less is more, and we must never lose sight of the light, of hope.
Due to the popularity of Christos Bokoros’ recent show (entitled ‘Glimpses of the Obscure’), at the Benaki Pireos, a new, larger exhibition of his works (entitled ‘Nostos’), will open on Thursday, March 23, and run till May 14 at the same museum. This show will include works from ‘The Bare Essentials’ exhibition which had travelled to Moscow’s Museum of Modern Art. Works from the collection of the Heracles group of companies have also been added, as well as works from the artist’s personal collection and from other private collections. Furthermore, the artist will be giving some guided tours.
At the previous exhibition (‘Glimpses of the Obscure’), the following piece of explanatory information was printed on a placard, on one of the exhibition walls:
“In memory of my father, Thomas D. Bokoros, who led me into deep clearings of history in an effort to rekindle a deeper meaning in the love of life and our country.
One afternoon I was looking out the window of the old house and I saw him – dead for years by then – slowly walking up the street towards me.
– Hey, Chris my boy! What are you making?
– What else? The unmakeable.
– Keep your eyes on the light, d’you hear me? Never lose sight of the light.”
Somewhere else, another statement by the artist was presented:
“It is claimed that in antiquity, at the end of the 5th century BC Zeuxis painted an arbour laden with grapes on a wall. Birds rushed to peck at the grapes and broke their beaks. That is how verisimilar he had painted them. And so his contemporary, Parrhasius, got rather envious and invited Zeuxis to see his works. The latter ventured to raise the curtain that appeared to be covering Parrhasius’ painting, but the curtain itself turned out to be painted. Then Zeuxis bowed to Parrhasius and said: I fooled the birds, but you surpassed me, you fooled man, me. None of their works survive and we are, thus, unable to ascertain the extent of their technical integrity, but their rivalry establishes that persuasive representation was a continual requirement.”
Perhaps it is because none of Parrhasius’ and Zeuxis’ works exist today, that Bokoros took it on himself to create some of equal merit, at a time in art history when many have abandoned the easel, in favour of more conceptual trends; the result being that the laborious, time-consuming painting traditions of old are getting lost in time… But his work is also contemporary – e.g. in its incorporation of readymade materials (such as used wooden planks), but also in its often minimalist compositional arrangements. Furthermore, Bokoros’ figurative works probe the inner psyche of his subjects – some of them lie sleeping calmly, but in others he might catch that gleam of fear or angst in their eyes. He reads in their body language their feelings, needs and desires, thus unveiling to all freeze-frames of human existence and relationships.
I had shown one of Bokoros’ paintings of blossoming branches to a friend (on my mobile), and she asked me if it was a photograph. Made up of the tiniest of brushstrokes that on the most part are hardly detectable, his works create a convincing illusion of reality that few artists these days would go to such trouble to achieve. He has studied light in such depth, whether it be the crisp light of a clear day, or a flame’s golden halo of light, blue in the centre, as it emanates from a bee’s wax candle – bringing back memories of Easter’s church vespers.
The first time I saw Bokoros’ work, was at the ‘Prosfora’ (‘Consecrated Bread’), show at the Zoumboulakis Gallery in 1997, where those loaves with their decorative religious designs were perfectly painted on large wooden slabs. A monasterial atmosphere had taken over the gallery. There is a deep spirituality in Bokoros’ work, and also a nostalgic yearning for past values. Maybe it is a childhood nostalgia, a harking back to the simple basics which once made up his life – the beauty of nature, the timeless presence of the ancient olive tree in the Greek countryside, the figs and prickly pears of his youth, that green olive soap that so many of us had witnessed (I remember it in my grandmother’s house), which was used for EVERYTHING.
In a Tedx talk that Bokoros gave on his exhibition ‘The Bare Essentials’, in 2014, he spoke of how this set of works had been painted on used wooden planks that were once parts of bridges: “Each work/piece of wood is a bridge – the ability of man to overcome difficulty.” These works were inspired by a vision the artist had on how we could exist on essentials, and so transform the crisis: “We need to free ourselves from the ephemeral”. He went on to describe how he was born and raised in the country, with people who had lived through many difficult situations: refugees from Asia Minor, who had survived the holocaust there, lived through war, the Resistance, the German Occupation, then the Greek Civil War and all of the devastating effects these events had on society. He concluded: “I think that if they heard us today complaining about our situation (and the crisis), they would probably laugh.”
Bokoros stressed how these people not only had managed to stay standing, but to also sow the seeds of the future, to mend and re-mend and to never lose sight of the light: “I recognise the pride in their minimality”, he went on to state. And now? It is up to us to not lose track of the light, in order to overcome difficulty.
Bokoros (born 1956), grew up in Agrinio. Although even as a child he had realised he had a talent for art, he decided to study Law at the Dimokritio University of Thrace, but then went on to study painting at the Athens School of Fine Arts. The last few years he lives and works in Kastella. He has often represented Greece in international shows, and has exhibited in many solo and group shows both here and abroad. His works are to be found in many private and public collections both in Greece and abroad.
• Bokoros will be giving guided tours of his show: Sunday March 26, 12.30; Saturday April 1, 12.30; Friday April 7, 7pm (only for members of the Benaki); Saturday April 8, 12.30.
• From March 23, and for the entire duration of the exhibition, the Benaki’s opening hours will change: Tues, Wed, Fri, Sat and Sun 11-9; Thurs 11-11; Mon closed.
• The Benaki Pireos is on 138 Pireos St. Tickets at 7 euros (or 3.5 concessions).