Georgios Xenos, a painter in the age of painting crisis

Manos Stefanidis
Curator, National Gallery of Athens, 2000

I remember when vision could not see a thing!
Nikos Karouzos

Metaphysically speaking, one could define art as the expression of our existential agony. As Heideger puts it: agony is a privilege, a fundamental sensation of being (.Grundbefindlichkeit). It is an agony that balances between zero and being, at the state of living which is at the same time the ultimate certification of death. To be means that the only true state of being is death, that is, there is a single course towards death. There is nothing morbid in this.
This is where the “work of art” makes its agonizing but also revealing entrance. It is derived from zero and hovers between a world of optical illusion and non-genuineness and a world of forms, ideas and moral needs. The work of art has always been an idealized version of the world; in that sense, it puts together a revolutionary space. It seeks ruptures by interpreting the falls, and transcends the zero of its starting point through the agony of the form. All the rest are part of the middle-class attempt to strip the work of art from its ideology and reduce it to an object (albeit a valuable one) and a multivalent “product”. The work of art is, in fact, its creator and the intellectual characteristics of the society which has nurtured it (often unwittingly). Within this annihilation of humanity which is caused incessantly by everyday life (Heideger), the work of art, as both process and object, constitutes a “raft” of resistance (it objects; insistit). Therefore it strives from an almost theological aspect, although it exists without God. It becomes sacred.
These thoughts and ideas were provoked in me by the sight of Georgios Xenos’s latest works. They are paintings which justify their existence within the body of European tradition, bearing on their flesh the crisis of painting — otherwise they would be hypocritical—but also being involved with today, with human destiny as it is reflected in current problems. In this sense, what we have here is realistic or representational painting, one that depicts issues and concerns instead of objects. Georgios Xenos paints symbolic self-portraits. He renders his inner self in relation to the world. In order to accomplish that, he has devised a personal idiom: a system of visual morphemes (small forms, gestures) which are repeated, arrayed or subverted to produce the authentic, unique images of his painting. His image-producing activity aims to reveal the archetype —the primary form which is inextricably associated with the state of being. To Xenos, painting means being here (Dasein) in image.
Basically he questions the omnipotence and ideological boasting of the image and, at the same time, he gives meaning to the painted image with patience and internal processes (hence my references to the image as text or as philosophical and aesthetic thesis). In that sense, the proposition “I paint, therefore I exist as image” can evolve into “I paint, therefore I am”, with all the risk or agony this might entail. Xenos, instinctively but also confidently oversteps the crises of the image to demonstrate its living values; to show what painting can be today and what the painter’s role should be: the role of a hermit, a craftsman-philosopher.

Georgios Xenos goes from the archetypal nature and the macrocosm of visualized notions to the microcosm of a cell —to the functioning of a nucleus which contains vibrant forces and energy. Although not realistic, the process he follows generates reductions and analogies similar to those of the like-minded Ross Bleckner. Before recogniz¬ing the spectacle, viewers must get to know the visible and invisible aspects of reality. The struggle of sperm to penetrate the ovum or the tadpole’s desperate effort to survive are examples of the simulation of matter that causes the abstract as well as the epic narrative.
Even when he is inspired by the asteroids which spiral away into chaos, the ones we perceive as luminous energy traveling to infinity, Xenos’s forms remain austere, minimal, allusive. This is a kind of atavism that aims to harmonize the inner with the outer rhythm. After all, isn’t this the most important thing?
It would be naive to expect an artist to reach a scientist’s conclusions. Simply in this case both the artist and the specialized expert refer, in different ways, to the same cosmos (in the sense ascribed to the term by Ionic philosophers).
Xenos does not merely observe the world. He wants, he has the will (Kunstwollen) to become part of it, to be absorbed by its energy, by the archetypal, sacred oscillation of nature as the ultimate, romantic power. It is then that his paintings will have an objective status and a communicational value. In other words, the painter’s con¬science (Dasein) and his work (id) fuse to form a kind of Leibnitzean unit. He can “see” on his paper what an astronomer can see through his electronic telescope. The question is, of course, whether viewers are mature enough to see it. His large, 3x5m compositions constitute “rapid development landscapes” where nature, as an epic mural made by some unknown primitif, exists and becomes at the same time (natura naturata— natura naturans). These are copulations of speed and stillness, fractals and Giotto, visual stimuli and the unconscious. The visual reality formed in the chaos of the few centimeters between the closed eyelids and the core of the brain. Just as Greco or the mystics, Georgios Xenos paints with his eyes closed to the world.
These paintings of rapid evolution comprise a web of similar elements which repeat and reinvent themselves, expanding neatly and under an innate method in all directions and along both dimensions of the work, with a tendency to go beyond them. Whether monochromatic or effusively colourful, these compositions reveal an experience of infinity and become examples of space painting of the inner, secret space. It is as if Xenos introduces into the painting process the Heraclitean notion of the inner and the outer, which are the same thing (the higher and the lower way are one and the same thing). In this case we deal with a realist of the absolute. Xenos always starts from an internal stimulus, a suddenly activated piece of subconscious information. Like a Buddhist monk he practises his means starting from the very first, the simple, the self-evident. A line / writing / gesture exists as the most natural thing in the world. But once it is repeated it becomes existentially transposed and differentiates itself to claim the self-contained as well as closed realm of the work. In these serial attempts, Xenos coincides the simple with the complex, the evident with the obscure. More than just describing a process, he becomes part of it. He seems to be wondering, like Karouzos —”what is shine?”
And it is as if he awaits a “visual arrival at the green of the heart” in order to present his being as an image. So what does Georgios Xenos paint? Why, painting, of course. On the other hand, the tautology of themes or processes does not lead to weariness or reiteration; it leads to initiation. Therefore I must stress (again) the viewer’s responsibility. In the presented works, renewal-as-catharsis comes slowly, with a subtle continuity. The mountains, the opium field with their poppies, the papavera somniferum, gently undulate or rigidly persist in the gardens of a God that we must invent, even though he does not exist. The yellows are unthreateningly iridescent, the grays lurk with their eyelids lowered. Over here, danger and alertness; over there, relaxation and peace. Over here, feverishly phosphorescent writing; over there, the prophets of untamable faces/masks. Over here, black, glimmering backgrounds; over there, subdued tensions. Over here, the solitary-looking strokes of writing; over there, the countless faces which end up in one. Over here, Utopia; over there, dystopia, as a contemporary art critic of the West would say.

Metaphysical or not, an agnosticist or a lyricist of abstraction, a silent witness or a vociferous advocate of the vociferous expressionistic figures, Georgios Xenos is a highly distinctive, original painter in the age of painting crisis.