GEORGIOS XENOS – TOWARDS AN ART OF LIMITS
Curator, National Gallery of Athens, 2003
The grotesque is the most formidable aspect of terror
I like art that defends culture for the body. “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper” said the poet, putting the whimper in a position to write the end of the world. Obviously it was a whimper that was not heard, a moan that was not defended, like the scream of that girl on the bridge more than a century ago voicing her clamorous despair to deaf ears.
The art of Georgios Xenos – mystic, universal, anthropomorphic, and language-centred whether he paints mountains or faces – symbolises precisely this metaphysical angst of expression to break through barriers and to exist. What art, I wonder, are we entitled to today and what is due to us? The artist is groping for the limits of his creation to prove that the limits of our world, the limits of writing are crumbling. There are very few contemporary artists who can give their works such a strong textual feeling as Xenos does in his compositions. Improvising, gasping, energetic, meaningful and self-signifying, writing operates as a constant presence. The media in which the artist expresses his most recent series of works, are minimal; he has consciously chosen only what is necessary. With absolute chromatic restraint, Xenos de-scribes his “Fonaskountes” (=those who shout, based on the ancient Greek verb phonaskeo-sko meaning “to shout, to exercise the voice”) with gestures and writings of limits, with single strokes of ink on white paper, and with persistent repetitions that, investigating their own internal rhythm, touch the rhythm of the world.
These are not easy works nor do they constitute a proposal that can be consumed without any personal commitment or involvement. Georgios Xenos has the courage to dismantle the established certainties of the artistic tradition and tread the fine line between instinct and interior impulse, on the chance of finding a grain of truth. Nothing more.
In the age of the intemperate image, the artist has to control his media in order to retain his integrity in the game of expression. Otherwise ornamentalities and professional sensitivities lie in wait. Thus should he exist, as a child, as a desperate sage, as a savage, as caricature and as homespun reasoning. Now the “Fonaskountes” operate as a unit; but they also form groups that insist on being heard, even though they know there are walls around them. Prettification and aestheticism from a safe distance have no place here. Things must be naked to be themselves and the artist must first lay himself open in order to display his need and his rage convincingly. Elsewhere I have written: “Metaphysically speaking we could define art as the expression of our existential angst… Everything else belongs to the bourgeois effort to de-ideologise the work of art and to downgrade it into an albeit valuable object or weighty ‘product’ … Georgios Xenos paints symbolic self-portraits. He depicts his interior self in relation to the world. To achieve this, he has invented a personal idiom, a system of painterly morphemes (minimal forms, gestural points), the repetition, arrangement or toppling of which generates the authentic and unique images of his art…” (Georgios Xenos,Topia 1990-2000, Athens 2000, Futura Editions, pp. 22-24.)
In an age of postmodern Disneyland, Xenos declares himself to be stubbornly modern, i.e. he who shouts and resists, even if he is drawn toward the abyss – to recall the well-known phrase of the uncompromising Thomas Mann – even if he travels to the end of language (au bou de la parole), to the extremes of the image, to the ultimate impossibility of communication. His painting is ascetic with regard to the image per se.
What then do the present works bring?
What else but their own tragedy and even more. Owing to its religious tradition, painting has the ability to hallow what it depicts. The “Fonaskountes” are not expecting eternity; they do not agree to be hallowed, but rather defend mortality and the right to separation.
Can you hear them?