YIORGOS XENOS. THE AGONY OF LIMITS
Curator of the Municipal Gallery of Athens, 1993
The artist is responsible to himself alone. It is merely his work, he leaves to the centuries to come. He vouches only for himself and dies without issue. To himself he is the king and the priest and God.
The 20th century will soon expire, counting impatiently the years remaining to become a point of reference in the activities of this planet’s inhabitants. It harboured two World-Wars and obviously it will bequeath to the third millenium endless foci of mutual laceration, a perfect foundation for the setting of a universal disaster, that will draw its potential from the respective local nuclear arsenals.
And human? Helpless and enervated, secure like a mollusc in its protecting shell of eudemonism that he anxiously forges, at the same time sacrificer and victim on the altar of the ferocious utilitarian Moloch.
And art, the encounter of man with the universe? With tempestuous tempo, it has fulfilled its revolution already during the first quarter of the century in the works of outstanding thinkers-painters -Cezanne, Matisse, Duchamp, Picasso, Kandinsky, Klee, Mondrian- and of those sharing the same ideal; after the end of the second great war through, it ominously suffered to become employed in the practice of social criticism and in the expression of existential hopelessness. Europe, mutilated and ageing, lends its artistic energy to the young continent, which, untormented from the sufferings of the war and free of the eclecticism accumulated through centuries of civilization, turns into a centre of artistic quests, that either concentrate their interest upon the materialization of the dogma «Ars gratia artis», bombing our senses with creations of absolute directness, or negotiate and call in question the substance of the pictorial language, or get bewitched by the sirens of technology and the advertising on the luminous television screen.
Thus, instead of artistic movements, appear as descendants of the abstract expressionism mostly perishable experimentations with fluid and overlapping limits -the postpainterly abstraction, the monochromatic pain-ting, the op art, the pop art, the minimal art, the action painting, the fluxus and the happenings – expressing a new function of the sight that demystifies art and turns in into an accessible product fitting in the triteness of man. The absence of insight, the automatism of expression and the final independence of the artistic result dismember Cezanne’s persistent belief in the «objective» aspect of the world with no confused feelings interfering, that has been a point of reference for later painters also -«in my eyes Cezanne is the master par excellence» affirmed Klee- and determine after all the style and the substance of the works of art at the end of the century.
Today, everything in art has been scrutinized, thought up, attempted, reconsidered, rejected or restored. The contemporary artist appears entrapped and helpless in front of the white canvas.
The horror vacui presses heavily on him, as well as the responsibilities of the oncoming new millenium, which looks menacing and chaotic. What is the part of the artist nowadays, when models have vanished, and gathering round a common vision is just as crying out loud its non-existence?
Inside a polyphonic, artistic, universal community, everyone is in search of the yet untold melody that he will fire by his own subjectivity and individual psychism.
The artist’s tormenting and persistent participating in his personal sense of liberation and expression makes up the specific distinction from those shallow and superficial inspirations, the ones classified in the framework of fashion and lasting, for certain, as long as a falling star.
Therefore, our soul and sight rejoice, anytime and wherever we discover genuineness in the formulation of expressive properties, as the object in demand is no longer the revolution of neologism, but the franknesse of the intention, that lends objectivity even to the most subjective view of the artistic way of dealing.
We encounter a candid attitude of this sort in the work of Yiorgos Xenos, the painter, whose age -40 years- sounds strange in connection with the maturity of his paint-brush and the width of his artistic production.
In a period, when the pursuits are maybe somewhere exhausted in shallow, impressive structures with the ingenuousness of a children’s plaything, more frequently though with the self-interest of adults, Xenos insists on painting and indicates with his personal expression the necessity of listening to a «secretive restlessness».
«It is a difficult task to penetrate the world of an artist. You do not explain, you do not analyze. Works of art you can simply describe. Everyone may describe a work of art, provided that he is capable to forget himself and his acquired knowing of painting. In other words, he will have to speak about the unexpected, not about the form, the value, the style or the profoundness. He will speak the truth. Each single time a new language has to be created. Art critics and museum curators have more knowledge than the painters. But we must be afraid of knowledge. It goes too far and it may end wrongly. Certainly we must attempt to «see», but if you describe what you are looking at you end in literature. And literature is not painting».
lonesko formulated with these phrases substancially and succintly the immense difficulty that experts are confronted with in their approach of a work of art.
The theorists delude themselves frequently with the hoax, that they accomplish an educational work, acting as an intermediary between the public and the artist. More frequently though, their attempts decode nothing but their personal aspect and attitude, not necessarily identical with the artist’s. Thus, the interpretation of a work of art misinterprets the starting-point and the motivation of its creator and ends up as a pointless action.
In the case of Xenos, we hope that the alertness in mobilizing our hearing has protected us from this great danger.
Xenos was initiated as a stripling into the secret fields of Art at the atelier of Sarafianos. He studied painting as naturally as others of the same age attended classes in the secondary education.
His early works keep invariably to the thematic of the portrait and of the still life, where the effort of an initial descriptive rendering of the subject is distinct. A more penetrating consideration of that work though, locates the element bound to play a significant part in the subsequent development of his art. Through an interfering tendency of intense abstraction, mainly his portraits change step by step to human landscapes, to landscapes For the present, nature itself is no lure. Its landscape does not preoccupy him as initial thematic inspiration, but only as an outcome through other subjects The mountain and the tree, however, attract his interest soon, and it is not at all accidental that they return in his late work as a constant motive This period’s technique is glue with powder. He has never been fascinated by the stability and stagnation of oil painting. On the contrary. The magic fluidity of the water colour and of the acrylics, as well as their plasticity are the most appropriate means for describing in his recent work the changeable that preoccupies and intrigues him.
1976 he leaves for Paris and studies in the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts. Here he gets familiar to the world of museums He is impressed by the «anarchy of Rembrandt», as he himself characteristically says, by the passion of Van Gogh, by the «fulfilment of the feelings in front of the nature» of Cezanne.
Countless sketches with ink and sepia, female nudes, train and complete his skill in the depiction of the female body. He charts the female human being, tracing with fervour its fertile anatomy with the soft curves of the Flemish fellow-artists. The sketches lead to paintings with colours, where woman is sung and exalted to nature, recalling in our memories primeval deities of the Minoans and of the Mesopotamians.
Bouzianis chose pessimistically the female body in its extreme maturity, in order to demonstrate decadence and degeneration, as he himself explained. Xenos, in his style at least, maintains eclectic relationships with the expressionism and consequently with Bouzianis. How truly the Greek Xenos can be an expressionist, or better, how much does Xenos’s expressionism lean ideologically towards the initial movement or even towards the abstract postwar expressionism?
Expressionism has been the chromatic shaping of the despair and the tragic nature of the northerner. From the aspect of its focussing on man, it is a deeply romantic movement, only that out of its gloom emerges a lonely and disintergrated human being that seems to exorcize the menacing nature by disfiguring it. In this way it is completely comprehensible that shortly after the end of the second great war it has revived in America, even though in the shape of abstraction. The paranoid genocides, the opression of the human dignity can be rendered only with that uncontrolled violence of colour.
Nature is for Xenos neither hostile nor inhuman, he does not feel menaced by it. On the contrary, for him it is a comforting umbilical cord to the universal mystery. Nature’s determinism acts like a safety valve. Its wisdom maintains balance and instructs. It grants him generously its themes which do not lose, even in their pictorial reshaping, any of their vital intensity, they do not undergo any disfigurement. With this attitude, fully conscious and out of his free will, he keeps at a distance from the expressionism, retaining only its external features, that is the freedom of colour and form, which he further kept captive through the virtue of precision.
Part of his parisian work are the sketches with the helices. This is the first concrete allusion to the perpetual which is going to preoccupy him catalytically in the future, so he chooses at first a recognizable and easily comprehensible symbol for it.
The full intensity of his intellectual quest besides is focussed on the perpetual changing. He replaces the term «infinity» with that of «beyond» because infinity is forbidding, while beyond is milder, it presupposes the participation of man to its search. Reduction ad infinitum, the adventure of transformation. According to Kant we grasp and transform the outer world in proportion to the structure of our spirit. But which is the outer world, Xenos seems to ask himself and inverting the Kantian theorem, he observes the self-reliance of nature with the profundity of a scientist, choosing simple symbols even/time and finally identifying himself with it.
The unity of apples -a great series in water colours- is completed shortly after his return to Athens. The magic of colour and the perfection of style work harmoniously together for the fulfilment of the painter’s visionary reshaping.
In the triptych of the dead animal, one of the most representative examples of his work, he is trying to find the image inside the meaning. The contours are vague, death has no shape, only colour, the deep red of the blood that returns as a libation to the dark kingdoms of the Earth and of Pluto.
All the pictorial activity of Xenos is marked by a blatant contradiction between the preparation of the subject and its chromatic transfer on the canvas. Counties sketches are done, tormenting, insisting, thorough, with the precision of mathematics attempting to eliminate the unexpected and the painful surprise of the last moment, and then the surface of the paper vibrates with palpitating structures that deceive the untrained eye and create the impression of a spontaneous deposition, as Xenos acts reverse to the established. He neither tames nor rationalizes his instinct with intellectual elaborations. He uses them to fire his artistic genius and he frequently partakes in the act of painting, mobilizing his hands, not the paint-brush, the medium. In their gradual shadings the colours are worked feverishly on great surfaces -indispensable to the breathing of his cosmic compositions- and not seldom they are allowed to flow unshaped on those, as a distinct allusion of perpetuity.
During the years 1984-85 he is intrigued by the natural phenomena, the shake-ups of the earth. Bleeding volcanos prepare methodically their explosion, azure4 watery whirlpools spurt in the universe, black tempests uncoil their rage on the field of action. The earth takes revenge upon the established order, it destroys restoringly, it reelaborates its shape. The element of light, the positive, optimistic side of Xenos though, is always present, as well as the chromatric vigour with its expressive ability. These transcendentral landscapes of regeneration have a very strong internal discipline, while subjected to the tempo of their orchestration by the artist.
The existential agony of the artist is concentrated since 1986 in the «agony of limits», for which he invents various symbols each time, a huge thematic unity that in 1987 accompanies him also in his journey to Germany. Nature as a starting-point of inspiration has paid off, is exhausted. His searching objects to standstills and returns. Besides, the siren of the «be-jond», of the further, still exists, and art is also there as a drill of precision towards the zenith. Asphalted roads imposing their energetic presence among pathetic, immobile mountains or imaginary cosmodromia gradually turning to bridges that lead high above, works of solid structure as usual, mainly in dark noinurs. are notionallv fulfiled in Germanv. toaether with the series of Icarus.
The human shape returns in clear-cut contours. It levitates between the earth and the immaterial without purification, it materializes its parting but finds no deliverance at the end. The earth is waiting patiently for its fall. The use or earthly colours while Icaros is still on the earth, and their gradual brightening that immaterializes him in his flight, support the sturdy conception of the subject that withstands its transformation in symbolic images. The human elegy for the sublime is rendered with the most decisive manner.
It is characteristical that, while being in Germany, Xenos mobilized his ancient Greek myths. The triptych Aphrodite -Throne of Apollo- Persephone and the transfigurations of Kyparissos, a long series of cypresses, attempt to transmute the description of situations with a particularly high painting quality-
The ancient Greek mythology narrates the events of autumn ’89 in Berlin. The myth as expression of reality. The throne between Eros and Thanatos is void. Doric frugality in the rendering of events with significant meaning. The abstractive inclination of Xenos becomes more intense in his recent work since 1992, when he returns to his homeland. It is rather intuitive, when we perceive the crests of his mountain chains, one more thematic unity. The removal of every descriptive, futile element becomes here an aim and the details are sacrificed for the entirety. On the same time his works titled «Greece» give us the impression of the painter’s autobiography. His cradle is always the fixed point of reference and inspiration. The “talking spring” hasn’t fallen silent for Xenos, Herakleit’s theorem “Everything flows and nothing persists” is the outset of his thinking. Only this hellenic character, deeply inward and without superficial vividness, can be set against the internationalism of our age.