The indomitable, eternal nature in the art of Xenos

TAKIS MAVROTAS
Director of the Pierides Foundation, 2001

The art that expresses life
is full of mystery,
just life itself
Elie Faure

One gets the certainty that Xenos becomes one and the same thing with Nature in his multi-layered paintings. His original images determine a personal style and attest to his obsessive exploration of the concept of the permanent and indestructible. If nature acts to capacity, then art acts within nature by taking for granted the complete being – the eus completum. Thus nature stimulates the mind and functions like an active womb, enabling artists to create endless images over time. Yet over the centuries the relation between art and nature keeps posing the question, is art a creation of nature?
Xenos explores the world at the limits of primordial Reason and creates images from within. Resourceful and innovative, he approaches nature with respect as he seeks the breath of life as the reason behind his creative action. A mystical view of it defines his personal truth. His artistic achievements are covered in six major thematic units, unequal to one another in terms of the number of works, executed from 1982 to 2001. The artist is skilled in enlarging or condensing things as well as in manipulating the mnemonic reserves of his experience in complete freedom. Moreover, tangible reality comes only on a second or third level, ceding precedence to original ideas made up of imagination and poetry.
His approaches to landscape, real or imaginary, make up the majority of his work, which is characterised by an appreciable austerity and precision of his narrative and his persistent adherence to the plastic values of pure painting. Using mainly watercolours (acrylic paint) applied with unrestrained brush strokes on white paper, he strives to capture the emotion of the moment in a judicious balance between the sharpness of design and the power of colour – an extremely difficult process requiring deep knowledge of the principles of painting in order to get from concept to image. “All works are based on tracing the writing”, he says himself, showing the way towards decoding them. His language is based on symbols, in some compositions endlessly repeated without being identical and producing images of a geometry which incorporates its own transcendence.
His mystic’s deep insight enables him to attempt the conversion from imaginary to real, from invisible to visible. Thus his monumental compositions of 1996 and 1997 (twenty-fold 280 χ 500 cm, acrylic and ink on paper) give the impression that the trees of the forest trans-mute into the figures of an ideal State. All trees/figures stand proudly upright, as if wishing to get to know more fully all things in heaven or on earth. The artist may also have a unique secret feel for composition, based on study or on his skill in anything small which can function in harmonious repetition among the other plastic elements. In his Untitled landscapes of 1998 (acrylic on paper; 70 χ 100 cm) Xenos renders the most terrible aspect of nature, challenging our faith in its powers of order and disorder, perhaps because he never works directly from nature; he works face-to-face with nature, and with it. To him all colours have the same value since he rejects their symbolic charge, such as black for pain or danger, white for light or eternity, green for future rebirth. We observe his unshakeable belief that the principle of colours is based on black and white, as demonstrated in his separate series of works with Indian ink on white paper; many of these have been published, some other remain filed away in his studio.
These works articulate a minimalised expression of writing. The art of the minimal is consciously adopted; an art which is as undoubtedly great as it is dangerous. Simplicity, austerity and limitation become the persistent media through which he reveals his visionary images of a world which leads us back to painting, in order to attain the maximum through the minimum. His imagery knows no limits, just like his wish to penetrate colours and appropriate them, either with his brushes or his fingers. Careful observation of his works reveals an eclectic painter whose merits are measured by the tension in the harmony of contrasting colours. The light, at times divine or sudden, he gets from the almost violent clashes of colours, without creating the kind of light that enfolds everything in chiaroscuro or which is diffused beyond the outline of forms.
The painter treats nature as an archetypal poem. This inventive master’s landscapes, dominated by the sky, intensify the viewer’s mood for metaphysical communication. These are lavish works, made with liberal brush strokes where straight lines converse with curves to complete images which may belong in an antediluvian context; for time knows neither direction nor limits in his work.
This inspired artist has instinctively experienced infinity by simplifying the structure of his compositions, at the same time minimising the gesture of writing in order to express the idea. In several works his perspective is based on enlarging the micro-scale with the aim of attaining an sudden image through his personal manipulations. Forms and shapes, volumes and dimensions are determined by postures, motions and transmutations. For instance, his vertical and horizontal lines are balanced, even if one feels that they move in all directions of the unexpected, while individual elements fit into the overall composition. Thus everything converges towards the final image – that of the incessant perception of life – as in the Spermatozoa series of 1995 – 2000. As the artist himself points out, “They are tadpoles / spermatozoa. Tadpoles look the same as spermatozoa. And in these small signs you can see life, and you try to turn the symbol into image”. What is by now his inner necessity looks like a virtue. His wish to restrict superfluous things leads him to the minimal. A single line can start and finish a work. Symbols emerge through coincidence: for instance, two lines make a “Λ” or an “X”, three lines make a “Π”, “Κ” or “A”. And the artist tests his painting skills, this time using more colours in spray cans, in order to approach the other dimension of things through their phosphorescent glow, or even to transcend it.
The human figure has interested him deeply and persistently in three different periods of time; during his student years at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts in Paris (1976 – 1982), at the time of the historical events in Berlin (1988-1992), and in the last six years (1995 – 2001). Over thousands of years the human figure has also interested Minoans and Egyptians, Greeks and Etruscans, Persians and Byzantines, and each people depicted it in their own way, exchanging the Sublime for the Good or the Divine. Xenos transcends the limits of tangible reality in an expressionistic way to create worried figures, overwhelmed by the ruthlessness of existence. In 2001 he paints the raised hands – another Untitled, like all his works – as an attempt to elevate man above his limits, into another dimension of living which only art can appropriate. The shouting figures and the raised hands may be trying to reinforce the precarious guarantee we unconsciously believe there is of harmonious coexistence of people in the future.
Xenos has managed to turn his memories into aesthetic ideas. He has managed from a very young age to continuously paint nature, embracing the words of Odysseus Elytis: “The time of transformation within the time of the matter, organic or inorganic, requires such imagination and instant recording that perhaps only a child could do it. But when is one a child? Only twice in a lifetime; when actually a child, and when old enough to be able to re-attain, one by one, all those things which once made one a child”.
Xenos attempts to approach the infinite aspects of the Whole in an ascetically austere fashion. His art is an expression of absolute faith and respect towards Nature, the Infinite and the Eternal.

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