This painting titled "Glances to Earth” is part of a sixteen-painting series treating of the subjects of space exploration and life beyond earth, which the Cretan sculptor Nikos Sofialakis (1914-2001) conceived and painted between 1962-1970.
The 1960s were a remarkable time in space exploration, with scientific innovation driving the cultural milieu of the entire world. The Greek media had been following the developments in space exploration closely, and by 1965 the 16th International Astronautical Congress, which was held in Athens, Greece, together with the first space exhibitions that opened to the Greek public, captivated the Greek imagination and enthralled the artist.
Sofialakis' first exhibition tour of the United States of America in 1967 further reinforced his fascination with space, and in 1969 he joined the millions of people in Greece and around the world who watched the televised historic moon landing, an event that affected him deeply.
Sofialakis thus lived - and created - in a time when the universe gripped the global imagination, and his fascination with the cosmos, the human need for exploration and the possibility of sentient life beyond earth invested his first sketches in this series of paintings as early as 1962.
In this painting titled "Glances to Earth", Sofialakis negotiates the question of extraterrestrial life and posits the notion of a bidirectional relationship between the explorer and the explored.
The painting engages with its dynamism, drawing the viewer along a spherical array that spans the height of the painting in a rising, circular motion. This upward thrust transects the painting diagonally from the bottom right to the top left, guiding the eye of the viewer to the focal point of the composition in the upper left section, where one finds, ensconced in its small, circular frame, a mysterious figure standing out against the blurred landscape.
Each element in this composition orients the attention of the viewer to the figure, most notably through the use of perspective, color, brush stroke and light. The sweeping rings set the perspective as they expand diagonally from the bottom right to the upper left section of the painting, and diminish in size along a helical formation that leads straight to the figure. Similarly, color intensifies as the spherical array recedes upward into the background, with yellow, white and brilliant vermilion exploding across the rings closest to the figure, contrasting in this way the dark blue and green hues that dominate the lower third of the painting. The brush strokes set the tone of motion in the painting, with liberal, broad strokes in the lower sections giving way to tighter, more precise and finely lined strokes towards the top. Finally, light is introduced in the upper third of the painting, as if emanating from beyond the helical structure to emphasize the dark, enigmatic figure whose form dominates the field.
The mysterious figure is dark and its particular features are obscured, save for its distinguishable head and limbs that lend its frame an anthropomorphic appearance. The figure seems to rest in the spherical array, though one cannot discern if it is seated or standing, caught in the moment of activity or inaction. Whether human or extraterrestrial, the artist leaves this to the interpretation of the viewer; we are not told if the form is an abstract presentation of the human explorer or an abstraction of life beyond our own. Whatever the answer, the clear turn of the figure’s head towards the viewer is unmistakable, and Sofialakis seems to intimate that as we probe the heavens with our conquering gaze, the probing eye of what we hope to find in the stars gazes back at us from the deep folds of space.