1892 - 1957

NEW IMPETUS IN THE ADVANCEMENT OF MODERN GREEK CULTURE

B & M Theocharakis Foundation for the Fine Arts and Music

The Work of Spyros Papaloukas at the Theocharakis Foundation

The B & M Theocharakis Foundation for the Fine Arts and Music opens its doors with the presentation of the representative collection of works by Spyros Papaloukas. It is the largest collection of works by the great painter and includes significant paintings and sketches from all the main periods of Papaloukas’s career. Many of the works were donated to the Foundation in 2006 by the painter’s daughter Mina Papalouka, her intention being to maintain and promote her father’s oeuvre. The Theocharakis Foundation’s collection of the artist’s multi-faceted artistic activity from 1912 to 1957 includes works from his early years as a student in Athens and Paris, portraits and self-portraits, still lifes and landscapes depicting Aegina, Salamina, Paros, Antiparos, Mytilene, Hydra and Mount Athos.

 The 260 works include oils, watercolours, charcoal sketches, india ink, and pencil, mechanicals from the Amfissa Church of Annunciation, the Tegeas Archepiscopate, the church of the Law School (now the 8th secondary school of Athens) and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum in Crete, along with the paintings from the private collection that Basil Theocharakis has lovingly put together over the last 30 years. They reveal to us the breadth of the artist’s conquests of form and the spirituality of his thematic choices. These works uniquely chart the map of Greece and take us back in time, uncovering the secret, hidden dimensions of the ancient Greek and Byzantine world.
Born in Desfina, a village on Mount Parnassus, and steeped in deep sentiment for Greece, since childhood Papaloukas was able to experience the eternal values of the archaeological site at Delphi and the perfection of the mosaics at the Hosios Loukas monastery. His artistic eye was independent, yet not isolated from the life around him. The creator went back in time, since “From the beginning, all have learned according to Homer” as the pre-Socratic philosopher Xenophanes says. Papaloukas was a mere eleven years of age when the DelphiMuseum opened its gates, its exhibits, with their unrivalled archaic and classic plasticity, enchanting him and piquing his artistic imagination. Pythian Apollo, the patron of the Delphi temple and oracle-giver, was his beloved god.
 The magic of the exhibits, as the artist recounts in his journal, often brought him to Delphi. “I would go around to the back of the Museum,glue my face to the glass pane between the rails and, shading my eyes with my hands, I would thirstily drink in the sight of the life-like marble statues, whose gaze I was afraid to meet, since to me they seemed more alive than living people… That Sphinx, half beast, half woman, went beyond any stretch of the imagination – a living monster that you’d think could pounce on you at any moment and swallow you whole. What was I to do with the pretty rocks I had conquered? These creations here were a thousand times more alive, a thousand times more fluent than the babbling brooks I crossed and Castalian spring I could hear. The Sphinx! And those reliefs on the Siphnian Treasury that depicted war a hundred times more terrifying than war.”

What relation could there be between the otherworldly form of the mythical Sphinx, of 560 BC and the Charioteer whose “immobile motion leaves you breathless” as poet Giorgos Seferis so eloquently writes in his Essays? Papaloukas continued the long anthropocentric tradition of the Greek land by painting portraits and self-portraits. He became the hagiographer of the Amfissa Church of Annunciation and numerous portable icons. The number of paintings he did of people is smaller than his landscapes, but equally significant.
Throughout his life, the Apollonian Papaloukas bowed to the spirit and idiom of his work. His rhythmicality can be likened to the very workings of nature, which he rendered with a sense of awe. The bulk of his work focuses on interpreting through painting, employing new expressive means. His ability to view nature and the world in a different way is the poetry in his work. His four-year stay in Paris helped him distance himself from the academic teachings of the Munich School (so prevalent in the Athens School of Fine Arts at the time). From 1917 to 1921, he continued to keep company with his friend Fotis Kontoglou, who was working in Paris as an illustrator for magazines.

Papaloukas occasionally painted representational portraits and nudes, insisting, nonetheless, on sketchy and austere drawings and pure and bright tones. At the same time, however, he studied the modern innovations of his contemporaries. It was during this time that Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg founded the periodical De Stijl, Breton and Soupault introduced the term Surrealism, Picasso was travelling throughItaly conquering his monumental Classicist style, while Rodchenko was crafting his three-dimensional constructions, influenced by Tatlin. “Everything can change in this depraved world except the heart, the love of man and the desire to know the divine. Painting, like any poetry, participates in the divine and people feel this today just as much as they felt it in the past.” (Walter Erben, Marc Chagall, London, 1957).
Papaloukas focused mainly on the slopes of Aegina, believing that all can be foundin nature, paying no attention to the transient changes in light. He painted his own Aegina, according to the proportions of the golden mean in the organization of the composition, conquering the secret of harmony of colours, rediscovering the hope for life in frugal and solid compositions that allowed light and air pass through them.Mount Athos was the watershed in Papaloukas’s development since it was there that, along with his friend Stratis Doukas, he experienced the spirituality of Greek Orthodoxy and monastic life. “The study of Byzantine ecclesiastical ornamentation,” as he pointed out in an interview he gave to Dimitris Kerameas, “is nothing but the solution to the aesthetic issues that the erapresents in our life as a nation and it gives us the opportunity to view the Greek Ideal in greater depth. Allow me to say that whoever does not understand Byzantium cannot fully comprehend its ancient counterpart. And when an artist cannot understand the Greek past, how can he create the Greek future, which is his job?” He painted over 100 paintings and 60 studies of scrolls, gold-thread embroidery, frescoes, manuscripts and icons. The B & M Theocharakis Foundation for the Fine Arts and Music includes many masterpieces from this phase.
Papaloukas left Paris to participate in the Asia Minor Campaign as a war artist. Feeling it was his duty to participate in any way he could in this pivotal moment of history, he left for Smyrna (Izmir) in pursuit of the dream for national integration with the inclusion of the centres of Greek population (once known as Ionia) in the Greek State. Unfortunately, few of his paintings from that heroic time were salvaged, which according to Stratis Doukas, included 500 oils and sketches and were exhibited in Athens. As they were on the way back to Smyrna, they were burnt on the train.
Three sketches from the Theocharakis Foundation collection give but a small taste of this period.The island of Aegina became his refuge following the exhausting and tragic outcome of the Asia Minor Campaign. In 1923 he painted The Temple of Aphaea (oil on cardboard, 24 x 20 cm) capturing the eternal spirit of the monument. This temple, built on the ruins of an earlier temple around 500 BC, is considered to be the prototype that ancient architects and sculptors Ictinus and Callicrates used for the Parthenon. 

Papaloukas did not adopt the teachings and views of his friend Fotis Kontoglou. He followed his own path, thus creating a singular and personal means of expression, which was reconciled with the tradition he faithfully served from a contemporary artistic standpoint. After all, the creation of a new plasticity, adopting a visual idiom based on colour, defines his aesthetics.
The world possesses its own laws and rhythms, shown, for example, in the fact that he worked only with the three primary colours – red, yellow and blue – apart from white of course. “He employed the three basic chromatic scales: the impressionistic, mainly for landscapes, the light Byzantine and the heavy Byzantine. So at times he substitutes cobalt with ultramarine, yellow with ochre or sienna and red lacquer with other darker reds. But the colours on his palette were always three. Sometimes he also used emerald green, which he was not able to mix by using the other three colours,” as Basil Theocharakis points out in reference to his teacher’s work.

Papaloukas spent the whole year of 1923 to 1924 systematically studying nature and Byzantine art, with the monastery of Hosios Loukas (dedicated to Luke, the patron saint of his birthplace) on the slopes of Mt Helicon as his spiritual starting line and point of reference. After his stay on Mount Athos, he passionately studied the Hosios Loukas mosaics and made copies. This became a place of reflection and exercises in painting. Depictions including many figures, such as Birth, The Doubting of Thomas, Basin and Resurrection, along with isolated icons, became a source of knowledge concerning the complexity of life for the then 30-year-old painter. Birth, for instance, with its intensely narrative style, is the only mosaic representation in the church that is rendered in vivid colours in harmonious combinations. The addition of supplementary episodes to the pilgrimage of the Magi and to the washing of the feet lend more strength to the work, making it more evocative. Seven years later, Papaloukas painted Birth on the right side of the Amfissa Church of Annunciation.
For Papaloukas, painting landscapes demanded that he deeply felt them. He was not interested in the instantaneous imprinting of a place, but its deeper semiological dimension, that is, a more essential point of view, as if his sentiment could extend into infinity. The monasteries and landscapes of Mt Athos, which occupied Papaloukas in the following years as well, from 1929 to 1935 approximately, are animated by the need for a profound communing with God. It is this sense of “saintliness” and serenity we find in Papaloukas’s paintings. Each one reflects his sensitivity, addressing us like a dialogue in counterpoint music. At the same time, dominating the composition is the sense of unity and harmonic rhythm, always defining an open space. Space in his work is interwoven with time, assigning value to each moment so that the creative instance is not lost in the vastness of time.

Papaloukas worked reflectively and unceasingly on cardboard, unprimed linen or cotton canvas. The sketch is the core of his painting activity, defining the beginning. He usually sketched with a sharp pencil, leaving many paintings with a dominating sense of the sketch, without covering them with colour. At the same time, when he wanted to emphasize outlines, in some of his compositions, he left an unpainted gap on the surface, thus creating a different impression (Houses in Hydra, 1955, oil on canvas, 33 x 32 cm, Landscape of Antiparos, 1948, oil on cardboard, 44 x 64 cm). Sometimes he used oils, at times focusing his attention on the intense, almost sensuous juxtaposition of colours, at others employing what painters call the turpentine technique, that is, using a large quantity of turpentine to thin the paint, and at others his medium was watercolours on paper, capturing the feeling of the moment. Although he lived during the troubled times of the interwar years and experienced the traumatic events of the Greek Civil War, he insisted on viewing life with serenity. He maintained that theme does not make the painting, but that the painting makes the theme, stressing that, “Beauty is everywhere as long as the painter has the ability to present it.”

During his years of creativity, he tirelessly strove for the studied organization and solid structuring of the composition based on harmonic lines and the harmony of colours and tones. The intensity of the image was his goal, as for example, a landscape of Mytilene or Paros, made in the countryside with colour and light, giving one the impression of the vividness and truth of nature. And so, order in nature was equivalent to order in art, verifying his words: “Nature is the miracle of God, and Art the miracle of man.” The creation of a work can, of course, be accountable to strict logic, but its glory and value never presuppose the unswerving observance of some rule since this can be broken to arrive at the “new”. Thus, in the painting Café in Mytilene (1929, oil on linen canvas, 100 x 121 cm), with its rhythmical curved lines, he diverges from his well-known style, based on the observation that every dark colour is “influenced” by the light colour next to it; otherwise the dark colour loses its intensity. The work as a whole consists of successive dark and light waves of colour, without, however, veering from a realistic rendering.

Papaloukas never rested. He persistently strove for the conquest of a new imagery, adopting elements from the Post-Impressionists, the Fauvists and the Nabis. Starting in the second half of the 1930s, he attempted a different approach to interpreting and rendering light with pointillism. Georges Seurat had already developed this technique of analysing the static shades of colour in nature into points or small brushstrokes, allowing the viewer’s retina to recompose the image via the interplay of impressions. Papaloukas’s works from his pointillism period resemble a mosaic made up of distinct, coloured tesserae and his familiar expressive idiom. It is solidly balanced and calculated. Papaloukas always returned to Nature until the day he died, offering an oeuvre rich in inspiration and pulse, revealing and highlighting the poetic paradise of Greece. His 260 works, a representative and indisputable testimony to his course towards the conquest and interpretation of the Greek landscape, awash with unique light, gain distinction in an exemplary manner in the Theocharakis Foundation collection.
Their presentation to the public gives every art lover and art historian the opportunity to gain direct access, through the most comprehensive overview of Papaloukas’s oeuvre, to the development of Modern Greek painting. Allow me to express my wish for similar exhibitions of the works of the great innovators of Greek art, such as Konstantinos Parthenis, Konstantinos Maleas, Michael Economou, Yerasimos Steris and Diamantis Diamantopoulos, among others.
Continuing the active participation of the private sector in the cultural events of Greece, Basil and Marina Theocharakis, with their Foundation, make their own mark in the promotion and advancement of the visual arts and music in the 21st century. Through their long-standing and active involvement in the arts, they make a promising contribution to the dissemination of Greek culture – an indestructible culture in the face of passing fads, a culture always returning to its eternal ideals, giving us the rejuvenating ability to embark on the spiritual adventure
for initiation to the essence of the world and the universe.

Credits: Story

TEXT BY
Takis Mavrotas
Director of the Visual Arts Programme B & M Theocharakis Foundation for the Fine Arts and Music

GCI EXHIBITS CURATOR
Anna Georgiadou

TRANSLATION BY
Thalia Bisticas

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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