All of my encounters with painter Panayiotis Tetsis, who died a year ago at the age of 91, tended to be beautifully ritualistic: He would welcome me with a small plate of sweet fruit preserve and a cup of Greek coffee, we would discuss art and life, and before seeing me off with the promise of a next encounter, he would ply me with flowers from his garden or a bag of fresh fruit or vegetables from his local market in the Athens district of Kolonaki.
The meeting I hold closest to my heart, however, was when I visited his ancestral home on the Saronic island of Hydra in 2005, a period during which he was working on a series of portraits of his closest friends. It was a sparkling winter’s day and together we walked up to the house, a typical example of local 19th century architecture. It had a wine cellar and the ground floor had served as a grocery store-cum-taverna run by his father, which had remained as it was for decades – with dust-sprinkled wares still standing on the shelves as though time itself had come to a standstill – after the end of World War II.
Tetsis spent his childhood in this house before his family moved to Piraeus, and in the late 1980s the artist transformed the ground floor space into a studio where he would work while staying on the island, often hosting his students during winter visits. In 2007, he donated the building to the National Historical Museum’s Historical and Ethnological Society so it could be turned into a museum to showcase his studio and work.
So far, the society has completed the task of documenting all of the artist’s works and possessions.
Marking the first anniversary of his death on March 5, the society opened the premises for a few hours to family and friends who wanted to pay homage to Tetsis, a man known for his unaffectedness and generosity, in keeping with the spirit of hospitality that he was so famous for.