CULTURE

Obsessed with the human figure

Looking retrospectively at the work of an artist, one often finds recurring motifs, techniques and styles of painting. These are an artist’s characteristic manner of painting – those attributes that distinguish his work from the work of other artists and make it recognizable to the public. In the case of artist Chronis Botsoglou, these characteristic traits are found in the systematic depiction of human figures and a preoccupation with rendering space often from strange angles. Some works show just an interior, some just human figures and others a combination of figure and space. The painting style borders on Expressionism and the angle is psychological; the images track the emotional and mental states imprinted on a human figure, an inhabited space or inanimate objects. This is more or less true of Botsoglou’s art from the beginning of his career in the mid-1960s to today in his post as rector of the Athens School of Fine Arts. Subtle transformations are there but so is the continuity. These characteristics are all apparent in a retrospective exhibition of the artist’s work at the Frissiras Museum and well explained by Peggy Kounenaki in «Chronis Botsoglou: Farewell, my Studio,» the monograph that was published to coincide with the exhibition. «Farewell my Studio» is the name of the artist’s latest series of paintings that depict the artist’s studio after the disastrous earthquakes of 1999. It was there that Botsoglou completed what is probably his most famous body of work, the «Personal Nekyia,» a set of 26 paintings – mostly portraits – inspired by Homer’s «Iliad» which Botsoglou painted over the course of seven years, beginning in the early ’90s. In the series, Botsoglou paints Giacometti-like figures against a stark background. He also paints himself, in some cases, naked; he is the first Greek artist to draw nude self-portraits. The emphasis is on line and suggests Botsoglou’s long-time study of drawing. The self-portraits indicate that the series is mostly about an exploration of the artist’s inner self. This is hardly surprising for an artist who has claimed that «In our lifetime we only make one work; all our efforts are exercises in self-knowledge; our course through art is a course toward death.» In another utterance which helps explain his art, Botsoglou said that «the human body is the most beautiful thing there is, the most fascinating.» In the monograph he is also quoted as saying «I am a figurative painter, because, above all, I want to understand my surroundings.» In his early days as an artist, his everyday surroundings included the metro station in Paris, a subject matter which yielded the «Metro» series of the time, mainly images of people waiting in the Parisian underground. Another series of paintings titled «Frieze» followed in the early 1970s. Heavily influenced by European pop art, the paintings are images of commodities and symbols of consumer culture painted in a realistic, advertisement-like fashion. One suspects that these paintings harbor the kind of critical stance and intrinsic irony that colored much of Pop-derived European art. Knowing that Botsoglou was a left-wing, political artist, the assumption becomes stronger. Indeed, Botsoglou was one of the five «Greek Neo-Realists,» an group of artists that emerged in the late ’60s with a political (although somewhat vague) agenda. (The other four artists were Yiannis Valavanidis, Cleopatra Dinga, Kyriakos Katzourakis and Yiannis Psychopedis). The group dissolved in the early ’70s. It was then that Botsoglou painted the «Prisoner,» an image based on a photograph of a real person. Botsoglou views this painting mostly as a portrait of a man rather than as any indirect social critique. In fact, Botsoglou’s political bent is less evident in his art than in his background and his activities apart from his art. A member of the EKKE, a Maoist political organization that resisted the dictatorship, Botsoglou came from a left-wing background. His father was a trade unionist and his mother’s brother died in exile on the island Giaros. Although Botsoglou has remained left-wing, he suspended his political activities in the late ’70s. This was a period of isolation for the artist, when he retreated to his home on Lesvos and painted the series «Oil Mills.» «Diary Pages» came after that. Consisting of more than a hundred watercolors and some sculptures, the series recorded the effects of time on his aging mother. In Botsoglou’s typical style, the images probe the inner-self of a person who, in most of the paintings, is somebody close to the artist. These are the people that Botsoglou enjoys painting the most. In the almost 60 portraits that Botsoglou has painted throughout his career, they emerge frequently. They are the artist’s mirror of the world and a guiding force to his self-knowledge. Works by Chronis Botsoglou are at the Frissiras Museum, 6 Monis Asteriou, Plaka, tel 210.331.6302, until February 9.