Kifissia?s enduring appeal

I can still remember my first trip to Kifissia, and — rather unprepared for what I was about to see as my parents had only commented that it was cooler up there and my mother used to go there on family holidays as a child — I could not believe I was still in Athens.

That early feeling of pleasant disbelief from my first encounter with the leafy northern suburb was reawakened during a recent visit to an exhibition of works by Pavlos Habidis currently on show at the Tsichritzis Foundation of Visual Arts. More than 30 black-and-white and colored drawings and paintings draw the viewer into scenes that capture the spirit of Kifissia: The grand Villa Kazouli on Kifissias Avenue, the Varsos cafe and bakery, a popular meeting point for families and friends and famous for its cream pastries, the stately homes on Emannouil Benaki and Tatoiou streets, the last station on the Piraeus-Kifissia electric railway line, which has something of a rural air, and the Theoxenia Palace hotel in Kefalari Square.

What I enjoyed most about Habidis?s exhibition was its simplicity, because he presents the different — albeit more affluent — aspects of the suburb without trying to deconstruct them, jazz them up or experiment with the images, offering instead a playful look at the scenes, enriching the atmosphere with lighthearted brio and delivering his version of Kifissia without making the viewer feel like an interloper.

Habidis was born in Kifissia — not the Athenian suburb, but the one in Thessaloniki — in 1957.

?Thessaloniki?s Kifissia is something completely different; it?s a poor neighborhood,? Habidis told me.

He admitted that despite having lived in the capital for years, he had known next to nothing of the more famous Kifissia in Athens until curator Iris Kritikou suggested that he try his hand at painting it.

?Up until then, my connection to the area was based on fleeting, rushed visits,? Habidis said, admitting that the first time he spent some time exploring Kifissia, he was surprised.

?I saw something that, in my eyes, did not resemble Athens, not even Greece. What I saw made me think of northern Italy or Germany,? the artist confessed.

He began by scouting out interesting locations, where he made sketches that were filled out and colored in later at his studio.

?I generally don?t like to prettify my subjects,? Habidis said. ?I prefer to capture the atmosphere of the neighborhood or a corner of it, without paying too much attention to the small details.?

His drawings of Kifissia, however, also have another dimension.

?There are pieces in which I wanted to provoke a reaction from the viewer. My intention was not to reproduce a pretty scene, but to make the viewer feel that what he or she is looking at is real and contemporary,? Habidis said.

With this in mind, the artist has included in his paintings relevant details such as graffiti on walls, home rental signs and other such elements of contemporary society.

Pavlos Habidis?s exhibition runs through Friday, when it will close for a few weeks before reopening from September 11-30.

Tsichritzis Foundation of Visual Arts, 18 Cassavetes

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