A poet speaks, not only in words but pictures

Perhaps more than any other Greek poet of the postwar period, Yiannis Ritsos is considered the voice of revolution, the poet who praised the human right to freedom and defended the socially underprivileged. Politically active during the civil war and the occupation, Ritsos was persecuted for his convictions and was sent into exile for several years, first in the late 1940s and later during the junta. During his years in exile, Ritsos wrote prolifically. What is less known is that he also painted, mostly on stones and other materials available while in isolation. Some of the images he painted were human figures or the faces of young people. Ritsos later wrote that painting the beauty of the human figure was his own way of resisting suppression by the regime. Ritsos actually painted early in his childhood. He thought of painting as another way of writing poetry and used to say that although the two arts were different, they both stemmed from the same «center point.» «Ritsos – The Visual Artist» an exhibition on at the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens, reveals the poet’s lifelong commitment to the practice of the fine arts. Through 200 works in total, the exhibition traces his work as a self-taught painter, starting from the first years in exile, moving on to the works he painted during his travels (mostly people and landscapes), the works that he made in the late 1960s while in internal exile on Samos and ending with the paintings that he made as a free man in Athens. The exhibition also has a separate section with photos of Ritsos taken by his close friend Platonas Maximos. For the specialist, this exhibition may pose an interesting challenge – to make a comparative study between Ritsos’s poetry and painting. Even to the non-specialist, the similarities in terms of subject matter and mood in some works seem obvious. Tragic heroes, solitary and mourning women as well as existential angst are there. But there is also beauty, youth and hope, just as there is in his poetry. There are also similarities to the work of other artists of the time. The use of stones as a drawing surface reminds one of the work of Vasso Katraki, another politically minded artist, whose famous images on stones Ritsos mentions as an influence. Apart from purely practical reasons, Ritsos liked using stones because of their interesting shapes and often composed the images he painted on them so as to bring out the natural, shape, the cavities and peculiarities of each stone. He thought of painting and sculpture as complementary and used to name his work as «painterly sculpture.» Apart from stones, Ritsos collected all sorts of natural materials, including driftwood roots that he found off shore. Some of these he turned into sculpture. These often contorted forms are perhaps the most tragic of his works. Seen together with the rest of his work, they show the broad scope of one of the most creative and forceful poets of this country. The exhibition is on at the Byzantine and Christian Museum (22 Vas. Sofias, 210.721.1027) to November 2.