CULTURE

Publication brings together an artist’s entire body of work

For most of us, the name of artist Yiannis Gaitis brings to mind his trademark figure of the standing man in a bowler hat and pinstriped suit. Certain artists become identified with specific images and Gaitis is undoubtedly one of them. His colorful, flat paintings, showing multiples of his famous male figure, and his numerous constructions on the same theme are the artist’s recognizable style which has left a strong mark in the history of postwar, modern Greek art. However, as usually happens with things that become emblematic, these images are seldom fully appreciated and understood within the context of the artist’s own work. Moreover, these have typecast Gaitis as an artist and have obscured other facets to his work. «Yiannis Gaitis: Catalogue Raisonne,» recently published in Greek and French with partial funding from the Ioannis F. Costopoulos Foundation, overturns this standard, narrow understanding of the artist’s work by revealing the full scope of his art. A comprehensive survey of the artist’s work from 1944-1984 (the year the artist died, directly after his large retrospective at the National Gallery in Athens), it includes all his paintings, sculptures and constructions, but not his drawings, book illustrations or set and costume designs. The catalogue raisonne is the outcome of a decade’s research and an initiative by the artist’s daughter, Loretta Gaitis-Charrat, the only child of Gaitis and his wife, sculptress Gabriella Simossi, who, like Loretta, still resides in France. In many ways, this book is Loretta Gaitis’s way of paying tribute to her father’s work. One also learns in the book’s preface that she also hopes to build a museum dedicated to the work of her parents on the island of Ios, where Gaitis built a summer home in the early 1970s. The Ministry of Culture has officially announced the forthcoming foundation of the museum in cooperation with the Municipality of Ios. It is also Loretta Gaitis who has compiled the extensive biography at the beginning of the book which brings the reader closer to Gaitis’s intellectual milieu and artistic surroundings. The text flows, blending objective information with more emotional narration and with excerpts of reviews written on Gaitis’s work interspersed in-between. Then follows the plate illustration of Gaitis’s full work and two essays by Denys Zacharopoulos and Marilena Karra, while the end of the book contains a comprehensive listing of the artist’s exhibitions and bibliography on his work. There is also a foreword by artist Annie Costopoulou who was Gaitis’s companion in life for many years. They met in the late 1960s, when Gaitis shared a workshop in Athens with Costopoulou and two other artists. Gaitis was preparing his solo show at the Goethe Institute in Athens in which he would show his wooden figurines for the first time. Already a celebrated artist who had participated in major exhibitions abroad, Gaitis settled in Athens in the mid 1970s. Gaitis belongs to a generation of artists – Nikos Kessanlis, Stathis Logothetis, Vlassis Caniaris, Pavlos and Costas Tsoclis, to name just a few – that is considered to have pioneered postwar modernism in Greece. Born in the early 1920s, Gaitis was bred during the years of the resistance, lived through the Metaxas regime and through the civil war and, like many artists of his age, left for Paris in the early 1950s. His early work was heavily influenced by cubism at first and then by surrealism, and was mostly painting. His famous male figurine, which became the recurrent motif in his subsequent work, emerged in the mid-1960s yielding infinite variations – constructions, performances, sculpture and paintings as well as multiples in which Gaitis was one of the first artists to become interested. In most of Gaitis’s paintings, multiples of his standardized male figure suggest an anonymous crowd, mechanized and socially controlled. Art critics and historians tend to view those paintings as a description of alienation and conformity brought about in the modern world and downplay the more playful, pop side to his work. The fact that Gaitis lived through the politically minded 1960s and was part of a generation with political convictions may explain why his work is accorded such social relevance. Today this approach may sound somewhat outmoded or cliche. Still, Gaitis’s expressionless male figurine has become a symbol, not only of the artist’s work but of the crushing power of standardization over individuality. In Greece, «Yiannis Gaitis: Catalogue Raisonne» is distributed through the Costopoulous Foundation and is available at selected, large bookstores.