CULTURE

Soothing the mind and the eye

The way in which artists have painted nature over the centuries is a fascinating source of information about a society’s ideology, aesthetics and economy. From the early Renaissance paintings and nature’s depiction as a setting for human narrative, through to the sublime wild nature favored in the art of Romanticism, landscape painting invokes the challenging subject of man’s relationship to his natural surroundings. The paintings by contemporary artist Christos Kehayioglou, currently on view in «Trails,» his one-man show being held at the Zoumboulakis Gallery, evoke this rich and varied language of landscape painting. His imaginative, wonderful paintings join different traditions – from the Renaissance to the 20th century – of this genre together and also prove that for contemporary art to be interesting, it need not fit the latest trends. Good art that expresses well-worked ideas can also be beautiful and visually pleasing, not necessarily mind-boggling and distant: This is what one instantly feels when walking down the stairs of the Zoumboulakis Gallery. A familiar, enigmatic world The viewer is immediately enveloped in a world that is familiar and warm, yet strangely enigmatic, somewhat akin to the images we see in our dreams. Kehayioglou’s paintings are vistas that stretch from a close point of view out into the distance, or panoramic views made up of different perspectives that merge in the same painting to produce a dreamlike distortion. They depict nature (the sea, sky, a forest) teamed together with a man-made, rural environment, such as a village settlement or countryside homes. The combination produces a sense of nature as an extension of human living, thoughts and imagination. Apart from landscapes, they also seem like images of pure fiction, metaphors for one’s sentiments, reveries or fears. Interestingly, the artist says that most of his paintings are also depictions of actual landscapes – the riverbed in Halandri or the village of Kioni on the island of Ithaca. The term «collage,» which the artist uses to describe his work, makes perfect sense. The multiple perspectives found within a painting is one example of this distinctive, painted collage. Some parts of the painting are from an aerial view, others from a frontal view and others from a perspective below eye level. These converge to create the subtly distorted effect of gentle concaves and convexes but also send the viewer’s eyes in an unexpected and often circular motion around the painting. The technique is distantly reminiscent of cubism but rather than leading to an analytical, empirical view of his subject-matter, Kehayioglou steers his paintings toward a magical, unreal atmosphere. Partly through the use of multi-perspectives and partly through color, his paintings also put across a strange sense of time. Some parts of the painting are seen in the daytime, others suggest nighttime but there are also some in which the time of the day is unclear. It is likely that Kehayioglou’s interest in the element of time stems from his training as a film director. (He also studied engineering). As a postgraduate student of philosophy in Paris, Kehayioglou also studied the relationship between film and painting. Since then, he has also worked with experimental film, videos and multimedia installations. Apart from time, Kehayioglou also has a wonderful feeling for color. Cobalt blues in the nighttime paintings, pastel hues of pink, peach and green are all remarkable for their glow. It is almost as if the colors in Kehayioglou’s paintings vibrate, an effect that is the outcome of a technique of applying paint in multiple layers and using plaster as an under surface. From up close, one detects the layers of paint in some parts but also notices the work that has gone into the canvas, turning its surface into an abstract world of painterly gestures and colors. Ancient, warm feel The surface of Kehayioglou’s paintings resemble wall paintings and have that ancient, warm feeling that is usually ascribed to the patina of time. His work blends the modern with the old, and is strongly reminiscent of Renaissance landscape painting at the same time that it evokes modern art. The texture of his paintings’ surface show the interest of modern art in the process of painting, not just its content. His landscapes are not just images of nature but also surfaces that capture the process of painting and also draw attention to perception. These are concerns that grew in art after Impressionism but the influences detected in Kehayioglou’s paintings go as far back as the Renaissance. The resemblance with Renaissance landscape paintings is hard to pin down but subtly present in the flat rendition of forms, the use of color to suggest depth and the feeling of disciplined, self-contained compositions. Kehayioglou’s paintings are open and carefree, yet contained and enigmatic. They are innocent, almost childlike, yet sophisticated, attractive to view but interesting to think about. This is an artist who knows how to tie diverse ideas together in a harmonious, visually engaging whole. He brings together the near and the far, the world of dreams with that of reality in «Trails» that are pleasant to the eye and calming to the mind. «Trails:» Paintings by Christos Kehayioglou at the Zoumboulakis Gallery (20 Kolonaki Square, 210.360.8278) through May 15. (Also available is the artist’s website at www.kex.gr).