Two painters exhibited in a joint presentation

Exhibitions that jointly present the work of two artists who lived at the same period are not that frequent in Greece even though this comparative approach could offer a valuable perspective on the work of each artist. «Thanos Tsingos – Yiannis Gaitis,» held in late summer at the Cyclades Gallery on Syros as part of the annual Ermoupoleia arts festival, was one such exhibition. It helped cast a different light on the work of each artist and emphasize elements of their work that have received great attention. Thanos Tsingos, for example, is mostly known for his paintings of flowers and Yiannis Gaitis for the recurring motif of the male figurine in a bowler hat, yet the work of each artist is far more varied. Curator of the exhibition art historian Bia Papadopoulou has done an excellent job in comparing the two artists’ work and placing them in the context of their time. Her essay in the exhibition’s supplementary catalog is a valuable addition to the bibliography on the work of each artist. Many of the paintings shown in the exhibition and illustrated in the catalog belong to Costas Ioannidis, an art collector who first thought up the exhibition’s concept and who owns a substantial number of works by Tsingos and one of the fullest collections of Gaitis’s works in Greece. Active in the field, Ioannidis is also adviser for the visual arts to the Municipality of Syros. Tsingos and Gaitis are an unusual pairing in several ways. Each artist worked in a different style yet the two abstract paintings (by Tsingos and Gaitis) that adorn the cover of the exhibition’s catalog are practically indistinguishable. They both show the influence of the so-called art informel (a style of abstraction in painting that developed in Europe, particularly in Paris, in the late 1940s and ’50s and is often compared to the American style of abstract expressionism) on the work of both artists. For Gaitis, this influence was relatively short-lived, but for Tsingos it was decisive throughout his work. Tsingos and Gaitis were influenced by art informel while living in Paris. Tsingos moved there in 1947 (he was older than Gaitis by almost a decade) and Gaitis much later in 1954. They met one another two years later at Tsingos’s solo exhibition at the Iris Clert Gallery and developed a mutual respect which, however, probably never developed into a full friendship. Tsingos was a highly successful artist and an active figure on the Parisian arts scene. Trained as an architect, he abandoned his career in 1940 to join the Greek army. A politically active man with left-wing convictions, Tsingos was respected for having fought in three military campaigns in the Middle East and for the death sentence he received following mutinies in Egypt in support of the EAM resistance movement. After the Lebanon agreement, Tsingos was released and soon afterward left Greece, first in order to work as an architect in Brasil, with references from Le Corbusier. When he finally settled in Paris, he turned to painting, first as a set designer for the theater and the productions he staged with his wife, an actress who specialized in Beckett. He soon became recognized as a commercially successful artist whose work was defined by the use of heavy impasto and a style that resembled the abstract compositions and application of splodges of color to be found in art informel. However, in Greece, where he returned in 1960, recognition of his work was disproportionately small compared to France. The conservative artistic climate that still prevailed in Greece is a likely reason for this. Compared to Tsingos, Gaitis was more fully recognized in Greece. His early works and those that are less known were influenced by Cubism and then by Surrealism. In contrast to Tsingos, who, except for a short, late period, never painted human figures, Yiannis Gaitis was to become known for his trademark male figurine, a motif that is said to symbolize man’s alienation in the face of standardization and the fast pace of modern life. In general, the work of Gaitis is quite different from that of Tsingos. So was his life and personality. But the fact that both artists were two of the pioneers of postwar modernism in Greece and the similarity of their work during a short period in France make a joint presentation of their work interesting to consider. The juxtaposition helps make the distinct contribution made by each artist even clearer.

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