The relevance of landscape painting in today’s world

When in the late 19th century impressionist painters set up their easels in plein air, what they sought to capture was the fleeting «impressions» that the change of light created on the surrounding landscape. Nature mattered to them from that scientific, empirical perspective and the landscapes that they depicted were made with that purpose in mind. This was not always so. The ways that painters have approached nature and framed it into a «landscape» is a cultural construct subject to a society’s social or artistic values. Artists have not always viewed the landscape in the same way nor has the genre of landscape painting enjoyed the same artistic value across time. With the advancement of technology and the rise of concepts such as artificial nature and virtual reality, it is perhaps doubly interesting to ask what the status of landscape painting in art may now be. Has contemporary reality bred its own way of viewing landscapes? And how relevant is landscape painting to contemporary reality? Artists Giorgos Hadjimichalis and Kyrillos Sarris (the latter a doctor and intellectual who has also worked as an artist) considered the question through a joint presentation of their work held recently at the «Workshop of Projects and Images in Crisis,» which is what Hadjimichalis has named his studio to refer to its function as a place for projects and the exchange of ideas. In his large, colorful painting, Hadjimichalis had divided the canvas into square parts and inside of each depicted the isolated part of a landscape or an element taken out of nature. Resembling a painterly mosaic, the painting was an assembly of parts rather like a recollection of thoughts. The painting is actually a reconstitution of the artist’s visual memories from the island of Aegina. It is meant to preserve those memories and the image of the landscape before rapid construction changes the island’s physiognomy. Memory also comes into play in Kyrillos Sarris’s work. Part of a work in progress – a project on which the artist has been working for over two decades – the installation shown in the exhibition included an assortment of drawings, notes, books and documentary material presented inside a perspex display case and complemented with drawings mounted on the wall. All of this material revolves around a specific landscape, that of Saint Ilarion, the site of a Byzantine castle and a territory in Cyprus’s occupied borders. It is a site embroiled in the island’s history and political situation which, being a Cypriot, Sarris is particularly sensitive about. By bringing together all sorts of archival material and drawings that the artist has made of the site over the years, Sarris exemplifies an almost obsessive need to try and make sense of his own memories, the site itself, his homeland’s history, even landscape painting itself. Multilayered in meaning and of an intellectual content, the installation considers the nebulous dividing line between reality and our memories of it, objective documentation and a more personal approach. It also addresses the means of painting itself by questioning the genre of landscape painting and considering its relevance to contemporary art. How interesting can a landscape painting be to the contemporary viewer? Which parts of nature does our cultural conditioning enable us to see and which to leave out? Every period in time has bred its own landscapes, its own way of framing nature. Which is ours? Sarris and Hadjimichalis looked into their art for an answer. The exhibition happened to coincide with the publication of a book on the concept of the landscape by Potamos publishing house. The book included three seminal essays on the issue by Georg Simmel, Joachim Ritter and Ernst H. Gombrich.