CULTURE

Panayiotis Tetsis, a master at depicting color and light

In his introduction to «The Theory of Colors,» Goethe writes of how the eyes see no form but light, shade and color, the three elements that make our world visible. Several decades later Paul Cezanne also stressed the importance of color by writing of «painting as the recording of colored sensations.» A look at the paintings of the eminent Greek painter Panayiotis Tetsis bring those words to mind. Tetsis and his large canvases depicting the sea are the focus of this year’s exhibition at the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation’s Museum of Contemporary Art on Andros. It is the first exhibition organized by the museum in the last 25 years to present the work of a Greek artist. Tetsis is a painter who has made color his primary tool. Although he does not like to think of himself as a colorist or according to any other labels, his style as a painter has nevertheless become associated with the artist’s skillful use of color to structure shape and depict light. The gamut of colors in «Thalassa,» the title of the Andros exhibition which includes works from the past 10 years, is impressive. There are olive and emerald greens, turquoise, pale-gray tones and cobalt blue and even the blue-black dark colors of the sea. Cold hues are combined with the warm, earthy tones of the landscape while in several paintings the bright orange or yellow setting suns defines the composition. The colors seem unreal, especially in respect to the Greek landscape where the scorching sun washes away their brightness. Yet the colors in Tetsis’s paintings come from years of observation. From his childhood in Hydra, Tetsis spent hours watching the sea as it changed colors and acquired different motions throughout the day and the change of seasons. Although Tetsis still spends hours observing the sea, he now mostly paints from memory. In recent years his work has become more abstract and minimal with some of the paintings just showing a wave or a stretch of the water’s surface. Throughout his career, his concern has remained the same. He does not want to offer a naturalistic depiction of the sea but to depict its sensation, the force and life of nature. This may also explain why Tetsis paints huge canvases, most of them diptychs or three-panel works. Painting on such a large scale is a difficult endeavor, especially when the subject matter is something as vivid and as constantly changing as the sea. Even Tetsis’s exquisite watercolors are larger than what the medium usually allows. The three-panel view of «Sifnos» (each is 110×250 cm) is one of the most remarkable examples of Tetsis’s unique skill in watercolors. Although known for his paintings of the Greek landscape and sea, Tetsis began his career with full-body portraits, a genre which he continues to work on today. («My Friends,» which consisted of portraits, was presented at the Nees Morfes Gallery in Athens a few months ago.) He has also painted a wide range of still-lifes and scenes from everyday life, such as the famous «Laiki Agora,» which records the commotion at an Athens street market. In all cases Tetsis paints images derived from his experiences and familiar surroundings. His objective is to paint for the senses and not for the mind, to record emotions and show the life force beyond appearances. In the early 20th century, Cezanne mentioned how people’s vision had grown «a little weary, burdened by the memory of thousand images… We no longer see nature; we see pictures over and over again.» Panayiotis Tetsis would probably agree. His works at the Andros exhibition remind the viewer of the beauty and constant metamorphosis of nature. It is a pleasant, refreshing change from the conceptual side of contemporary art and an occasion to appreciate the work of one of the most esteemed Greek painters. At the Museum of Contemporary Art of the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation in the main town (Hora) of Andros (tel 22820.22444) through September 24. Eurobank Private Banking is the exhibition’s sponsor. A pending issue At the opening night of the exhibition, Panayiotis Tetsis told journalists he was disappointed that the Greek state has not welcomed the creation of the Museum of Contemporary Art that Elisa and Basil Goulandris had so wished to establish in the capital. The project has not gone forth even though Tetsis said the list of artworks that the Goulandrises had planned to house in the museum has officially been submitted. Tetsis stressed the importance of such an institution for the country and pointed out the lack of a museum, including the National Gallery, with premises suitable for presenting a painting collection. An eminent painter Apart from painting, Panayiotis Tetsis has also educated hundreds of young Greek artists. He has held teaching positions at the Vakalo School of Fine Arts (of which he was one of the founding members) and at the Athens School of Fine Arts (ASKT), where he taught from 1976 until 1992. In 1989 he also became ASKT’s rector and a year later was elected a member of the Academy of Athens. In 1999 he was presented with the Medal of the Order of the Phoenix by the president of the Hellenic Republic. That same year, a major retrospective of his work was presented at the National Gallery, where he is president of the board of directors. Now 81 years old, Tetsis was recognized as a talent early in his life. At 32, upon his return from his graduate studies in Paris, he took part in the Sao Paolo Biennial and then, soon after, the Alexandria Biennial. In the 1960s, Tetsis began studying the effects of the light of the Attic landscape and created a series of landscapes entirely based on the tonal variations of black and white.