CULTURE

The magic of the countryside

British artist James Foot can only smile when people tell him he left Europe’s most humid place for the driest. Nothing could ring truer this summer, when Britain suffered some of its worst floods and Greece some of its worst heat waves. The world that Foot has created in the Peloponnese is both welcoming and impenetrable at the same time. At the village of Kyparissi in Laconia, with a view to the open sea and pine trees, Foot turns the romantic vision of British travelers into reality. «I am a natural traveler,» he says. Being fond of adventure, he found himself spending about six months every year in Kyparissi the past few years. He has set up his studio in an old house with bright red shutters. Every morning, he sets up his easel and paints. «I want to show the beauty of the world,» he says. Perhaps there is nothing more British than a Mediterranean-themed watercolor painting. The paintings that Foot currently has in his house show some of Greece’s best moments. «I always start with one color and add the rest later,» he explains. A lot of his paintings are inspired by Kyparissi, but also by the island of Spetses, where his new exhibition recently opened at the Orloff Gallery and will run for another week. Although Foot loves Greece dearly and speaks the language very well, he is a citizen of the world who reached Kyparissi after traveling around the world. «I could have chosen any place, but I stayed here,» he points out. That does not seem so surprising when one sits in front of the house, drinking iced tea, enjoying the scent of lemons blended in a London atmosphere. When in Greece, Foot becomes very «Greek,» something he enjoys a lot especially when talking about his favorite Laconia mountains. «I have walked along all of their paths. During lonely walks or while on the bicycle I talk to myself and ideas pop up in the loneliness of nature.» Small miracles, such as unexpected devoted friends and the villagers who see him as one of their own, are what has kept him in this corner of the world. It is also perhaps the challenge of doing what nobody would have expected of you. As Foot paints the red-tiled houses, trees and boats, he gives promises about a very real world and makes us believe that beauty does exist if only we choose to see it. Many people still wonder how artists earn a living. Foot did not have an easy start, but had a keen sense of adventure from an early age, when he set out from the Cornish countryside, away from all the art centers. «I went to Florence at 16, which is a classic stopover for English travelers. My contact with Italian life was decisive. I got an exotic feeling as I saw this Renaissance city spread out with its tiled roofs and wooden shutters. That was when I thought, ‘I want this life.’» Foot’s control on watercolors is admirable. Apart from his natural talent, his studies, his obsession with perfection and his need to share what motivates him emotionally play a significant role. «My art does not want to change the world,» he says. «It just wants to show how much beauty there is.» Foot believes there is a mythical dimension to life if we choose to see it and claims that myth is, in fact, life. He insists that there is still a lot of material in Greece, but has yet to paint Athens. He sells almost all of his works and has only kept a few at his home in Kyparissi. The ones he has reflect an inner light that, even when you leave Foot’s house and close the red front door behind you, give you the sense that you still carry the protection of beauty with you. Orloff Gallery, Palio Limani, Spetses. For information: www.jamesfoot.co.uk.