CULTURE

Spyros Vassileiou’s paintings of China adorn calendar for 2008

Painter and engraver Spyros Vassileiou recorded his trip to China in 1979 in words and paintings. That illustrated account has been published as a calendar by the Spyros Vassileiou Atelier. The calendar is dedicated to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, his daughter Drossoula Vassilieou-Elliot told Helbi. The artist traveled from Hong Kong on the Aquamarina, a boat owned by a Greek couple who had invited him to enter «the great gate of China, that is kept open,» he wrote in Tachydromos magazine in 1979, «by the mutual interests of East and West.» Vassilieou describes being on the bridge of the ship at dawn, as the «the gray-blue line of the earth ship dimly appears, outlining such a different world, the world of China, that will gradually reveal itself to us in magical fashion. First are the fishing junks. One, two, three… countless junks spread the fans of their sails on the horizon and prove the truth of Oscar Wilde’s paradox that nature follows art, not the reverse. The moment we are in the heart of a city, be it Canton, Shanghai or Peking, we see that whatever we have read, whatever we have heard, whatever the tour guide has told us about the achievements of Mao’s revolution, what we see is beyond description. Everything is on a different scale: sizes, crowds, distances, temples, palaces, the Wall, trains, tea, rice with chopsticks, the smiles of the Chinese, the beauty of the little children.» And he asked: «On what basis can we evaluate the fabled treasures of gold and jade that the emperors amassed in their vast palaces in the Forbidden City, where no ordinary mortal ever set foot?» Though even then the population of China was already in the hundreds of millions, Vassilieou wrote of seeing a sole cyclist in the vast Tienanmen Square, a couple sharing an umbrella. As for the Great Wall: «By what conventional means can one measure it? It was built in the time of Alexander the Great, encircles China from the north, and was never used. It is the only object made by humans that is visible from the moon, and you could say that it continues notionally where it wasn’t built, encompassing like a snake that immense Chinese land that has to feed a third of the world’s population every day.» The reproductions of the watercolors are superb and the calendars, all numbered and stamped, are on sale at the revamped little shop in the Spyros Vassileiou Museum, 5A Webster Street. An exhibition of the 12 watercolors will open at 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 20, at the museum.