Portrait of the man as a young artist in the 1950s

Anyone driving along Syngrou Avenue must have noticed the odd sight of a huge tree hanging off a crane, high above and parallel to the ground, right next to the Fix building. Rather like an act frozen visually in time, this is in fact a work of art, one of the latest that artist Costas Tsoclis created on the occasion of his large retrospective show currently at the adjacent building, the National Museum of Contemporary Art (the Fix building). «Colossal Still Life,» as the work is called (the tree from the forest of Evrytania was not deliberately uprooted for the work), is one of the artist’s grandest statements; both in terms of scale and content, it addresses one of the artist’s most pressing concerns: the blurring of boundaries between the artificial and the real, reality and its representation, and ultimately, the subtle distinction between art and life. These are the issues that capture the essence of Tsoclis’s art. They express him in his artistic maturity, which is exactly what the works in the retrospective exhibit also gradually build toward. But the focus of yet another exhibit on Costas Tsoclis’s art (it seems to be everywhere these days) shifts the focus away from Tsoclis’s heyday to his artistic youth. «The Unknown Tsoclis,» as the exhibit (on at the Frissyras Museum of Contemporary European Painting) is titled, is about the artist in his early years, specifically, the works he produced during the 1950s when Tsoclis was still in his 20s. Organized on the basis of Tsoclis’s donation to the museum of 20 oil paintings and 40 drawings from his youth, the exhibit – with the exception of a series of art informel-style paintings that the artist did in the 1960s – mostly consists of portraits that Tsoclis made as a a young artist. One recognizes the influence of Yiannis Moralis, Tsoclis’s teacher at the Athens School of Fine Arts at the time, both in terms of subject matter (Moralis is mostly known for his portraits) and style, especially the sense of flatness, the positioning of the figures in the foreground and the strange perspective. But a lesson in techniques and concepts is not what this display is about. Rather like a visual diary, this is more an exhibition on the people in Tsoclis’s life and the artist’s ties with them. The tone is intentionally emotional and the nostalgic saxophone music of Miles Davis can be heard in the background, which, although slightly cliche, adds to the exhibit’s intimacy. The exhibit also aims to be evocative of an entire period in Greece, a period which many Greeks tend to see in retrospect – through the distortion of a vague, postmodern nostalgia perhaps – as more genuine and richer in human values. The associations are rampant: in the clothing of the people portrayed, the deserted coffee shops off the harbor, the spare interiors of the laika-neoclassika homes (a blend of folk and neoclassical architecture which many houses in Athens and Piraeus were built in). Quite unexpectedly, this harking back to the good old values is also to be found in the exhibit’s only recent work, «The Sacred Years,» an installation of a loaf of bread placed upon a wooden crate and lit by a spare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. Tsoclis made this work especially for the display, possibly as a way of linking his early works to his present concerns. The style and choice of medium may be entirely different, but somehow a kindred spirit is there. «The Sacred Years» suggests that an artist changes through the years, but perhaps not entirely. A child whose parents are not married is only allowed to have the mother’s surname. If the mother later marries, her husband can give his surname to the child through a declaration at a notary public.

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