70 x 55cm
1st meeting: Sunday, 30th August—morning
I am introduced to the recent works of Vasilis Zografos during a visit at his studio. Parts of Greek traditional costumes—veils, hats, skirts, and vests—and fragmented figures of the dancers themselves build up a traceable theme for works unfinished. Monochromatic and neutral backgrounds lacking connotations are complemented by the absence of faces, poses, or gestures that are only hinted at. For a painter who clearly belongs to the western tradition, I am left wondering, as to how this preoccupation with the theme of ‘Greek-traditional’ has come about.
He reveals that it all happened by accident while watching a live traditional dance performance. Up until that point he had kept a discreet distance from spectacles of the sort, let alone engaging in them in any way. But this time he is taken aback by what is happening to him. The costumes, prominently featured as links of an unbreakable dancing chain, bring a train of thoughts and inspirations; and with his work in the back of his mind, he is seduced. The strangeness of the costumes, the paradox inherent in them, when seen in this different light strike him and deeply move him.
I am thinking that the dancers form part of a ‘sacred’ ritual, where the continuous group action, completely in tune in terms of rhythm and movement, communicates and exorcises human instincts. In their costumes and in this atmosphere that can only be described as total togetherness, the dancers act as transmitters and receivers of an energy that is ‘free’ yet clearly outlined and defined. Each member of the circle, each link of the chain, forms part of a larger, closed electrical circuit. What is awoken from the depths of one person’s soul instantly leaks out as current through everyone else. The discipline of the steps and grips of the dancers leads to a burst of personal but also collective redemption.
The observation and investigation of the different facets of Greek tradition inevitably leads to thoughts on possible associations and correlations with the present. Team operation, collaboration, respect, tolerance, creativity, co-existence and sharing, as well as a sense of belonging—all of these are elements of social coherence that perhaps did in the past characterize Greek society, but are now under threat, and are gradually becoming extinct, amidst self-absorption and egotism. Tradition and its means of expression are stripped of the human values and social qualities they once served or represented. As a result, they are now seen as a sort of out-dated folklore to be ridiculed, or even considered to be the means of nationalist propaganda. There’s something vital missing from the way we perceive a costume and the way we use it, and generally from the way that we look at tradition and heritage. For this series of works, the artist’s motive stems from his personal need to carefully redefine this relationship from scratch.
2nd meeting: Monday, 14th September—afternoon
Two weeks later, I once again find myself in Vasilis’ studio. The dancers’ feet are still hazy but they are now behind a blue filter. Only a very subtle contour remains around the faces of the mannequins, while it is the garment that is highlighted—as a sort of shell—as well as the jewellery. He has also made a start on a series of smaller works where he appropriates themes by 19th c. philhellene painters.
These works become a good opportunity for us to discuss the idea of the ‘Greek’ and the numerous definitions of ‘Greekness’ but also the notion of Hellenism in today’s culture, which seems to lack a sense of clear identity. Vasilis Zografos reveals that he does in fact act more as a ‘western’ painter. He observes the Greek element and tries to appropriate it, mostly through the act and process of painting. It seems as if he explores the details of the narrative in a way a western artist who empathizes with folklore exoticisms would. He feels a kinship towards Greeks, but not ‘Greek’ per se.
It is, after all, true that as a nation, as a society, and as a people we have lost the coherency that is necessary in order to behave and operate in a coordinated manner, ‘in chorus’. More often than not we copy and uncritically, unconsciously even, adopt that which comes from abroad, failing to assimilate the new as novel. The old is considered old-fashioned and is often completely rejected. The traditional costumes are cut off from their material content and become empty vessels in spectacles that are as odd and unfamiliar as they are comical.
The ties that bind, the sense of continuity between past and present are lost and as a result the old seems distant and unapproachable, while the new lacks depth and substance. It’s like a patient in therapy being cut off from his personal and collective history, lacking mnemonic traces, yet still trying to achieve self-awareness. Impossible! It’s imperative that what is missing is found; it must be articulated and become memory.
3rd meeting: Tuesday, 20th October—evening
In our last meeting—once again in the studio—the works are nearly finished. The filter has become darker, ocean blue and at certain areas grey. The hint remains traditional-Greek but the way this has been translated into the work is now contemporary and familiar. My mind is flooded with thoughts of the sense of ‘magic’ hidden in a costume and the fascination of a dance in process—regardless of its origin and social context. My eyes are drawn to a woman’s faceless veil and I wonder about all the hidden desires, the innermost thoughts and investments, all the manifests that were not permitted and are reflected in this single image! No matter how varying these manifests across the different eras or societies, their power still remains in any case the same.
Vasilis Zografos confides in me that working on these pieces and completing them proved to be a cathartic process. Vasilis feels that through the act of painting, he attempted to dismiss his own awkwardness and original denial towards anything considered traditional and that he ultimately managed to change his mind about his own personal experiences. By keeping a distance from his own experiences the artist became—through his compositions—a communicator and an ambassador of a new condition. Leaving the field open to multiple interpretations, free associations and emotional investments, he transgresses the ethnographic theme and restores our own relationship with tradition by completing himself what has been ‘missing’!
Psychologist / Psycho-therapist