Perseas and Andromeda signed, titled and dated 'PERSÉE, ANDROMEDE ET LES HORACES, 1996' (lower central panel) acrylic on canvas 146 x 342 cm.
PROVENANCE: Private collection, Athens.
EXHIBITED: Athens, National Gallery, Fassianos, Mythologies of Everyday Life, 24 November 2004-28 February 2005, no 210 (illustrated in the exhibition catalogue).
Epic in scale, emblematic in style and magnificent in its simple grandeur, this modern-day mythical vision integrates all the defining elements of Fassianos's unique visual language, confirming his status as one of the great masters of postwar Greek art.
Captured in sharp profile, displaying typical ancient Greek features and set against a brightly coloured background that accentuates their heroic scale, Fassianos's common, everyday people are remoulded into archetypal figures echoing the timeless symbolism of ancient Greek vase iconography. "As in ancient pottery, Fassianos's modern figures are captured in an eternal contre-jour which renders them both precise and timeless. These figures inhabit a land which might well be Greece, a totally luminous and airy land, an Aeolian land. The wind which tosses the hair of Fassianos's figures is the same wind which pervades Homer's epics and fills Odysseus's sails on his way to meet the Sirens."1 "The painter has acknowledged the countless hours he has spent at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens studying ancient pottery, especially white lekythoi. His drawing only confirms his confession. A bent in the line, a twist of the curve, skilful foreshortening, and the body attains volume and weight."2
Perseus and Andromeda is a modern interpretation of a famous ancient Greek myth retold by Fassianos with psychological acuteness and magical enchantment. According to legend, Queen Cassiopeia dared to compare herself to the Nereides in beauty and god Poseidon sent a sea monster to destroy the land. Ordered by an oracle, King Cepheus intended to sacrifice their daughter Andromeda but when the dragon appeared out of the sea, Perseus flew down to the lamenting father and mother and offered to save her if she would be his wife. They promised him the daughter and a kingdom as dowry too, and then the hero sped into the air and swooped down upon the monster, driving his sword three times into the creature's heart.3
The narrative unfolds from the figure of seated Andromeda hailing the hero on the left to the mighty Perseus and the ferocious monster in the middle, to the armed soldiers and the carefree bicyclist in the extreme right. This ubiquitous bicyclist, with his colourful tie flowing in the wind, is one of the most famous and enduring images of postwar Greek art, a Modern Greek classic by a true magician who, in Elytis's own words, "pulls bicyclists out of his hat with a spontaneous and convincing gesture."4 Recalling the emergence of his signature theme in the mid 1960s, the painter notes: "I remember I had a large brush in my hand and stood thinking... We had bicycles -there were no cars after the German occupation. We used to wear American clothes from the Marshal Plan. These were loose-fitting clothes, and we also wore ties. We were going down to Vouliagmeni and back, with our thumbs on the bicycle ringers. Suddenly it occurred to me to paint this bicyclist who had passed in front of me like a shadow. I said to myself his hair will be waving in the wind, just like Absalom's hair."5
By rejecting the illusionistic representation of space and insisting on the expressive potential of line on flat areas of undifferentiated colour, Fassianos is reckoned as worthily carrying on the stylistic principles of the legendary 1930s generation. As noted by art historian E. Agathonikou who curated the artist's major retrospective at the Athens National Gallery in 2004, "in the last decade, without abandoning his experimentations with volume, Fassianos returned to using the line. Flat, monochromatic surfaces on which his designs are 'etched' or drawn. White figures against a usually pinkish background... There is continuity and cohesion in Alecos Fassianos's oeuvre from his early output till today. His small coffee-shop table admired at the Young Artists Salon in 1958 still survives in his recent compositions. His forms may have changed over the years -so has life itself- but his artistic vision remained the same: the myth of Greece which he carries within himself."6
1. J. Lacarriere, A Shadow Play in Fassianos - Mythologies of Everyday Life, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery - A. Soutzos Museum, Athens 2004, p. 24. 2. M. Lambraki-Plaka, The Art of Alekos Fassianos - A Popular Paganism in Fassianos - Mythologies of Everyday Life, p. 14. 3. See M. Grant, Myths of the Greeks and Romans, Mentor Books, New York 1962, p. 346; T. Gantz, Early Greek Myth, vol. 1, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1993, p. 307. 4. O. Elytis, The Fassianos we Love in Open Papers [in Greek], Asterias publ., Athens 1974, p. 456. 5. A. Fassianos, The Myth of my Neighbourhood [in Greek], Kastaniotis publ., Athens 2002, pp. 119-120. 6. E. Agathonikou, Alecos Fassianos in Fassianos - Mythologies of Everyday Life, p. 40. (Compare the two flower vases in Perseus and Andromeda with the vase in The small table, 1957, N.G. Papoutsidis collection, Athens.)