Stassimo L signed in Greek (lower right); signed, titled and dated 'JANNIS SPYROPOULOS 'STASSIMO L' 1963' (on the stretcher) oil and mixed media on canvas 116 x 90 cm.
PROVENANCE: K. Damoulakis collection. C. Politis collection. Private collection, Athens.
EXHIBITED: Athens, National Gallery - Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Jannis Spyropoulos, The Classicist of Abstraction, 1995, no. 1079 (illustrated in the exhibition catalogue, p. 87).
LITERATURE: E. Strouza, Jannis Spyropoulos - In and beyond an Era, Worker's Housing Organisation, Athens 1989, p. 153 (illustrated). Jannis Spyropoulos, National Gallery - Alexandros Soutzos Museum / Ministry of Culture, Athens 1990, p. 153 (illustrated). Y. Papaioannou, Yannis Spyropoulos - Monograph, doctoral dissertation, Yannis and Zoe Spyropoulos Foundation, Athens 2010, no. 1079, p. 292 (detail illustrated).
Angelic and black light. G. Seferis
The work of a secular mystic who searched through the fragments of the Greek past to discover visions of existential integrity, Stassimo L from 1963 (as signed by the artist on the reverse) is a marvellous painting amply displaying the art of a true master: wise compromise between gestural brushwork and compositional structure, functional exploitation of texture, imposing light and a deep sense of colour that is rich and yet subdued like a Byzantine icon.
As noted by art critic C. Spencer, "what may first appear as areas of monochrome colour are in fact brilliant, painstaking technical achievements. His dark canvases are like veils moving slowly and sensuously in the wind, revealing here a brief shaft of light, there a sharp burst of sun, an unexpectedly brilliant colour, textures of ancient stones and crumbling walls."1 In a similar vein, art historian L. Tsikouta has noted: "As is the case in Rembrandt's work, the dark depths in Spyropoulos's backgrounds are by no means homogeneous. The variety of hues and scintillating nuances and the incorporation of various materials and techniques give the impression that these backdrops host an entire world that comes to life through the mystical encounters of various elements."2 By means of these extensive areas of evocative sombre colour opposed by small luminous spots and scattered bright incidents, the whole canvas is transformed into a nocturnal landscape where forms and rigorous lines, fragmented signs and circular markings break through the darkness and emerge from within it like sacred fires in an ancient temple or votive candles in a dimly lit Byzantine chapel. As the painter himself once said, 'I spread out the dark to find the light.'
A recurrent sign in Spyropoulos's work, which features discreetly in Stassimo L, is the circle, or ring, a universally accepted symbol of eternity and never-ending existence. In ancient religions, the circle represented the unity and wholeness of life and the relationship between man and nature. From the age-old symbol of the ouroboros (the serpent eating its own tail) to the Renaissance idea of the circular temple, the ring remains a projection of the archetypal image of the unconscious on the material world. In Christian art it represents eternal union, divine perfection and everlasting life: 'Who was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.'3
In his attempt to perpetuate a sense of unity and continuity with the past, Spyropoulos constructed a complex universe of symbolic associations, which formulated the most advanced and mature aspect of Greek abstraction.4 The first Greek painter who, while residing permanently in Greece, managed to attain an illustrious international career highlighted by his winning participation in the 1960 Venice Biennale, Spyropoulos managed to imaginatively fuse European modernism and Greek tradition in a highly original voice that bears a marked resemblance to the mythical cosmos of Seferis's poetry.
1. C. Spencer, preface to the 1971 Spyropoulos exhibition at the David Jones' Art Gallery in Sydney, Australia. 2. L. Tsikouta, Processes, Influences, Assimilations, Personal Idiom, Birth of an Artwork: The Case of Jannis Spyropoulos in Jannis Spyropoulos, The Classicist of Abstraction, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery-Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Athens 1995, p. 27. 3. See Y. Papaioannou, Yannis Spyropoulos Monograph [in Greek], doctoral dissertation, Yannis and Zoe Spyropoulos Foundation, Athens 2010, pp. 292-293; G. Ferguson, Signs and Symbols in Christian Art, Oxford University Press, New York 1961, p. 153, 178. 4. See H. Kambouridis - G. Levounis, Modern Greek Art, The 20th Century, Athens 1999, pp. 154-156.