City on a Hill signed and dated 'Ghika/64' (lower left); signed, dated and titled 'GHIKA 1964 City on a Hill' (on the reverse) oil on canvas 142 X 77 cm.
PROVENANCE: Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 1965.
The painting of Ghika leads geometry to Poetry.1 Odysseus Elytis
City on a Hill belongs to the series of works created between 1961-1965, where Ghika's subjects turn to depictions of imaginary towns verging on metaphysical abstraction. Painted in 1964 this is a great example of the artist's mature artistic creativity of the 60s. His style, very similar to the Synthetic Cubism found in works by Picasso and Braque, highlights the usage of geometric forms and juxtapositions of light and colour, combined with elements of nature and landscape. Here the artist skilfully displays a mélange of close-knit rhythmical structures deriving from Byzantine art and Cubist elements that recede and are replaced by a fascination with the descriptive and the atmospheric.
City on a Hill, just like Calligraphy of a town (1962), sold in the Bonhams sale in 2009, is an expressionistic formulation of a labyrinthine architectural composition charged with dionysiac energy. Starting off with a Cazannesque conception of the landscape's deeper geometrical structure, and after breaking it down to its component pieces in accordance with post-cubist principles, Ghika sets about recomposing it, investing it at the same time with a poetic emotion.
'Ghika's landscapes are fabrics which with a sense of freedom hide and yet reveal the desire to be liberated from fear; they are fragments of refuge and pleasure. Particularly after the late 1950s - perhaps as a result of his visit to Japan - the spirals and angular movements become transformed into frantic whirlpools. The world of oriental calligraphy, with which he became acquainted on his journey to Japan with his wife Barbara, may have suggested mutations and associations. The pronounced calligraphic gestures, the convolutions of tender and fragile intensity, which had been long-established points of reference in his work, find new outlets. His landscapes become denser, more secret. The angular microgeometry disappears or rather is hidden under a continuous paroxysm of spiralling curves. Ruins, trees, leaves, stalks, walls are perpetually spinning in uncertain orbits.'1 As noted by Professor D.A. Fatouros, these stylistic features can be associated with the man himself, his body language, gestures, behaviour and way of expressing himself.2
This painter of the 'Thirties Generation', as also stated in Valkana's Ghika-His Painting oeuvre3, at this point of his creative maturity follows the theories of the New French School, pioneered by the French artist, Jean Bazaine. In his Notes sur la peinture d'aujourdd'hui Bazaine argued that the purpose of painting is not simply to capture the surface appearances of an object but to give form and meaning to the symbolic engagements with the exterior and with interior world that form modern life. Like Bazaine, Ghika focused on the concept of 'non-figuration', which differed from the idea of abstraction, and it stressed the importance of the autonomy of form-colours in his works to relay the world that surrounds him. More specifically, in Ghika's case painting should be seen as an uncontainable and unrestricted evolution of colour and composition, employing geometrical shapes, already known in nature. City on a Hill portrays a vivacious and luminous landscape represented by a colourful maze of shape ruled by a severe and at the same time harmonious geometry. In his quest for Greekness Ghika created his own visual universe and established his personal artistic language that was inseparably linked to the luminosity and radiance of the Mediterranean light and landscapes of Greece. The portrayal of this city on a hill reveals the artist's masterly handling of light and colour as its labyrinthine landscape with its transparent light underlines the clarity of outlines and defines colours with great accuracy. Thus, City on a Hill reinforces even more the artist's creative harmony and purity and shows how Ghika skilfully analyses the Greek landscape and intense natural light into simple geometric shapes and interlocking planes that form his poetical compositions.
1. D.A. Fatouros, 'The Painting of Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika: Referenses and Sensations' in N. Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, the Apollonian-the Dionysian, exhibition catalogue, Benaki Museum, Athens 2006, p. 72. 2. See Fatouros, 'The Wisdom of the Teacher' in A Portrait of N. Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, Texts from the Two-Day Conference at the Athens Academy, Tetradia Efthinis 37, Athens 1998, p. 50. 3K.C. Valkana, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, His Painting Oeuvre, Benaki Museum, Athens 2011, p. 198