Conversation with Morandi signed in Greek and dated 1974 (middle lower right) acrylic on canvas 73 x 92 cm.
PROVENANCE: Private collection, Athens.
EXHIBITED: Athens, Ethousa Technis Athinon, Spyros Vassiliou, Still Lives, November 25 - December 31, 1974 no. 4 (illustrated in the exhibition catalogue). Cologne, Galerie Lambert Monet, Spyros Vassiliou, April - May 1975, no. 31 (possibly).
LITERATURE: H. Kambouridis, Spyros Vassiliou Exhibitions, Ikaros editions, Athens 1982, p. 162 (illustrated).
Spyros Vassiliou, one of the first Greek pop-art painters and active member of the 'Thirties Generation', sought 'Greekness' in art, mainly producing landscapes and social scenes, combining traditional and modern elements. Although mostly recognized for his depictions of urban development that surrounded his home in Athens, under the walls of the Parthenon, Vassiliou's artistic identity also combined monochrome backgrounds and unorthodox juxtaposition of objects. In the 1960s Vassiliou was one of the most prominent painters commissioned by the Greek National Tourist Office to design posters and publicity material.
Conversation with Morandi is a good example of the artist's dedication towards the promotion of a national art, with the intention of referencing contemporary artistic trends whilst drawing on the themes of his Greek heritage. Thus this painting, belonging to the series of paintings that S.Vassiliou created for the EOT, portrays a beautiful and simple panorama of conventionally placed objects meaningful to the artist, the jug, glass and three bottles allude to his own experiences and mainly his country. Just like Morandi's frequent portrayals of Natura Morta, Vassiliou's composition and choice of still life objects powerfully allude to his Greek heritage. This cultural reference is rather evident in this painting by Vassilou depicting Greek bottles of alcohol and depicting in the background a similar composition by Morandi.1 Portraying within its work a smaller picture, the artsist highlights the importance of the successive levels of representation. At the same time, the tonal contrast of the objects is also noticeable: Morandi's use of an earthy palette stands out against Vassiliou's more saturated colours. Unlike Morandi, who deliberately limited his choice of still life objects to the unremarkable bottles, boxes, jars, jugs and vases that were commonly found in his everyday domestic environment, Vassiliou employed a more diverse selection of personal objects from his existence such as books, eyeglasses, kerosene lamps. Morandi's objects were usually depersonalized as the artist removed their labels and painted them with a flat matt color to eliminate any lettering or reflections. Vassiliou's bottles, in this work, are also rather anonymous. However, unlike Morandi's bottles, Vassiliou strives to subtly reveal their Greek identity by slightly showing their labels as a reminder of their origin. In this painting, Vassiliou's bottles, losing their domestic purpose and not becoming sculptural objects that invite meditation and contemplation, are symbols of the artist's quest for Greekness portrayed in lyrical realism.
1. L. Vitali, Morandi, Catalogo generale, vol. I (1913/1947), Electa, Milan, n.243, p..