At his balcony signed, titled and inscribed in Greek and dated 1985 (upper left) acrylics on paper laid down on canvas 214 x 151 cm.
Provenance: Private collection, Athens.
Always paint bicyclists A. Embirikos
Always in a balcony a friend will be, gazing far at ancient houses and apartment buildings.1 A. Fassianos
A brilliant moment and an emblematic work of Fassianos entire oeuvre, this striking canvas shows the painter at his mature best, integrating all the defining elements of his unique visual language. His ubiquitous smoking bicyclist, with his colourful tie flowing in the wind, is perhaps the most famous and enduring image of post-war Greek art, a Modern Greek classic by a true magician who, in Elytis own words, pulls smokers and bicyclists out of his hat with a spontaneous and convincing gesture.2
Embirikos once told me Son, always paint bicyclists. I never stopped doing so. To learn a song you have to practice it many times; and if you like it youll sing it again and again. As Pascal used to say, LÉternel Retour. It is the same in art. You cant just do different things all the time because youll no longer be yourself.3 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 Absaloms hair. Then I said he has nothing up front for balance. So, I made him smoke. People used to smoke back then, but not as much as today. Smoking was a poetic thing. And I made the cigarette smoke as huge as a cloud.4
Captured in sharp profile, displaying typical ancient Greek features and set against a solid winey-red background that accentuates his heroic scale, the modern day cyclist is transformed into the mythical Pegasus5, remoulded into an archetypal figure echoing the timeless symbolism of ancient Greek vase iconography. As in ancient pottery, Fassianos 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 figures is the same wind which pervades Homers epics and fills Odysseus sails on his way to meet the Sirens.6 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.7
By rejecting the illusionistic representation of space, insisting on flat areas of undifferentiated colour and adhering to the flatness of the canvas, Fassianos is reckoned as worthily carrying on the artistic legacy of Theofilos naiveté and the stylistic principles of the legendary 1930s generation. The inclusion of the title at the top of the painting is a subtle tribute to the great Theofilos, who wanted everything to be explained and clearly shown in the picture, denoting a unification of iconographic and linguistic symbols in a continuous and eternally unfolding Greek myth which has always sought to perceive a world as much Greek as universal. In one of the most perceptive recent accounts on the artist, the writer K. Tzamiotis argues that Fassianos is so local that he could fit in anywhere, his world bridging what there was with what there will always be.8
1. A. Fassianos, In a Balkony, in Today, Tomorrow and Yesterday [in Greek], Kastaniotis publ., 1990, p. 21. 2. O. Elytis, The Fassianos we Love in Open Papers[in Greek], Asterias publ., Athens 1974, p. 456. 3. as quoted in V. Kalamaras, Bicycling Forever [in Greek], Eleftherotypia daily, 21.04.2004 4. A. Fassianos, The Myth of my Neighbourhood [in Greek], Kastaniotis publ., Athens 2002, pp. 119-120. See also E. Agathonikou, Alecos Fassianos in Fassianos, Mythologies of Everyday Life, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery-A. Soutzos Museum, Athens 2004, pp. 36-37. 5. See M. Faucher as quoted in Fassianos, Adam publ., Athens 1989, p. 15. For me the bicycle is Pegasus. With it you become independent and you can go places, especially nowadays with traffic in Athens being such a mess, as quoted in Kalamaras. 6. J. Lacarriere, A Shadow Play in Fassianos, Mythologies, p. 24. 7. M. Lambraki-Plaka, The Art of Alecos Fassianos, a Popular Paganism in Fassianos, Mythologies, p. 14. 8. K. Tzamiotis, A Greek Achievement in Alecos Fassianos, Eternal Comeback, exhibition catalogue, Potnia Thiron gallery, Athens 2007.