The dirt roads of old Thessaloniki, together with the sunset of Thermaikos Bay and the solitude of human nature.
Text: Evi Kallini
His paintings limn the dirt roads of old Thessaloniki, the deep crimson sunset of Thermaikos Bay, the solitude of human nature. The artist is the internationally-known Apostolos Georgiou.
He’s a native of Thessaloniki and one of the most significant Greek artists of the 80s. Aside from his discernible anthropocentric artistic style with the distinctly textured geometric lines, that which makes Georgiou stand out in the world of modern art is that he became famous later in life. At the age of 60, which signifies the early dusk of a career in art for most, his own métier began to rise.
Georgiou was born in 1952 into a wealthy family, with both of his parents being pianists. In 1971 he went to Vienna to study architecture, yet he abandoned his studies in order to attend art school at the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. In 1980 he returned permanently to Greece and decided to live in the island of Skopelos. He held his first solo exhibition in 1973 at the ZM Gallery in Thessaloniki, followed by numerous others held in Athens and Thessaloniki, with the most significant being the retrospective show held at the Port of Thessaloniki (1993) and the exhibition at the National Museum of Contemporary Art (2011).
In 2017 he participated in documenta 14, noting the significance of holding the exhibition in Greece since, as he states, «as an audience, we had the opportunity to see what it’s like to organize such a large-scale event, with both its positive and negative aspects. It doesn’t have to be the most innovative and perfect organization. All the art exhibitions nowadays are under the charge of a curator, so the artist selection is really up to him. Whether we like it or not, somehow we’re at the curator’s mercy.»
Within the framework of documenta14, his works were exhibited at the Athens Concert Hall, a venue he would not have opted for if he had had a say in it:
«The venue of the display and the way the works were transferred may have been interesting in a conceptual sense, but I believe that it’s the work in itself that ultimately matters. And I would have liked to see my work displayed on a clean wall, just like I see it at my workshop.»
An indicative example of Georgiou’s international appeal is his collaboration with London’s Rodeo Gallery which emerged after his retrospective exhibition at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in 2011. «Sylvia Kouvali, the gallery’s founder, is my friend. Sylvia truly acknowledged my work and this really is salvation for an artist. In terms of size, it’s one of the most important galleries in Europe. It’s the mid-sized galleries that are discovering the artists, not the high-profile ones, which just get them ready-made. It’s like a department store frequented by the nouveau-riche Chinese and Russians and some collectors who buy art as an investment. It has nothing to do with art in itself; it’s like a stock exchange for art. There’s no way to know how these artists would fare if there wasn’t such great demand for their work and if the hopes to make a great deal of money weren’t so high. Maybe they’d be looking for something else… But I’m also not a fan of being supported by the state. I believe that once you’re an artist, then that’s it, you’ve make a decision to make it on your own.»
He has an affinity for paintings conveying straightforwardness, art that makes him wonder, as it forces him to search for a reason beyond the artist’s skill, nonetheless he’s not an art enthusiast : «Given that I practice art as a profession and am tormented by it, I can’t be entertained by art. I’m a music enthusiast, because I enjoy music. Of course, I do take care of my art, just like a parent takes care of his children. This is what I have and this is what will define me as a creator in the end.»
His paintings are dominated by the theme of melancholy, which he attributes to the pursuit of objectivity: «When you’re working on a project you try to be as objective as possible, which means that you have to eliminate the things that are here today and gone tomorrow. When you remove the superfluous, there is a sense of solitude, it’s just ourselves inside the room. Man is a tragic figure. This solitude expresses me. And by painting, the more I compress my work, the closer I bring it to who I am.»
Thessaloniki has always played a key role in the way he works: «it’s brutal and heavy, because it’s always been a melancholic, heavy city.» For him, Thessaloniki is a Balkan city, not a Mediterranean one: «the soil is more prevalent than the blues of the sea and the sky. As a kid I felt that the city had an immense amount of wealth, an emotional density that was inspiring to artists. The city was permeated by a certain pain, alongside a plethora of conflicting elements. Refugees, poverty, the dirt roads running through the city back then, the churches as depressing reminiscences of the Byzantium, the heavy-set sun setting slowly and diffusing its crimson color upon the city, bathing the old houses in shades of ochre. Maybe that’s why it has inspired so many poets. »