His work adorns private collections and those of institutions and museums. For almost ten years, his works have been anthropocentric

Nikos Vavatsis

Painting the inner regions of human life

Text: Dimitra Kehagia
Nikos Vavatsis

Back in school, he liked to draw in class. Not much later, he wanted his job to be related to something he loved. “I couldn’t envision work in any other way,” he explains today, pronouncing himself “grateful” for the privilege of enjoying his profession. Painter Nikos Vavatsis was born in 1970 in Thessaloniki, where he still lives and works. After completing studies in graphic arts in the late ‘80s, he set off on an artistic path that has been as long as it has been wide: public murals, set design, mixed drawing techniques. He has presented 15 solo exhibitions and taken part in numerous group exhibitions. His work adorns private collections and those of institutions and museums.

For almost ten years, his works have been anthropocentric. The faces he commits to paper are, most of the time, not clearly defined – not for lack of an identity, though. On the contrary, this is because their creator seeks to examine the blurry realm of emotion rather than merely render a visage. “Every face is unique but its uniqueness is more evident in the emotion it expresses rather than in the lines of the face itself. So I choose certain points of a face and focus on them, to allow them to function as gates to the inner realm of existence.” What primarily concerns him is capturing emotion. He started presenting human-centric paintings in 2012. “It was the moment in time when I began having an interest in portraying the intricate innerness of a human through gestures on the canvas – and in whether this was possible. I wanted to leave aside for a while the disassociation that capturing the urban landscape requires and enter into more esoteric aspects of human life. I do have a sense that, after so many years of studying this expression of emotion, I have reached a point where this expression has matured – although it is others who should be the judge of that.” Indeed, art historian and critic Elli Kokkini-Kaplani writes about Vavatsis’s faces that “sometimes of discernible gender and sometimes indeterminate, they constitute testimonies which echo explosions taking place under the surface and resulting in a complexity of outward vibrations – vibrations that, depending on inherent sensibilities, externalize and echo in the appearance either openly or with diligent opaqueness. On these structured face-landscapes, the function of the eyes and of the gaze seems to operate on a labyrinthine scope, substituting truths active to the naked eye which, in Vavatsis’s case, affirm a need for release that leads to cathartic relief.”

When a good friend of the painter showed Vavatsis’s work to Zoi Bella-Armaou, who manages the Aldina series at Gutenberg Publishing, she reached out for a collaboration. This was how Vavatsis’s work ended up adorning a book cover for the first time. It is the Greek translation of Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous, translated by Efi Fryda and published by Gutenberg in January 2021. The Vietnamese-American poet and novelist has attracted global attention with his writing.

From 2007 to 2009, the urban landscape used to dominate the painter’s work. Nevertheless, it continues to inspire him. “In fact, I am considering showing a new thematic unit in the future, which I sense will be different in style to my focus on faces. After all, the urban landscape is illuminated by the faces that inhabit it.”