He was born in Athens in 1944. While still in school he took painting lessons with Kostas Malamos and Alekos Kontopoulos. He studied theatre direction at the Université du Τhéâtre des Nations in Paris (1963-1964) and architecture at the École d’ Architecture of the University of Geneva - EAUG (1964-1969). Upon returning to Greece, he was involved in the founding, management and running of the “Strofi” bookstore (Athens). Since 1971, he has been working as a painter in Athens. He held his first solo exhibition in 1982, at the Ora gallery. Between then and now, there have been another twenty-three solo exhibitions in Athens (Aithousa Technis Athinon, Skoufa, 3 Gallery, Astra, Technopolis, National Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation), other Greek cities (Chania, Patra, Argos, Mytilini, Rethymno, Thessaloniki, Larissa, Naoussa in Paros) and abroad. He has also taken part in thirty-two group exhibitions, including the «Ellenico Plurale» exhibition of the Sotiris Felios Collection at the Complesso del Vittoriano in Rome. He has worked extensively as a book cover designer and art editor (Agra, Crete University Press, Athens Concert Hall, Benaki Museum, Estia, Kedros, Ikaros, Themelio, Astra, Alexandreia). Finally, he has created sets for the theatre (Nea Skini-Theatro odou Kykladon, the National Theatre Experimental Stage, Argos Festival) and murals for private homes (Arta, Syros, Kifissia).
Alongside his activity as a painter, he has also engaged in research on issues of painting and published relevant work. In 1994 he translated and edited Book 35 of the Natural History by Pliny the Elder, “on ancient Greek painting” (Agra), which, the following year, was awarded the Academy of Athens Prize. He has taken part in conventions in Greece and abroad, on ancient Greek, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine painting, colours and colour mixing. During the semester of March-May 2007, he visited Princeton University on a fellowship as Artist in Residence.
- 2010 Institute of Mediterranean Studies, Rethymno, Crete, Greece
- 2008 MIET, National Bank of Greece Cultural Institution, Athens and Thessaloniki, Greece
- 2006 Astra Gallery, Athens, Greece
- 2004 Athens Art Gallery, Athens, Greece
- 2004 Caen, France
- 1999 Technopolis, Athens, Greece
- 1999 Art Athina 7 ’99, Athens, Greece
- 1998 Astra Gallery, Athens, Greece
- 1996 Argos Festival, Greece
- 1995 Art Athina 3 ‘95, Athens, Greece
- 1995 Gallery 3, Athens, Greece
- 1995 Argos Festival, Greece
- 1994 Skoufa Gallery, Athens, Greece
- 1994 Polyedron Gallery, Patras, Greece
- 1992 Skoufa Gallery, Athens, Greece
- 1991 Athens Art Gallery, Athens, Greece
- 1990 Gallery 3, Athens, Greece
- 1986 Ora Gallery, Athens, Greece
- 1986 Mylonoyanni Gallery, Chania, Crete, Greece
- 1982 Ora Gallery, Athens, Greece
Group Exhibitions – Activities
- 2012 Ellenico Plurale - Dipinti dalla Collezione Sotiris Felios, Complesso del Vittoriano, Rome, Italy (curated by Giuliano Serafini)
- 2012 Between Reality and Fantasy- Paintings from the Sotiris Felios Collection, Giorgio de Chirico Cultural Center, Volos, Greece (curated by Irene Orati)
- 2006 By the rhythum of the soul, A tribute to G. Ioannou, Benaki Museum, Athens, Greece
- 2006 Once upon a time there was Penelope Delta…, Athens College, Athens, Greece
- 2005 The Ports of Hellinism. Ports in Greek Art, State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, Greece
- 2004 Tribute to Antonis Benakis, 1873-1954, Benaki Museum, Athens, Greece
- 2002 Αll fashioned –Painting in Greece Today, Cultural Center for Contemporary Art, Larissa, Moni Lazariston, Thessaloniki, Greece
- 2002 ΄70 Generation – Painting: first Reading, Frissiras Museum, Athens, Greece
- 2001 Astra Gallery, Athens, Greece
- 1999 Greek Scenographers, Costume Designers and Ancient Drama, Ministry of Culture, University of Athens, Department of Theatre Studies, University of Athens Cultural Center, Athens, Greece
- 1997 What shines it’s gold, Selini Gallery, Kifissia
- 1997 10 Contemporary Figurative Painters from the Kouvoutsakis Art Institute, Municipal Art Gallery, Thessaloniki, Greece
- 1995 The Revelation of John, Contemporary Artistic Approaches, International Arts Center Aenaon, Patmos – Athens, Greece
- 1994 Comes with the wind, goes with the wave, Fanourakis Gallery, Athens, Greece
- 1992 Honoris causa, Ora Gallery, Athens, Greece
- 1991 Maskes Very Special Arts, Athens Art Space, Athens, Greece
- 1991 Διαδρομές σε Εσωτερικό Χώρο, Αίθουσα Τέχνης Ηρακλείου, Ηράκλειο
- 1991 Figurative Painting, Miraraki Art Space, Kifissia
- 1990 3 Gallery, Athens, Greece
- 1989 Figures and Landscapes, Athens College Theatre, Athens, Greece
- 1989 Agra 1979-1989 - 10 Years of Publications, Ileana Tounta Gallery, Athens, Greece
- 1987 Greek Sea, 3 Gallery, Athens, Greece
- 1987 Painting: Media and Techniques, Apopsi Gallery, Athens, Greece
- 1986 Eleven Painters, Evmaros Gallery, Athens, Greece
- 1980 16 Books – 16 Views, French Institute, Athens, Greece
- 1995 House in the island of Syros, Athens, Greece
- 1994 House in Kifissia, Athens, Greece
- 1993-4 House in Kifissia, Athens, Greece
- 2005 Strindberg Dreamplay, National Theatre, Athens, Greece
- 1995 Essetai Imar, Opera of G. Koumentakis, Argos Festival, Ancient Theatre of Argos, Greece
- 1991 Sophocles Antigone, Nea Skini, Athens, Greece
- 2006 "Alecos Vl. Levidis, Martyries 1965-1976", Astra, Athens
- 2004 “12 Pinakes”, Agra Publications, Athens
- 2000 “Magna Graecia and Greek Monuments of Southern Italy and Sicily”
- 2000 “Calendar”, Herakles Corporation Publications
- 1998 Painting for book illustration, Agra Publications, Athens
- 1994 “Antigone”, Agra Publications, Athens
- 1994 “Pliny the Elder on Ancient Greek Painting, book 35 of the Natural History”, translated from the original Latin by Takis Roussos and Alekos Levidis, edited, prefaced and annotated by Alekos Levidis, Agra Publications, Athens
- 1990 “Louomeni”, Agra Publications, Athens
- 1988 “Iconographies”, Agra Publications, Athens
- 1986 “Painting 1982-1986”, Agra Publications, Athens
Selection of Articles
- “Why Plato did not suffer of color-blindness? An interpretation of the passage on color blending of Timaeus”, in M.A. Tiverios, D.S. Tsiafakis Color in Ancient Greece. The role of color in Ancient Greek Art and Architecture 700-31 B.C., Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Lambrakis Research Foundation, Thessaloniki 2002, pp.9-22.
- “Fayum Greek Portraits”, Anti, issue 658, 1998
- “The aesthetic origins of Fayum”, Epta Imeres, Kathimerini newspaper, 12.5.1996
I was born in Athens in 1944. I grew up and reached adolescence in a Greece that, still trying its best to heal the wounds of WWII and the Civil War, entered a stage of development that was slow at first, chaotic later, and certainly, consistently painful.
In my final years of school, yielding to a calling that had followed me since my childhood, I took drawing lessons with Kostas Malamos (life models) and Alekos Kontopoulos (archaeological museum).
I was fortunate enough, from a young age, to travel in Greece and abroad and come into contact with museums and works of art. My true initiation into the Greek natural and cultural landscape came during my teenage years, with Solomos and Papadiamantis, Seferis and Cavafy, Tsarouchis and Moralis as my guides. Others who cultivated - sharpened, even - my sensibilities during those critical years were: Koun, Hadjidakis, Fellini, Antonioni, the directors of Nouvelle Vague, Bergman, Kassavetis, Paul Klee, George Grosz, Ben Shahn, Bruegel, Giotto, Kosmas Politis, Kazantzakis...
I began my studies by taking a semester (winter 1963-1964) of seminars on theatre direction and stage design at the University of the Theatre of Nations (Université du Théâtre des Nations) in Paris.
After that (1964-1969), I studied architecture at the School of Architecture of the University of Geneva (EAUG). In the second year of my studies, I was awarded the school's first prize in freehand drawing. During my studies there, I maintained a casual relationship with the neighbouring School of Fine Arts, where I would go and take part in drawing sessions with life models.
The 1967 Junta drove me, like many others of my generation, to become intensely political and left deep impressions on the final years of my studies and my first post-university years. In those days, I created a body of work on paper (sketches and black-and-white prints), whereby I attempted to fuse the political testimony of that time with certain more timeless elements.
With the Metapolitefsi ("change of regime"), the flood of politicalised "resistance" art that we were inundated with caused me to put away everything I'd made from 1968 to 1972. In 1980, as part of group exhibition entitled "16 vivlia - 16 apopseis" (16 books - 16 views), organised at the French Institute in Athens and curated by Eleni Varopoulou and Veatriki Spiliadi, I exhibited a mock-up "Notebook" where, in drawings, collages, photographs, details from paintings, etc, in the form of a visual diary, I had captured the experiences of the seven-year dictatorship. Much later, in 2006, I showed work from that youthful period at the Astra gallery, under the title "Martyries 1965-1976" (testimonies 1965-1976). Beyond recording the climate of an era, I can discern, looking back on those pieces, the beginnings of all the paths my work has followed up until the present day.
Upon returning to Greece in 1969, I was involved in the founding, management and running of the Strofi bookstore, which meant my engagement with painting was consigned to the margins until 1978, when the bookstore closed down.
Directly after that, stirred by the need for a new apprenticeship, I drew life models for a number of years, while also creating some more personal pieces. My work from that period - mostly on canvas or wood, as well as large drawings and pastels centred on portraying the human form au naturel - was shown in two solo exhibitions at the Ora gallery, in 1982 and 1986, respectively. In the autumn of 1986, a part of it travelled to Chania and was presented in a solo exhibition at the Mylonogiannis gallery.
In 1988, at the 3 gallery in Athens, I exhibited a group of small, square paintings (35 x 35 cm), entitled "Eikonografies" (iconographies). They had been made alongside my studies au naturel. However, in their attempt to express elements of a personal mythology through a freely experimental painting idiom, their gaze was turned inwards.
From 1974 to 1985, driven by my desire to gain a more systematic understanding of those places, outside of Greece, where Hellenistic art had expanded and developed, I took a series of trips to Southern Italy, Cyprus, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the coast of Asia Minor. My profound interest in ancient Greek painting impelled me into several years of scholarship that, ultimately, in 1994, resulted in the publication of the much-discussed translation of "Book 35 of the Natural History" by Pliny the Elder, by Agra publications, a discourse on the history of ancient Greek and Roman painting. The following year (1995), the book was awarded the Academy of Athens Prize.
In 1991 I exhibited, at Aithousa Technis Athinon, a series of paintings entitled "Louomenoi" (bathers). My intention was to imbue my representation of the nude human body with a metaphysical or a mythical hue. I feel that the depictive quality of my first two exhibitions was engrafted, in "Louomenoi", with the introversion and the experimentations of "Eikonografies".
In 1991, Lefteris Vogiatzis asked me to design the sets for Sophocles' "Antigone" that he was directing. We worked together creatively for over a year to arrive, through consecutive solutions, at the final result. The course of this collaboration is illustrated comprehensively on the pages of the visual diary I kept at the time, a copy of which was also published by Agra Publications in 1994, under the title "Antigone: Peri tin apergasian ton opseon". In 1993 I exhibited sketches, studies and some paintings that emerged from that stage design project at Polyedro in Patra and, in 1994, at the 3 gallery in Athens.
In 1991 and 1994 I exhibited two series of landscapes from Greece, entitled "Topon grafai", at the Skoufa gallery.
Between 1994 and 1996 I created a series of large murals in private homes in Arta, Kifissia and Syros. Much later, in 2011-2012, I returned to Arta and completed the mural scheme in that particular home.
In 1995 and 1996, I took part in the Argos Festival, which was organised and curated by Eleni Varopoulou. There, by bringing together my experience of stage design, architecture and painting, I created two installations founded upon the poetics of time. In 1995, in a neoclassical building (Konstantopoulou building) "under collapse", I set up an indefinable space that I called "Skevothiki" (a storage space for tools/equipment), with objects in museum display cases and paintings hung on the walls, which referred to a time-neutral past-present. In 1996, in the web of the city, at Stratonon Kapodistria Square, a place imbued with history, I installed a large model of the same square and the building that encloses it. The model represented an excavation of the floor of the square to reveal earlier layers of construction, as well as the addition of two large sculptural scenes (one of them a direct reference to De Chirico's work) and a mural that would frame the main entrance of the barracks. The aim of those interventions was to insert into the fast-paced linear time of the city a "poetic field", where time would expand, stimulating the memory-imagination dipole.
In 1998, under the title "Zogragiki gia vivlia" (Painting for books), I exhibited at the Astra gallery a series of mock-up book cover paintings. My work with book covers goes back a long way; as early as my school years. I have collaborated with several publishers, designing covers or, sometimes, entire books and, on rare occasions, as an illustrator. My longest collaboration with Agra publications and my friend Stavros Petsopoulos already spans thirty-two years, and my most recent collaboration with the Crete University Press turns twenty this year. My youthful interest in graphic design during the 1960s was quickly depleted due to the latter's ruthless commercialisation. I responded by treating book covers as painting surfaces, equal to the rest of my work.
"Zogragiki gia vivlia" travelled, in 2004, to the French town of Caen. In 2008, it appeared - enriched - at the bookstore of the National Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation and in Thessaloniki, and in 2010, once again renewed, it inaugurated the new building of the Institute of Mediterranean Studies (Foundation for Research and Technology) of the University of Crete in Rethymno.
In 1999, at Technopolis in Gazi, I exhibited thirty landscapes that had been especially commissioned by AGET Iraklis, the cement company, for their calendar for the first year of the new millennium, which was part of their well-known series. The exhibition was entitled "Megali Ellada: ellinika mnimeia stin Kato Italia kai Sikelia" (Magna Graecia: Greek monuments in Southern Italy and Sicily). I took three field trips to complete the commission.
In 2002, during the course of the third Summer Theatre Academy in Mytilini, under the curatorship of Eleni Varopoulou, I exhibited a second version of "Skevothiki" at the abandoned Georgiades Mansion, as part of the "Anagennisi-Anakyklosi" (Rebirth - Recycling) exhibition.
In 2004, the year of my sixtieth birthday, I exhibited, at Aithousa Technis Athinon, twelve paintings created in mixed media on wood (120 x 120 cm), along with all the rough sketches, drawings, notebooks, etc, that demonstrated the various stages of their production. I deliberately chose the same venue where I had shown "Louomenoi" to highlight the fact that "Dodeka Pinakes" (twelve paintings) represented a new phase in my work, just like "Louomenoi" had done thirteen years previously. These pieces were incubated and painted gradually over a decade, alongside other works, exhibitions, commissions, stage design projects, "Pliny", etc. Though they appeared to be a break from my previous style, they were, in fact the product of an osmosis of my painting experiences from "Eikonografies" and "Louomenoi", filtered through the aesthetics of collage, which I had cultivated systematically in my youthful work of 1960-1970.
In 2005 I collaborated with the National Theatre and the director Stathis Livathinos, undertaking the set and costume design for Strindberg's "A Dream Play", which was staged under the title "Oneiro" (dream) at the Apo Michanis theatre.
In 2007 I exhibited a series of still lifes at the Astra gallery, entitled "Rodia kai alla" (pomegranates and other things). Still lifes, as well as landscapes, are a constant in my work that I often engage in alongside other projects. In that same year, I spent a semester at Princeton University (U.S.A.) as a Visiting Artist, studying the question of colour in ancient Greek painting.
From 2011 to 2014, I ran a private workshop/exhibition space that I called Zografeio, where I help presentations of work in progress, drawings, etc, and hosted lectures and seminars on painting (history, theory, practice, techniques, etc). As part of these presentations, in 2012, I exhibited a large polyptych (240 x 250 cm, mixed media on wood) entitled "Modela sto atelie" (models in the studio), which is part of the Sotiris Felios Collection. Immediately after, this painting was included in the "Ellenico Plurale" exhibition at the Complesso del Vittoriano museum in Rome, along with another two from the "Louomenoi" series, which belong to the same collector. In addition, in 2013 I presented a series of small paintings entitled "Mikra parerga" (small byworks). The activities of Zografeio were occasionally complemented by colleagues from the world of art and literature, as well as scientists from the field of the natural, social and human sciences.
In 2013 I took part, with a piece entitled "O ilios tou apogevmatos" (the afternoon sun), in the "C.P. Cavafy: Zografismena" exhibition, organised by the B & M Theocharakis Foundation and curated by Takis Mavrotas.
In 2014 I exhibited at the Hellenic Foundation for Culture in Berlin a selection of my notebooks entitled "Das Buch-Die Schrift-Das Bild" (Book-Writing-Image). A month later, the exhibition relocated to Zografeio. From as far back as my student days, I have kept small, pocket-size notebooks that I can carry with me everywhere. They soon became visual diaries; I would record, note, copy, put down the first ideas for future projects, create colour charts. I have always looked at these little notebooks as my personal publications.
In the summer of 2016, in response to the war in Syria and especially the ISIS attacks in Palmyra and the assassination of the head archaeologist Khaled Mohamad al-Asaad, I created a visual intervention entitled "Mnimi Palmyras" (memory of Palmyra), which was hosted by the Benaki Museum at their central building on Koumbari Street.
Alecos Levidis March 2017
Notes on two paintings by Alecos Levidis
"I have always been a literary painter,
thank goodness, like all decent painters."
Walter Richard Sickert
Α΄ | Μodels in the studio
This large painting (250 x 240 cm, mixed media, 2010-2013) refers directly to a western ecclesiastical triptych. The top part is laid out in three sections, while the lower half takes the form of a Renaissance predella, with five smaller scenes in procession, running from left to right, as brief but significant episodes, like a comic strip or frames from a movie.
The central, dominant position is held by a youth, naked from the waist up, confronting the viewers and, despite looking directly at them, his gaze is more evocative of introspection. His arms are slightly open and resting upon a rectangular mirror, where a feather has been placed. The background behind him (as well as the two other figures) is a piece of unused, pure-white, primed paper, nailed onto a wooden sign, ready for immediate use, and it surrounds the youth like a white sheet. A small wheeled cabinet is featured, ritualistically, in front of him, containing various small vessels with the precious materials of painting (the drama unfolds in the painter’s studio), pots, paraphernalia, tubes, and next to it hangs a clean piece of cloth for wiping his hands or brushes. On the left hand side of the painting, standing upright but seen from the side, a young man in a white linen suit, his feet bare and his hands deep in the pockets of his trousers, is watching the central figure with obvious and intense anxiety, sharing in its Passion. Across from him and on the right hand side of the painting, sitting in a more lively pose that creates a triangle with a hand on the knee as its apex, a young woman, dressed in a white pleated one-piece dress over a black bra, with her gaze fixed on the young man in white, indicates the visual route of the eyes. The viewer cannot help but follow that route.
The composition is staged on three horizontal levels: a) the anterior vacant space of the floor, b) the space in-between, where the three figures are contained within an imagined triangle, and c) the heavily-loaded vertical surface in the back - where we see a number of objects (the large, upright painting easel, the backs of canvases, frames empty of pictures, and other paintings, on the right yet another large, modular easel with pictures “stuck on” at the top, and a photograph of a loved one).
The original idea for the painting came long before its creation. Around 2005, the artist has his children pose in the respective positions (the triptych depicts Levidis’ youngest son, as the central figure, the youth in white is his eldest son, and the seated young woman is his daughter), and captures them on camera. He then goes on to create life-size studies of the three figures, in pastels on specially prepared paper; studies of remarkable finesse and great sensitivity. The transition to the completed painting remains dormant until 2010-2011, when the collector Sotiris Felios sees these studies and a rough sketch of the painting’s composition, and responds with the perfect commission: he will let the artist do exactly as he pleases, without the merest hint of intervention, as patron, on his part (this is why the paintings within the background painting are pieces that belong to the Sotiris Felios Collection, a cryptic nod of praise towards an eminent collector on the artist’s part).
The painting is subsequently created upon plywood, primed with several layers of gesso, finely sanded down. Levidis, with the help of anthivola (working sketches/templates) and a hard 6H pencil, traces the final composition onto the gesso, as the former has taken shape from dozens, by now, preliminary drawings and studies of its every detail. Before that, however, he turns the face of the central figure from beardless to bearded (in the time elapsed between original conception and execution, the artist’s youngest son has developed from an adolescent to a young man) - life imposes its own demands upon art - but, most importantly, he adapts all three figures to the anatomical rule of Albrecht Dürer(the height of the head repeating eight times in the length of the body, while in Byzantine and Ancient Greek art it is sometimes eight and sometimes seven times).
In the summer of 2012 at Koufonissia, where the artist spends his holidays every year, he begins to work on the figures in acrylic paint. The piece is still incomplete when, in November 2012, he shows it in a flash exhibition, lasting only two days (the 11th and 12th of the month) at Zografeio, as work in progress. It is subsequently exhibited at Complesso del Vittoriano in Rome from late November of that same year until early January of the next, as part of the Ellenico Plurale – Dipinti dalla Collezione Sotiris Feliosexhibition.
The final composition is pyramidal, its apex the head of the central figure, while the latter’s open arms extend, to the painting’s left, from the handle of the easel to the edge of the bare feet of the young man; to the right, they extend from the knees and the calves of the seated young woman. At the same time, the correspondences of the lines of the objects and the shadows weave, in the background (the third level), a dense connecting tissue of rhythmical horizontals and verticals. The central figure is conveyed with great expressive force, the details of the objects, with their precious materials, with particular care: clear, clean, bright, without a trace of dust, as if they’re viewed through a magnifying glass. (Their remarkable clarity is due, to a large part, to their white background, which turns the colours, locally, transparent.)
The artist was inspired to create the triptych by the representation of Akra Tapeinosis (Extreme Humility) at the sanctuary of a burnt and ransacked church in Prespes. “Within the alcove of the Prothesis is a painted image of Christ, from the waist up, naked and dead, with His hands crossed, bearing the stigmata and the spear wound on His side, sitting within the tomb. Behind Him is the Cross”, as Kontoglou describes. Levidis follows this model, but he also tweaks it: the central figure is naked, with its arms extended and open, to show us the absence of wounds from the nails. The role of the ciborium is played by the wheeled cabinet, while the mirror, where the fingertips are reflected, intensifies the sense of the tomb. The role played by the Crucifix in the traditional Extreme Humility is taken up, here, by the cross of the easel.
Levidis “tweaks” the Extreme Humility overall, because he combines it with an inverted Prayer. The role of John is held by the eldest son, while the role of Mary by the blooming, attractive daughter (Du hast das Wunder der Welt gesehen). The painting, however, is teeming with other references as well. The seated position of the young girl, with the left hand on her thigh and the sole of the right foot resting on the chair, with the toes just about touching the floor, refers directly to Yiannis Moralis and his painting Morfi (1951, National Gallery - Alexandros Soutzos Museum). The inlaid image on the wheeled cabinet is from a mural in Pompeii. The paintings in the third level introduce the motif of a painting within a painting or, more accurately, of a painting within a painting and within a painting again. Behind the right leg of the young girl, we don’t see Picasso’s Two Women Running on the Beach (1922) or The Duchess of Urbino (1465-1470) by Piero della Francesca. Behind the youth in white, we do not see De Chirico’s Great Metaphysical Interior (1917). What we see, instead, are paintings by Levidis that incorporate the respective pieces.
The entire scene is observed from above by the black and white photograph on the third level (the artist’s wife, and mother to two of his three children) and the red horse, stuck beside her. This, again, is a fragment from Levidis’ painting Kinigi (Hunt - 1986-1987). The horse could function as a persona of the painter and, in combination with the photograph of his wife, remind the viewer of the parental supervisory reflection of Philip IV of Spain and Queen Maria Anna, in the unmatched Las Meninas. Now, if we were to put all those tricks together, culminating in the white backgrounds behind the figures, which create the illusion that the forms might not have existed at all except as paintings within the painting, then the entire composition brings up questions about the nature of reality and optical illusion, and creates an uncertain relationship between viewer and depicted forms.
The triptych is supported by the predella. There, from left to right, in cinematic flow, five scenes unfold. In the first, we see the interior of a room (the background in Pompeii red) with a Corinthian capital from a broken column holding up the ceiling-sky, in the style of a sotto in sù painting by Tièpolo. Two pairs of athletes of Greco-Roman wrestling are being watched by the head of a white horse. Its body emerges from the second scene where, in a seaside location, a military officer on horseback (this is the maternal grandfather of the artist, taken from a photograph from 1908) salutes. In the back, Levidis has depicted a travelling herpetarium with the Minoan Goddess of Snakes on its front. From the scene exits a figure dressed in livery (a paternal uncle of the artist) to enter the next scene: the darkest (in all senses of the word).
The starting point for this one is a photograph taken by the artist at a religious festival at the Greek-Bulgarian border. It is an image with the significance of purgatory, where flesh roasts: at a makeshift canteen, a man waits to be served while, a little to the side, in an indefinite space hung with fabrics, a group of men watches a figure with a machete attacking a small donkey (pauvre bête chérie). The latter, to escape, moves into the following scene, where, however, chaotic violence prevails. Men in helmets are attempting to put a fire out, people are running to get away in the opposite direction. On the first level, a priestess in a white tunic lifts the mask of Tragedy over her head. Levidis is shaken up, in this image, by the events that followed the murder of Alexis Grigoropoulos and he transfers onto the wood a photograph of a newspaper front page from the day after the riots of the 6th of December 2008.
In the final scene, a woman runs to escape the blind violence of fire. Her form is a direct loan from Louis Janmot (1814-1892) and his painting Cauchemar, from the Le Poème de l’âme series (1835-1880), and it leads us to the countryside but, even here, instead of finding peace, we are haunted by a lurking anxiety, since the world has turned upside down: a donkey rides a man - Levidis’ visual memory always dominates, as it transfers a part of Goya’s famous etching Tu que no puedes (“You who cannot [carry me on your back]”); it is Νο. 42 from the Los caprichos series (1797-1799). Next to the strange complex, Velasquez’s grave Aesop (1638) (here, a guise for Levidis), and at the back a tree with its branches, but even here there is no respite: this is the tree where they hang slaughtered animals in Koufonissia. The predella closes with the Promise: the artist’s mother carries a votive candle on her shoulder as an offering, and holds on to the young artist with her right hand. In the end, Levidis has transformed into the child he once was.
B΄ | Αgora
This painting (87 x 107 cm, mixed media, 2010-2017) may be smaller than Models in the studio, but it has such immeasurable depth that that viewer needs time to decode the many elements and contrasts the gaze encounters all along its journey up to the blue of the cloudless sky, where the menacing shadow of a bird of pray lingers.
On the first level, a carpet of rich textures, designs and colours folds and unfolds, and two seated women are arranged diagonally, with a third, like an extension of the other two, standing up. The viewer’s eyes are skilfully drawn from the seated woman at the front to the one beside her, seen from the side, and from there, guided by her gaze, they settle on the rear view of the one standing up. (The viewer is indirectly invited to enjoy three different aspects of female beauty - a wholly classic device.)
The way the limbs of the first figure are arranged connects us (due to its pyramidal shape) with the elements in the space on the left. There, half-hidden by a vertical curtain, are three nude male statues, two standing up and one seated, creating the following contradictory relationships:
2 seated female forms – 2 standing male forms
1 standing female form – 1 seated male form
living, life-size women – lifeless statues of various sizes
in the present and materials of the past
There are yet more contradictions. The super-sized bronze statue is surrounded by a wooden protective frame for transportation, shaped like a pyramid - as a counterpoint to the shape of the first seated female form. At the front, there is a hierarchical order on the carpet, brightly lit by a number of light sources. In the back left, many objects in disarray (Roman copies of Greek statues, scattered architectural parts, pedestals in dim light). Testimonies of a glorious past are juxtaposed eloquently with the declining present of decay.
On the right hand side of the painting, opposite the luxurious carpet, are the ruins of chiselled blocks, parts of the architectural structure. On the paved floor, the upright woman stands on a small pile of construction materials, and leans against one of the huge columns that support the ceiling. Next to her right hand hangs a tatty flag with a mutilated inscription. The viewer’s gaze is drawn to complete it in vain; there will be no Cavafy to read it.
The second level, despite sharing the same visual space as the first, stands apart due to the hard wooden shelter on the right and the fabric awning lower down on the left. The viewer is confronted by a torture scene: a group of four men stones a fifth. The aggressors wear short blue trousers; one is bending down to grab a stone from the ground. The victim (in pale olive shorts) is on his knees and, with his hands turned outwards in front of his face, he is trying to save himself from the lethal blows. Either unperturbed or helpless, an old man in an apron (notice his stooped back) emerges from the left and leads the viewer to a shady gate with pilasters and Doric capitals. The building extends to another atrium, brightly lit through the building’s collapsed roof, that leads to another gate with pilasters - the left one still bears traces of its painted decoration from the middle upwards.
Through the gate, a white horse awaits; it waits patiently (it is not tied up) and looks at us strangely, bringing life to the desolation of this rear space. Beyond the second gate, we see a portico with a ceramic tile roof (in front of it another shelter on the right and an awning on the left) and there the building ends. Sealing the painting at the far back is the front view of a working-class store, and then we are immersed in shadow. The coupling of contradictions continues beyond the first level:
large-scale architecture – working-class homes
hard materials: marble, stone blocks – textiles, carpets: soft materials
nude – dressed forms
peace – violence
The original idea for the painting began around 2010, with the artist’s desire to deploy, in a larger composition, nude women posing au naturel from his earlier work for Louomenoi (1991, Aithousa Technis Athinon). His first thought was to combine them with the stoning scene, and that was the spark that started it all.
He had his youngest son pose for all the figures of the stoning group and took photographs of him in order to study the bone and muscle structure of the bodies. Introducing the two themes within an open-air composition did not satisfy him, and he decided to insert both in the final space described above.
Countless sketches and studies ensued, until the composition and its supporting themes were finalised. The painting itself didn’t begin until Sotiris Felios gave Levidis a carte blanche commission in 2016. The painting was created, once again, on plywood primed with finely-finished gesso, but without the use of an anthivolo to trace the drawings this time.
The composition was initially painted in monochrome, a sort of sinopia. The backgrounds were created entirely in two tones, light-shadow, and possibly one more, for the half-light. The sinopia was covered with acrylic transparencies (transparencies, in addition to priming the surface, also add colour themselves; the superimposed colour intensifies, builds up gradually, and gains depth) and the final layer of oil paint was added on top. The painting was completed in early 2017.
The starting point were older poses of female nudes made for the Louomenoi series. Facing the front and seen from the side is the artist’s wife, while for the upright nude the artist used a professional model. The curvaceous figure of the standing woman and her posture leave us with the vague impression that she is a friend “for sale” The seated nudes do not have the same role, but remain in a state of anxiety, an undefined expectation.
The stoning theme is borrowed from the lower edge of St. Stephen’s vestment in El Greco’s The Burial of the Count of Orgaz (1586-1588). The venue of the drama is the interior of the Municipal Market of Pyrgos Ileias (which now, after its renovation, houses the town’s Archaeological Museum), the work of Ernst Ziller (last quarter of the 19th century). Levidis used a photograph published in the well-known book by Ioannis Travlos on neoclassical architecture,and, in certain parts, transferred it literatim: the entire system of shelters and awnings, the post/peg in the middle, the other-worldly figure of the old man and even the municipal lamp (which, in the painting, gives the viewer the impression of a bird of prey).
The scene, on the first level with the statues, is a memory from a visit the artist made to the store rooms of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples. The horse in the back is one of the six horses of the Duke of Mantua Federico II Gonzaga, as Giulio Romano painted them (1532-1535) at the Salla dei Cavalli of the Palazzo del Tè. The working-class shops right at the back evoke the atmosphere and colourings of Het straatje (1657-1658), Vermeer’s little alleyway.
The part of the painting worked on last is the one we see first: the carpet, in reality, is not a carpet but a curtain in Levidis’ studio, and the ruins on the right are taken from a photograph of Apamea in Syria.
C΄ | Coda
”Je n’ai jamais évité l’influence des des autres. [...] J’aurais considéré cela comme une lâcheté et un manque
de sincérité vis-à-vis de moi-même. Je crois que la personnalité de l’artiste se développe,
s’affirme par les luttes qu’elle a à subir avec d’autres personnalités.
Si le combat lui est fatal, si elle succombe, c’est que tel devait être son sort.“
Levidis is an intellectual artist; those sparsely involved with art would flippantly use the term “cerebral artist”. His work is strewn with references to the past, but self-references as well.
In Levidis, without deep memory, there doesn’t seem to be artistic function. There isn’t necessarily a story, a narrative hiding behind his paintings (that’s up to the viewer to create himself, regardless of the artist’s intentions): the images begin from the images of memory, and it is through memory that painting interprets reality. The artist feels that the surface of the world matters (“surface” could equally take a capital S), but the forest of the world isn’t virgin; it has had a past.
“And what about today?” a mutual friend and kindred spirit would ask. Today like tomorrow like yesterday, the artist would reply. Today, to him, is his offering: persistence in painting. He likes to humbly recollect Chardin’s statement: “La peinture est une île dont je n’ai fait que côtoyer les bords” [«painting is an entire island, and all I do is circumnavigate its shores»], and to declare, in a low voice: “Painting is something that existed (abstract time) and now we are trying to keep the flame burning”, because he knows that miracles don’t create faith, but that faith (in painting o altra cosa) is a miracle in itself. And that is why his best paintings always convey a sparkling mystery:
”Il est extraordinaire qu’on puisse mettre tant de mystère dans tant d’éclat.“
N. P. Paissios March 2017
. Letter to Virginia Woolf, cited in: E.D.H. Johnson, Paintings of the British Social Scene, London 1986, p. 217.
. A. Dürer, Vier Bücher von menschlicher Proportion, Nuremberg 1528 (with an afterword by his friend, Willibald Pirckheimer). See also W.L. Strauss, The Human Figure by Albrecht Dürer: The Complete “Dresden Sketchbook”, New York 1972.
. G. Serafini (ed.), Ellenico Plurale. Dipinti dalla Collezione Sotiris Felios, p. 96-97, and exhibition: Complesso del Vittoriano, 27/11/2012 – 11/1/2013, Rome 2012.
. The Extreme Humility, or the King of Glory, appeared in Byzantium during the 12th century, and quickly propagated to the West. Excellent early examples are icons in the Museum of Kastoria, the Great Meteoron and the Reliquario di San Gregorio Magno, at the museum of the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome. In the post-Byzantine period, it was commonly painted in the alcove of the Holy Prothesis.
. F. Kontoglou, Ekfrasis tis Orthodoxou Eikonografias (Εxpression of Orthodox Iconography), Athens 19792, p. 140.
. See: A. Levidis, Eikonografies 1980-1988, Athens 1988.
. Even if that wasn’t the artist’s intention, nothing stops the viewer from connecting the two paintings.
. The composition reuses an earlier period in Levidis’ work, that of Palaistes (Wrestlers).
. I. Travlos, Neoklassiki Architektoniki stin Ellada (Neoclassical Architecture in Greece), Athens 1967, fig. 116, p. 129.
. The upright bronze (as demonstrated by its patina) statue, holding a piece of paper between its fingers (causam ipsius scriptam), may be the effigy of emperor Augustus (49-50 A.D.) in the same museum (Α.Ε. 5595).
. Η. Matisse, Écrits et propos sur l’art, ed. D. Fourcade, Paris 1972, p. 56 (Matisse interrogé par Guillaume Apollinaire, 1907. First published: “Henri Matisse”, La Phalange magazine, issue 2, 15-18/12/1907. (”I never tried to avoid the influence of others,“ Matisse told me. ”If I avoided it, I would be a coward to myself. I believe that the artist’s personality evolves, becomes more solid through the battles it has fought with the personalities of others. If the conflict turns out to be mortal, if he succumbs, he will say that it was his destiny.“)
12. Private words by Mallarmé on Gauguin; quoted in a letter to André Fontainas (March 1899). See P. Gauguin, Lettres à sa femme et à ses amis, Paris 2003, p. 170. (It is incredible how we can fit so much mystery within so much brightness.)