Born in Athens in 1964, she was an École nationale superieure des Beaux-Arts student under the tutelage of Leonardo Cremonini (1984-1988). She pursued her postgraduate studies in engraving at the same institution under Abraham Hadad thanks to a French government scholarship (1988-1989). Her first solo show was in 1990. To date she has shown her work in sixteen individual exhibitions and numerous group ones, both in Greece and abroad. Her works are found in collections at the National Gallery of Greece, the Hellenic Parliament, private museums as well as in private collections both in Greece and abroad. She resides and works in Athens.

Solo Exhibitions

  • 2013 Instict for WaterBelgravia Gallery, London
  • 2011 Water, Zoumboulakis Galleries, Athens, Greece
  • 2009 Retrospective Exhibition, Cyclades Gallery, Syros, Greece
  • 2006 Gallery K, London, UK
  • 2006 Millenia Fine Art, Time Warner Center, New York
  • 2003 Oxford battered, Lentzou Gallery, Athens, Greece
  • 2002 Zoumboulakis Galleries, Athens, Greece
  • 2001 Mati Gallery, Athens, Greece
  • 2000 Gallery Tzamia-Krystalla, Chania, Greece
  • 1999 Diary 1999 of the Herakles Group of Companies, Municipality of Athens, Athens, Greece
  • 1999 Zoumboulakis Galleries, Athens, Greece
  • 1998 Terracotta Gallery, Thessaloniki, Greece
  • 1997 Galerie Flak, Paris, France
  • 1996 Zoumboulakis Galleries, Athens, Greece
  • 1994 Terracotta Gallery, Thessaloniki, Greece
  • 1993 Zoumboulakis Galleries, Athens, Greece
  • 1991 Eonnet Dupuy Gallery, Paris, France
  • 1990 Ora Gallery, Athens, Greece

Group Exhibitions

  • 2013 The 80's Generation - Contemporary Greek Painting from the Sotiris Felios Collection, National Gallery - Alexander Soutzos Museum -Sparta Annex, (Coumantaros Art Gallery), Sparta
  • 2012 Ellenico Plurale - Dipinti dalla Collezione Sotiris Felios, Complesso del Vittoriano, Rome (curated by Giuliano Serafini)
  • 2012 The Art of Sport, OLYMPIAD 2012, Belgravia Gallery, London
  • 2012 The Other Greece, under the auspices of the Consulate General of Greece in New York, Kouros Gallery, New York
  • 2012 Between Reality and Fantasy, Works from the Sotiris Felios Collection, Giorgio De Chirico Art Center, Volos (curated by Irene Orati)
  • 2011 Körpez-topoi / Bodies/ Places, from the Anthony and Asia Hadjiioannou Collection, Greek Foundation for Culture - Berlin (curated by Iris Kriticou)
  • 2011 Spring 2011, Palaeontological and Historical Museum of Ptolemais (curated by Tatiana Spinari)
  • 2011 Places of the Sea, Ermoupoleia, Syros (curated by Yiorgos Altouvas)
  • 2011 Natura 2011, Eugenides Foundation, Athens (curated by Athena Schina)
  • 2011 Contemporary Greek art from Antony and Azias Hadjioannou collection, Griechische Kulturstiftung Berlin, Berlin
  • 2010 Johannes Gennadios and his world, Gennadios Library, Athens
  • 2010 Gallery Kouros | Accrochage, New York
  • 2010 Tracing Istanbul, Gazi, Athens (curated by Iris Kritikou)
  • 2010 Gaia Art Gallery, Seas exhibition, Athens (curated by Euridice Trichon-Milsani)
  • 2010 Deconstructing canvas, inventing the image, Antony and Asia Hadjioannou Collection, Municipality of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki Municipal Gallery
  • 2010 Nude, Frissiras Museum, Athens
  • 2010 Art London, Ariel Sibony, London
  • 2010 Human Measures, “Melina Merkouri” Cultural Centre, Municipality of Athens (curated by Iris Kritikou)
  • 2009 Greek landscape painting 18th-20th Century, Foundation for the fine arts and music B & M Theoharakis, Athens (curated by Haris Kambouridis)
  • 2009 Greek Colour, Sotheby's, London (curated by Mariza Kalogeropoulou- Fassianos, organised by Ministry of Tourism)
  • 2009 4 Seasons, Artexpertise, Army Museum, Athens
  • 2009 Ambassadors of Contemporary Art, Hellenique Museum, Melbourne, Australia (curated by Haris Kambouridis, organised by Alexandra Ghika)
  • 2008 Visual Arts in Greece 2007, State Museum of Contemporary Arts, Thessaloniki (curated by Haris Kambouridis)
  • 2008 Millenia Fine Art, Time Warner Center, New York
  • 2008 Experiencing Greece: travels through an enchanted landscape, Ministry of Tourism, Beijing (curated by Iris Kriticou)
  • 2008 Athens in front page, Athens Voice, Benaki Museum, Athens
  • 2008 Hearts in Athens, Athens
  • 2008 Human Rights Protection, Cultural Centre, City of Athens
  • 2008 Sketching the personality of Dionyssios Solomos, Messolonghi, Venice, Athens (curated by Iris Kriticou)
  • 2008 Greek Art Today, Belgravia Gallery, London (organised by G. Stathopoulos)
  • 2008 Summer 2008, Citronne Gallery, Poros (curated by Tatiana Spinari-Pollali)
  • 2007 Millenia Fine Art, Νew York
  • 2007 Art London, Galerie Ariel Sibony
  • 2007 New acquisitions, National Gallery, Athens
  • 2007 AGET Heraklis, Municipal Gallery, Ioannina
  • 2007 Greek Artists, Antonis and Azia Hatzioannou Collection, Municipal Gallery, Chania (curated by Iris Kriticou)
  • 2007 Once upon a time there was Penelope Delta, American College, Athens (curated by Iris Kritikou)
  • 2007 Greek Art Today, Belgravia Gallery, London (organised by Giorgos Stathopoulos)
  • 2007 Reshaping open space, Atrion Art Gallery, Thessaloniki (curated by Haris Kambouridis)
  • 2007 Birth place, Alpha Trust, Benaki Museum, Athens (curated by Iris Criticou)
  • 2006 Art Miami, Miami USA, Galerie Ariel Sibony
    2006 Art London, Galerie Ariel Sibony
    2006 Reflections from Greece, Contemporary art from Greece, The National Arts Club, New York (organised by Giorgos Stathopoulos)
  • 2006 Cow Parade, Athens
  • 2006 Ta Nea, 2006 calendar, 12 months, 12 painters, Zoumboulakis Galleries, Athens
  • 2005 Art Miami, Miami USA, Galerie Ariel Sibony
  • 2005 Art London, Galerie Ariel Sibony
  • 2005 In arte veritas, Petros and Marika Kydoniefs Foundation, Andros (curated by Athena Schina)
  • 2005 Vision and touch, two complementary senses in contemporary art, Atrion Art Gallery, Thessaloniki (curated by Haris Kambouridis)
  • 2005 Visit Halepas, Tinos (curated by Iris Kritikou)
  • 2005 Small Paintings, Zoumboulakis Galleries, Athens
  • 2004 Αrt London, Galerie Ariel Sibony, London
  • 2004 Reflections from Greece, St Augustine, Americana Absolute Museum, Florida
  • 2004 Agonon Polis, The city of games, organised by the Municipality of Athens within the Olympic Games, Technopolis of the Municipality of Athens, Gazi (curated by Athena Schina)
  • 2004 In our image after our likeness, Frissiras Museum, Athens (curated by Martha Chalikia)
  • 2004 National Representations, CK Art Gallery, Cyprus
  • 2004 Encomium of the Olive, Academy of Athens, Athens
  • 2004 Summer 2004, Zoumboulakis Gallery, Athens
  • 2004 Ariel Sibony, London, United Kingdom
  • 2003 New Eikonolatria, Fine Arts Gallery, Athens
  • 2002 Art Paris, Zoumboulakis Gallery, Paris
  • 2000 Greek Realists of the French School of Art, Frankfurt
  • 2000 2000 tins, Lithographer of Pireaus street, Athens (curated by Niki Nikonanou, Nikos Stefanou, Alexis Veroucas)
    2000 Ultramarine blue, Vernicos Centre of Modern Art, Pireaus (curated by Flavia Nessi, Iris Kritikou)
  • 2000 Personal Relations, Ekfrassi Gallery, Athens
  • 1999 Greek landscape painting 19th-20th Century, from the collection of the National Gallery and the Euripides Koutlides' Foundation, Teriade Museum, Mytilene
  • 1998 Focalisations du Regard, Greece's Presidency (curated by Athena Schina), Brussels
  • 1998 Greek landscape painting 19th-20th Century, from the collection of the National Gallery and the Euripides Koutlides' Foundation, National Gallery, Athens
  • 1997 Greek landscape Painting 19th-20th Century, National Gallery of Athens
  • 1997 The sources of gaze, Centre of Contemporary Art, Larissa (curated by Athena Schina)
  • 1997 Museum of Man-Natural History, Jardin des Plantes, Paris
  • 1996 Designs, Kouvoutsakis Art Institute, Athens
  • 1996 Homage to Paul Verlaine, Galerie 24, French Institute of Pireaus
  • 1996 Painting in the Poetry of Odysseas Elytis, Odysseas Elytis Art Galleries, Municipality of Athens
  • 1995 Tribute to El Greco, National Gallery, Athens
  • 1995 Eros and Art, Terracotta Art Gallery, Thessaloniki
  • 1995 Grands et des Jeunes d' Aujourd'hui, Paris
  • 1995 Galerie Flak, Paris
  • 1995 Small Paintings, Zoumboulakis Galleries, Athens
  • 1995 Mediteranean Summer, National Gallery of Tirana (organised by Zoumboulakis Gallery)
  • 1994 Poliedro Gallery, Patras
  • 1994 Small works, Zoumboulakis Galleries, Athens
  • 1992 Honoris Causa, Ora Cultural Center, Athens
  • 1992 The Frissiras Collection, The Byzantine Museum, Zante (curated by Takis Mavrotas)
  • 1991 Greek Artists from the Collection of V. Frissiras, Pierides Art Gallery and Municipal Gallery of Athens
  • 1990 Towards a new humanism, Centre Culturel de Villejuif, Paris (organised by Marina Lambraki-Plaka)
  • 1990 Eonnet Dupuy Gallery, Paris
  • 1989 SARP, Palais Zamovski, Warsaw
  • 1989 Terracotta Gallery, Thessaloniki
  • 1988 Utopias of the Real, Titanium Gallery, Athens
  • 1988 Museum of Fine Arts, Mons, Belgium
  • 1987 French Academy of Fine Arts, Paris
  • 1987 Atelier Cremonini, Galerie de la maison des Beaux-Arts, Paris
  • 1987 Salon de Vitry, Paris

Instinctually drawn to water

The texts you read in the first pages of an art exhibition catalogue should be explicatory. When they are successful, they provide a solid correlation between the act of painting and the theory of aesthetics. They contain eloquent expressions, references to art history or to previous chapters of the artist’s work, figures of speech, well-known quotes. They are a ‘dowry’ that accompanies the works through time. I, however, prefer to speak on a more personal level about Maria Filopoulou’s new work: As a close friend; as a fellow swimmer in the magical blue depths; as someone privileged to see the preparation of this chapter with the waterfalls of Samothrace.

I first saw these works, still fluid studies, before they took their final form, one warm summer evening in the artist’s Kifissia studio. I encountered them again afterwards, when her interventions were complete. My first thought was that well-known statement by Delacroix - here I go too, making those quotes - that painting should be a celebration for the gaze. Swimmers - with all the joy and freedom of Adam and Eve – throw their naked bodies into the deep. I remember that I had the sense that I was there, with them. I too dived into the pool of Siloam, where the blessed water rinsed us of all past deeds. I felt the purification, the protective shadow of the compact rock, salvation in that stretch of sky, the plane trees growing from cracks in the rock.

Yes, swimmers are a familiar theme for Filopoulou. Her tendency to depict the scenery of a welcoming paradise at sea and on land reflects the generosity of her nature. This time the way she organised the space of the painting is entirely different. From the immensity of the sea, we are transported to a tight inland embrace, with everything to offer. This chapter of her work condenses elements from previous chapters, mainly in the manner in which the painter creates protected ‘nests’: a Lilliputian apartment of 12 square metres in Paris; greenhouses in Schinias, the Argolis and Crete; beaches, protected from the wind; ferry-boat decks. See, I can’t help but reference her painting pre-history.

Let me therefore speak personally, adding something more to this text, something drawn from the many years of our friendship. The artist is instinctually drawn to water. She’s like those minute newborn turtles, who instinctively know what path to take to the element of water. A day doesn’t go past in her life, without her looking at the sea, without taking pleasure in it. Iodine is her oxygen, which she generously shares with all the people she loves. So she paints her own truth, unadorned and sincere. She paints what she is, what she does, what she wants to gift others with: travel, play, liberty, the pull of water.

Waterfalls are her new discovery, following an excursion to Samothrace. She has since visited and explored the island of the Cabeiri many times, until she was ready to take the next step. From the absolute light-heartedness of the swimmers in the sea, she has moved on to a landscape replete with existential symbolism. Perpendicular, steep rock faces, pounding streams that cascade downward, medicial ponds. Where previously turquoise reigned over all, she is one again using earthy tones and, for the first time uses black in her work. She could have let her paintings be a reverse portrait of Dorian Gray: Where the canvases remained young and fresh, as she grew older. Instead, Filopoulou continues to mature as she travels on, preserving the integrity of her core through all the new journeys she makes.

Margarita Pournara

MORE REAL… than what is real!

“We term wonderful that which is truly great”
Kant

“If we can hear the frothing, rapid, pound of the waters from the waterfall, if drops of water fall upon us, as it rushes tumbling on its course, if the light passes through the foliage of the trees, emitting a myriad reflections to dazzle our eyes, if we can feel the rough surface of the rocks under the palm of our hands and the overwhelming sense of the coolness of the water on our naked skin, then Maria Filopoulou has achieved the absolute illusion, she has made us participants/ present in her vision. We live (in) her works. [We find ourselves within them with all our senses, we enjoy the moment in the emerald green waters! {We are in Paradise in a single Image…}”]

In her paintings, Maria Filopoulou renders the momentary instant in a concise, specific version. Everything is presented rhythmically, in motion. Nothing is stationary; only specific, leisurely figures who are enjoying their carefree exposure to the sun. The artist doesn’t simply depict a scene, she projects it in time. She places it in perpetuity, removing it from the limitations of a painting. We know that momentary impressions have a continued existence: they function as a launching pad for whatever follows… This doesn’t function solely as a revelation… an explosion of reality.

Additionally, earthily, realistically, it functions initially as a satisfaction, a pleasure, a desire to look at these works, because they transmit images from a Paradise, where we would like to find ourselves. A more fundamental approach to the oeuvre of Maria Filopoulou leads us to discover a mix of complex elements. She utilises her exceptional virtuosity to transfer images of nature onto canvas, enriching the realistic landscapes with symbolic extensions. Her new themes focus on the rushing, life-giving water of a waterfall, which defines the source of life, constant flow, fluidity, penetration, passion. Beyond the exultation of reality, the deification of beauty, all make reference to the spiritual and erotic underlying substance of things. The painter attributes to the natural world a host of dynamic and passive elements, of male and female qualities. The pulsating energy of the image transmits erotic associations and metaphysical references about human existence.

Maria Filopoulou depicts the sensuality of bodies exceptionally, as they reflect an internal light of fulfilment and eroticism. Bodies absorbed in private enjoyment, such as the pleasurable contact with water, play a leading role in the artist’s directorial intentions, as she arranges the structure of space and time in her works. Her cinematic technique with the wide-angled depiction of space throws out all motifs, while the manner in which she focuses on the subject from a different angle in each painting achieves a form of narrative. With close ups and three-quarter takes on the smaller paintings, she magnifies bodies and points in a fragmentary manner, drawing our attention and focus. Female bodies star in her works, depicted exceptionally, with vivacity and honesty, in carefree poses, reflecting the sense of freedom and closeness, magnetizing and disarming the viewer.

Her representational narratives exude light. Atmospheric brightness is emitted from various sources so surfaces project in a refined manner, using tonal gradations to achieve an authentic clarity of subject matter. The aesthetic harmony of the pieces is supported by the formation, the relationships that develop between the elements, the interesting perspective, which defines the environment mysteriously, with the rocks, in relief, surrounding the composition internally, painted in some other manner, the result of the painter’s plurality of technique.

Thanks to this personal and particular technique, the multiplicity of splotches / drops, coexists harmoniously with impressionist brush-strokes, so the painter manages to depict in the changing image, an expressive finish, with colour richly distributed, giving the impression, the veracity of a phenomenon. With her emphasis on composing a form/sculpting environment, where matters appear as they are, we observe Forms, which are revealed discreetly, in secret, beyond realistic figurative depiction. Gods of nature or inspiration, faces from the observer’s imagination, mystical existences of a painted universe)?, which lay down connections to Odillon Redon.

The artistic creations of Maria Filopoulou can’t be understood fully within the framework of evolutionary progress. In any case her presence is almost complete from the very beginning. She is a painter who always achieves a masterly visual result, where she is defines Beauty in a complex manner. The gaze admires Beauty platonically, while the Wonderful element of her work moves us with its transcendent idea.

Martha Artapyridou
Independent Curator 
Historian of European Culture

Chasing waterfalls

...Don’t go chasing waterfalls
Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that
You’re used to
I know that you’re gonna have it your way
Or nothing at all
But I think you’re moving too fast.
Waterfalls Lyrics by TLC (1994)

Led from the transparencies of the Argolid, to the dark depths of the Aegean and the ancient cisterns of Ierapolis in Asia Minor, persevering in her search for the tangible quintessence of travelling time and place and, simultaneously, the depths of a catharsis of self-discovery, the most recent chapter of Maria Filopoulou’s work constitutes a natural, experiential, artistic, and autobiographical continuation with her long-term relationship with the life-giving element of water. In her canvases we find again the riveting, unerring vocabulary of paradisiac blues and organic, fluid greens of the water; blinding whites of rocks strewn haphazardly under the sun; murmuring of peach and ochre tones of the horizon, interrupted by dramatic natural volumes; an abstract admixture of transparency, shadow and light, of a timeless mythic landscape with an ideal microclimate. Because Filopoulou’s latest works, once again champion the essential objective of their generous proportions; they propose unexplored, self-sufficient worlds, which demand a viewer’s gaze sink into them and seize the viewer’s emotions; euphoric pictorial planes of midday hours, which pulsate with their own dynamic: they establish her painting along new, exciting coordinates.

This mystical landscape is the vital viscera of Samothrace, which, strewn with waterfalls, ponds and natural cisterns, dissolves into its organic elements: at times seen from above and at other times penetrating the liquid sancta of a delightful universe, dappled with silent bathers, baptised in the pleasure of the water; swimming in the night time along the island’s bays; or abandoning the small skin of their baptized bodies to the white and grey conges along its borders with eschatological intensity and the silent devotion of prayer.

Parallel notes of the landscape itself, female and male bodies shaped with anatomical draughtsmanship and purity of line, volume and colour, they establish themselves on smaller pictorial surfaces, disseminating their bright traces in blinding outflows and niches of water and rock, propelling their realistic painted metastases along to its periphery; offering up to the viewer’s gaze a mythic place of blinding sculptural existence. An unseen world, also populated by the painter’s own body.

Filopoulou’s ingenuous compositions, where the idyllic converses with the primordial and where this microscopic original human flesh is shaken and absorbed by God-imbued landscapes of inconceivable natural beauty, appear to make only infinitesimal references to the almost phobic way in which waterfalls were dealt with, in the modern history of western painting. In those pompous romantic landscapes of the 18th, 19th centuries and the dawn of the 20th, such as those figurative European paintings by Johann Jakob Schalch and Konrad Corradi, literary illustrations by Léon Benett and Henri Meyer, or documentation from explorations by Ernst Haeckel, the vertical pounding flow of the water is an element recorded with ecstatic awe.1

In counterpoint, there are contemporary art works, such as M.C. Escher’s waterfalls, or Olafur Eliasson’s impressively large-scale contemporary piece The New York City Waterfalls, commissioned by the New York Public Art Fund, in collaboration with the City of New York. In June 2008 the project went on display at four sea-front points of the city, and dealt with the topic of the waterfall, setting aside the image of awe, deconstructing its content and shape, and reconstructing them into a different live material, which referenced the magic essence of water itself, its energy, its environmental and collective significance.2

However, looking at the corresponding Japanese pictorial tradition,where the natural element of the waterfall appears frequently, in conjunction with the linear snowy mountains of winter and the pink-blossoming punctuation of the cherry trees in springtime, I can’t help but make mention of Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861), one of the last major artists of the Japanese ukiyo-e school.

The woodprint Pilgrims in the Waterfall, worked with the exceptionally distinct design and pure colours, which Takashi Murakami emphatically states were an influence on his own oeuvre, present an exhilarating pictorial elective affinity with the actual psychological and sensorial climate of the new world that Filopoulou is proposing: the initiates of her landscapes quench their thirst, swim, and revel, in the same manner as the pilgrims to the Japanese waterfall. They are christened in the pleasure of the water without any fear of it. And following the secret codes of the island’s ancient initiates, they remove the sense of vertigo, seeking both pleasure and catharsis.3 Turning their backs to the sea, they settle into the natural craters of their new place, and take it over free of any artificial walls, leading the viewer’s eye even further than the natural limitations of the image. Asked about all this, Maria Filopoulou, who has indubitably invented a different gaze, and has dived afresh into the organic ingredients of a metaphysical reading of place, responds, once more, that she simply paints what she sees.

Iris Kritikou

 

1 In 1780 Johann Jakob Schalch (1723–1789) painted Der Rheinfall vom Zürcher Ufer aus and in 1860 Konrad Corradi (1813-1878) painter Der Rheinfall bei Schaffhausen, both of which depict, with obvious awe, these impressive European waterfalls. Léon Benett (1838-1917) painted a threateningly dark waterfall to illustrate the Jules Verne novel Clovis Dardentor. The sight of a pirogue falling over the waterfall, painted by Henri Meyer (1844-1899) to illustrate Verne’s A Captain at Fifteen, was equally frightening. Naturalist, philosopher and painter Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919), during his waterfall peregrinations around the world, in 1905 recorded the terrible Tjiburrum at the Pangerango Volcano.
2 This installation by Olafur Eliasson, known for The Weather Project, which was constructed in 2003 in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern in London, was set up at four waterfront loci in Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Governors Island. The artist sought a reflexive dialogue with existing historical and architectural conditions of the natural environment, and additionally, a dramatically large-scale embodiment of the impressive natural beauty in the dominant urban landscape. See www.nycwaterfalls.org.
3 There is a host of references in Herodotus concerning initiates in ancient times and the mystery cults of Samothrace. See also Walter Burkert, Greek Margins: Mysteries of Samothrace: Burkert writes that myth places Samothrace at its very beginnings, setting it in the non-Greek world and yet also sharing the Olympus of the Greek gods. The unique position of a small and insignificant island advocates for a sacred centre, where, in all likelihood, initiation was linked to salvation from the perils of the sea. But it may well be our inability to know the centre of the initiation, an enigma wrapped as this is in darkness, that creates the eternal fascination of Samothrace, he concludes.

 


Serving the “vertigo of the visible”

Maria Filopoulou, comes to confirm with her painting what I have always believed about art: there is no male and female expression – there is just good and bad art. Maria Filopoulou is a good painter. Indeed, if we were asked to deduce the painter’s gender from style of the works alone, we would describe them as unmistakably robust, brusque.

While at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, Maria Filopoulou was fortunate enough to study under one of the last champions of painting of the gaze. The painter Leonardo Cremonini placed more emphasis on cultivating the energy, the sensitivity of the eye than on the act of painting itself. His students were trained to explore what he called “vertigo of the visible”; they were taught to seek ‘revelation’ even in trivial things.

Modern art demonstrated the intrinsic value of painting and led it to autonomy, abolishing the hierarchy of genres and subjects and establishing a democratic equality of motifs and stimuli. Painting was no longer evaluated on what it depicted but on how it turned reality into a painterly, aesthetic event. The prerequisite for this conversion is technical expertise, craftsmanship, poetics.

Cremonini taught his students that painting is not a descriptive process. Painters must devise their own poetics to convey their emotions from the “vertigo of the visible”. Maria Filopoulou has attained a personal gestural idiom which combines traditional ways and modernistic elements. The creative process, the modus operandi, is visible but the image emerges effortlessly through the brush strokes, sometimes slow and sometimes furious, through drips or spurts of painting, through the dense or thin patches of material, through lasures or erasures. This is a vigorous, confident technique based on long practice; a technique that matures alongside her work, from the early interiors with the spiralling stairs to the greenhouses whose lush vitality brings to mind the tropical forests of ‘Douanier’ Rousseau and the carnivorous gardens of Max Ernst.

In the tropical greenhouses the painter found the appropriate size for her gesture: it was the large scale, the expansiveness, the “all over” that started with Monet’s Nympheas and culminated in the exponents of American expressionism after 1950. The monumental scale led Maria Filopoulou to what Monet had discovered earlier: that the image is not confined by the canvas, the frame, but spills out beyond it to radiate in space.

The transcendence of the frame and the diffusion of painting –figurative or non-figurative– into the surrounding space was a natural upshot of the two major changes that modern art had already brought about. The first change was the move away from perspective, which brought to mind a Renaissance stage set; the second change, a natural consequence of the first one, was that painting was identified with the surface that carried it. Let us remember here the definition of Maurice Denis, articulated around the turn of the 20th century: “A painting –before it is a battle horse, a nude model, or some anecdote– is essentially a flat surface covered with colours …”.

The greenhouses, the seas and the bathers of Maria Filopoulou do not heed any traditional principles of composition. They form part of the visible, a section across the flow of time. This brings us to another aspect of the young painter’s work. Time in its Heraclitean flux is a major element in both her poetics and her imagery. Her gestural script serves this dimension well. The images of Maria Filopoulou may not be impressionistic but they share the same sense of seizing the constantly changing spectacle of the world. Her seas, when they are not choppy, shiver under the touch of a breeze, and the swimmers, half-immersed in the water, move at a cinematic pace. Rhythm, another latent force in the young painter’s work, reigns in the vitality of the gesture and checks the image’s tendency to spill into space by introducing a jazz melody into the composition.

Her colours span the infinite varieties of chlorophyll in the greenhouse and the iridescent blue tones of the sea and find their triumphant culmination in the bathers and the summer beaches. The painter loves both smooth harmonies and striking contrasts, and knows how to boost them.

Active, industrious and dedicated, Maria Filopoulou reaffirms one’s confidence in the creative skills of women and enriches the painting of the gaze and the canvas with a new, contemporary and wholly personal idiom.

Marina Lambraki-Plaka
Professor emeritus of Art History
Director of the National Gallery of Athens

Chasing the light

"Chasing the light", a retrospective exhibition of Maria Filopoulou’s work at the Gallery of the Cyclades, could not have invoked a more eloquent title: the retrospective, which includes mainly large-size works from every period of her oeuvre – works from the first years following her studies in Paris, dominated by characteristic wide-angle interior spaces, to the newer “Swimmers”, ever afloat and in motion, which constitute her systematic field of study and experimentation over the past few years – this ceaseless pursuit of light can be quickly perceived as a form of organic connective tissue linking her starting point and her final destination in choice of subject and personal style.

In the chronological order in which the pieces were created, we travel successively through wide-angle spiralling staircases with eddying escape points and frieze-like greenhouses with their fleshy tropical plants; the cyclical coastal landscapes, with indolent bathers; to fragmentary views of ship decks with listless travellers; and to the sharp edges of gleaming yellow speedboats with their hurried passengers; to encounter at the end of this mental journey the familiar bathers in translucent waters and the ancient cisterns of Filopoulou's most recent period. The monumental dimension sought by the artist to liberate the often painstakingly gestural process of painting, features in most of the works shown here, taking pleasure in the limitless expanse freed for the gaze, the frenetic drips of colours, the apparently unorthodox choice of visual angle for an image, which abrogates all frames and diffuses the painting into perpetuity, returning to the viewer’s gaze a poetic, extemporaneous dimension of reality: that alternate reality, which, according to Goethe, “from the instant it is chosen as a theme by an artist, ceases to function solely in nature”.

Maria Filopoulou’s obsessive preoccupation with light begins with her introverted investigation of studio interiors in Paris, during her student years. Fired by a playful and inventive disposition to find and work out the proposed wide-angled viewing focus, and with the added impetus of the unrelenting refraction of light through the dusty perimeter walls of windows at the Parisian Εcole des beaux arts, the painter was led progressively to the liberated surrealist arrangement of her visual information: a gradual abolition of the initial duller chromatic selections in the darker bathrooms –where penetrating electric light bulbs played the role of natural light– re-establishing abolished claustrophobic fields, with successive openings and illicit narrow horizons; with attractive light and dark coexistences and contrasting sharp materials, such as glass and metal; with the reorganisation of spaces that are buoyantly transcendental and paradoxically empty, despite the fact they are obviously inhabited, spaces where a new, upside-down and incompatible dimension of reality is a given, definitively rid of its accumulation of conventional details. Finding a private, deserted yet lambent land with a surfeit of freedom, where the human element is implied, even though it remains unseen, and where the painter herself, having defined that land, can now quietly enter within, exist and manoeuvre…

The spiralling staircases, included in the first chapter of the exhibition, followed Filopoulou’s apprenticeship at the atelier of Leonardo Cremonini, a supporter of the voracious gaze and conspirator in "the vertigo of the visible". Vigorously leading the viewer through countless exercises in perspective, with successively eddying escape points, at times minimal and at other times gigantic, into successive and self-negating revelations and obfuscations, they came to be identified with the painter’s first studio in Trofoniou Street and correspondingly, with oversize canvases with their dominant wide-angle views which, while apparently “enclosing” the limited visual world of the studio, were gradually inhabited by nature, delineating outer worlds that were aesthetically greater, with light and colour as their dominant elements.

The next chapter in the exhibition, greenhouses, is directly linked to the change of venue of the painter's studio. In 1993 with her base in Kifissia and processing a new set of themes, Filopoulou transferred her investigation to the outdoors, extending the dialogue between the inner and the outer, which can be seen in her urban landscapes of the previous period, using a partly covered, floating life. The deserted greenhouses of nearby Schinias, with the fleshy leaves of banana trees and intense tropical greens that seek to penetrate their domed protective nebulae, transcending the coordinate matrix of the composition, were worked in situ by the painter for the next few years, on canvases unattached to stretchers with unlimited dimensions, composing another clearly defined chapter that now consciously abandoned the limitations of the studio. Always seeking the light, the main building elements of Filopoulou’s bold compositions are transformed under the viewer’s gaze and by using the recurring wide-angle viewing field, that continues to propel the image to limits, abrogating the apparently flat figurative narrative of the outdoor landscape.

Setting aside those greenhouses and proceeding into the third chapter of the exhibition, we follow the artist step by step in her gradual discovery of the sea. Distinct amongst the greenhouses and the vineyards that essentially constitute Filopoulou’s first open spaces – one of which is on display in this exhibition - the seaside landscape provokes and challenges the artist's gaze, and initially is encountered in small works, before charging into larger works, before sinking permanently into their meticulously imprint. The first beach scenes are interpreted as studies of light, colour and matter in water, where people constitute elements that are part of the image, that belong in this defined space, but do not constitute portraits. During the same period, while keeping colour and light as fixed parameters, travel is also introduced, one more item exhorting continuous flight and freedom. The consequence of this exploration was the artist’s 1999 exhibition, with coastal landscapes and views of passenger ships and speedboats sailing with passengers. With her canvases, which pulsate with light and energy, Maria Filopoulou narrates her personal circumnavigation with a tangible and enthusiastic realism: the beaches are peopled by silence and develop within a mild microclimate, in the tender land of giant greenhouses with no walls. Within this dead calm, the elliptical trajectory of a glance, lithe and restless, captures the off-centre light and encircles the sea craters. The geography of the shorelines is defined anew, as familiar seaside landmarks are sifted through, until only the essence of the components of their landscape remains and they are transformed into mysterious isles with unexplored sand dunes and grey-green underwater valleys. Bathers and hikers, those voluntarily shipwrecked, monitor the splash of the waves and inhabit the secret inlets and coves, even when they cannot be discerned by the viewer. In works that take place at sea, the curve of the gaze is directed toward the line of the horizon, to the open sea that is traversed by flying speedboats and slowly lumbering passenger ships, seeking out the criss-crossing lines of light.

This retrospective on the island of Syros concludes with the swimmers: at times under the surface of the water, and at other times upon it, they are subjugated to the painter’s torpid rhythms, voluptuously suspended between the multiple transparencies of the refracted light and the iridescent pale blues, turquoises and deep cyans, or investigating the remains of some ancient temple, sunk in the watery depths. In the sum of her oeuvre over the past few years, Maria Filopoulou examines the potential for an overall transfer of things through the act of painting. The element of water, pleasurable and life-giving, dotted with swimmers and ancient remains, brings myth and reality together in a unique way. The successive blue transparencies are transformed into a reservoir of light, sown with human presence and ancient fragments. The bent visual viewing angles investigate the pulsating rhythms of the image, through infinitesimal games of light, while a transfer of painted matter into spirit, memory and motion, pushes the realistic aesthetics to their limits.

Conversing with Maria, I can completely understand this path: “on finally going under the water, an event that may, in fact, always have constituted my goal, I re-discovered my security". “Above is the dome (just like the greenhouses) and below, within the sea, are the bodies of swimmers, in the midst of these closed contours of the water, which was always one of my obsessions. With the help of buoyancy, I make my very own what may be a banal image. I can examine the body in an entirely different manner; I can create a new view of things, which, in turn, gives off a strong sense of freedom". “I’m not interested in the national identity of this crowd. There are couples that are erotically involved, there are others swimming freely. Within this watery field which ensues, however, what I am interested in is that one does not disturb the other. I first saw this image that has occupied me so obsessively over the past few years, on Milos: an encounter that was soundless yet life-giving on the boundary of a rare liquid transparency which, even though I am not fond of crowding when I am swimming, did not bother me, because it showed me a new artistic path, bodies that coexist, paradoxical exercises with the reflections of light. Since then I continue to be fascinated by anything that is related to swimmers, hamams, seas, ancient swimming pools with the hovering oleanders and sunken architectural fragments – that also arose from a specific image in the ancient city of Ierapolis. In any case, human reference points always exist, and I continue to return to the human presence, now perhaps more than ever. These starting points help me; rendering the liquid element does not require the boundaries of a frame, which personally I abolish in the painting process. This is also why I work on the floor, or on a wall, on simple cloth, with successive layers of colour, putting off the process of the stretched canvas frame. I love random elements just as much. Which remain organised, attempting to insinuate themselves into the innermost sensation of water, creating fragments of chaos, which will later meet. Operating on instinct, I always want my next piece to go even further, to remain a surprise".

This may be that special category of randomness we also encounter in Pollock, for works that are cosmogonically created, from which nothing can later be removed. For works that are made so that the artist can sink into them herself, works on which the shadow of an illicit reader does not hang so much suspended, precisely because a viewer must sink into them in order to be imbued with them and to truly see them, as “a circle in the water / Which never ceaseth to enlarge itself / Till by broad spreading it disperse to naught”.

Iris Kritikou
exhibition curator