Kites and art

In Greece, this is the last weekend of Carnival, and little kids are roaming the streets dressed in those ghastly plastic Superman costumes with fake abs. This year, trending among little girls is ‘Policewoman’, complete with holster and gun (I found this vaguely disconcerting), closely followed by ‘Pocahontas’ and ‘Skeleton’.
The end of Carnival heralds Clean Monday, a day of flying kites and feasting on delicious seafood and other delicacies to mark the beginning of Lent. For those of you who missed it, I wrote about this holiday last year, and you can read the post here.

 

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Since I’ve been on a roll regarding Greek artists, I realized that the iconic images about Clean Monday and other holidays are often by Spyros Vassiliou ( Σπύρος Βασιλείου; 1903-1985), a Greek painter, printmaker, illustrator, and stage designer.

Vassiliou painted the objects that define special moments: the May wreath, the little table by the sea with its glasses of ouzo and plate of olives. And landscapes with fishing boats, and little white chapels, and the blue of the sky and sea.

 

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The townsmen of Galaxidi, where Vassiliou was born, collected money to send him to Athens in 1921, to study at the Athens School of Fine Arts under the famous painter Nikolaos Lytras.

Vassiliou started becoming recognized for his work in the 1930s, when he received the Benaki Prize from the Athens Academy. The recipient of a Guggenheim Prize for Greece (in 1960), his works have been exhibited in galleries throughout Europe, in the United States and in Canada.

 

 

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Spyros Vassiliou became recognized as a painter of the transformation of the modern urban environment, depicting with an unwavering eye the sprawl of urban development that surrounded his home in Athens, under the walls of the Parthenon. He combined monochrome backgrounds with the unorthodox positioning of objects, and paid homage to the Byzantine icon by floating symbols of everyday Greek life on washes of gold or sea-blue color, very much like the religious symbols that float on gold in religious art.

For many years, Vassiliou taught theatre, and designed sets and costumes for the stage. He also worked in film. During the years of the German occupation of Greece (1941-1945), when painting supplies were scarce, Vassiliou turned to engraving and woodcuts.

 

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I once visited Vassiliou in his studio, for a ‘lesson’; this was organized by a well-meaning friend of my parents who knew I loved to paint. Vassiliou was a tiny, rotund old man, and I was a hulking, awkward teenager who literally towered over him. He let me paint on one of his monochrome backgrounds – I had never painted in oils and produced an indifferent fish – but, although he was very amiable, I was too shy to pick his brains or even snoop around amongst his canvases and we did not establish a rapport. But he did ask me to visit a theatre where he was making the scenery for a play, and I have fond memories of both occasions.  I still have that small canvas with a boring fish on it somewhere.

 

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31 thoughts on “Kites and art

  1. I love that painting of the table with the olives and ouzo. I could imagine sitting there enjoying the view, and the good things to eat and drink too.
    Nice for you to have that memory of meeting him, and for sharing that with us.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. His art is delightful, and the stories make them even more so: your own encounter with him – that probably did leave traces in your art in the long run? and the fact his fellow townspeople collected the money to send him off to study.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I really like the examples of his work that accompanied your post. It must have been a thrill to meet him, even if you now regret not making more of it. Incidentally, where can I get one of those Superman capes with fake abs? It sounds a lot easier than working out.

    Like

  4. His paintings are wonderful. Simple and yet very complex. I often think when seeing a new artist’s work how simple and elegant it looks. Yet, why can’t I do that? WHY? “)

    It’s a question I’ve been asking myself thus far, and will be the rest of my life. The answer…My Dear you’re just not an Artist.

    Sad but true!

    Thank you for sharing this marvelous artist with me/us! I’m going to go eat something now. 🙂

    Like

  5. kites – it reminded me of childhood days. my brothers and I used to fly them and I lived on a tropical island and there great weather all year round to fly kites. Such a wonderful piece of art you have done, I love them so much. Will you be selling them?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Marina, I’m sure your visit to Vassiliou’s studio had more of an effect than you may even realize. Even chance encounters can change our lives. I am going back to view more of your art work and placing them on Etsy seems a good idea to me.

    Liked by 1 person

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