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Δευτέρα, 7 Απριλίου 2014

Don Manuel Osorio and his young girlfriends

Stories from the paintings of Iro Nikopoulou
Art is but an idea; an idea further removed from your own.
Alexis Akrithakis

Idolatry and, consequently, iconolatry, is part of Greek visual tradition, just like the much-vaunted orthodox faith. The latter demanded that the signifier (i.e. the image) refer to the signified (i.e. that which is depicted) to such a degree that, traversing the Middle Ages, it emerged during the Renaissance as an entire aesthetic dogma. What I wish to convey is that the painting isn't confined within the depicted image; rather it claims a quasi-magical quality, by speaking, and concealing, and signifying, and implying. Even during modern times, when the filmic or televised images prevail. Their primeval mother, painting, still knows how to play games of suggestion, seduction, perversion. It knows how to terrify, and also soothe. First and foremost, it knows how to narrate, by creating breaches in the story’s cohesion and the subconscious mind of the spectator.
The paintings of Iro Nikopoulou balance between narration and confession, tenderness and voluntary terror, personal references and impersonal time, which sometimes blesses and other times condemns people's actions. And what of painting, in general? Painting is still a testimonial, and at the same time a form of torment; the first writing and the most primal record. The image before the word, on which it depends. A symbolic, aesthetic point, which encapsulates past and future lives (even the most unconscious ones...). In order to survive this age of such mechanistic rationalism, painting must place itself somewhere between the known and the unknown, which, however, exists. Consequently, painting also ought to support a ferocious, absolute form of expression, which will call into question the narcissism or the aesthetics of the bourgeoisie, and turn away from eloquent compromises. In order to exist, painting must be. With the fear of History, and with its virginity restored, time and time again, as happened with the goddess from the ancient myth.
As a pensive creator, Iro Nikopoulou attempts a form fueled by chthonic colors and organized through shading and earthy qualities, so that whenever light is emitted, it appears as both salvation and retribution. She is aware that what she is trying to achieve through her artistic means is not easy, no matter how persistently and diligently she pursues it. In other words, to immerse herself in a childhood Eden, and to make peace today, as an adult, with the angels and the ghosts of the past. With desires and loves, just like newborns that didn't survive, like infants punished for their innocence, like toys that broke before they even came out of their boxes, like kites condemned to fly within cells. How does all this translate into image, into word that has taken form? Iro Nikopoulou has chosen a theme that could be categorized as feminine art, if we were interested in classifications and trends and current events, which we are not.
I believe that her girls and their stories ‒ young mothers raising grown babies, reversed roles, confused values, just like in the Grimm bothers' fairy tales ‒ have come a long way, having bathed in the waters of the most integral Romanticism, and having delved into old texts and experiences. Thus emerging, silent and enigmatic, they remind me of a painting that still haunts me since the first time I saw it, in the early '90s, in the National Gallery and the periodic exhibition "From Theotokopoulos to Cézanne." It is the work of the prince of European Romanticism Francisco Goya (1746-1828) titled "Don Manuel Osorio," painted in 1787-8, belonging today to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The painting depicts a young nobleman dressed in the radiant red of anguish, a dark look in his eyes heralding the things to come. He was only four years old at the time when he posed; four years later he died. Goya was twenty-two years old then, and he already knew quite a lot about the human psyche. Manuel is depicted with his symbolic fates, which, however, have no sympathy for him. Rarely has a child's soul, the cruelty, if you prefer, been rendered in a more direct, more visual way. The young boy is holding a magpie on a string, holding a calling card (?) in its beak. "Grim messages," we could also call it. In the back, in the semi-darkness, three cats are looking menacingly at the fateful bird, Clotho, Lachesis, Atropos. To the left of Manuel is a cage of goldfinches. They are not in danger; they are safe within their prison, already condemned. Goya has selected a theme that is common in European Rococo, and from a mere study of manners, he has elevated it to the darkness of the most romantic sphere.
The ambiguous Don, however, shouldn't complain; Iro Nikopoulou has now endowed him with wonderful girlfriends, equally dark and apocalyptic. At least to those who are tired of pleading innocent. And to those for whom art is not an alibi, but rather a means. Or to those who now know that youth is the most agonizing invention of old age.
PS. Blanchot wrote that art is a struggle, the struggle between the creator and chaos. It is the kind of chaos, however, that has the ability to create conscience (Jung), the "sea buried within us" (Elytis). I am not sure whether the following sentiment has a place here, nevertheless it concerns me and I will write it: No art can assuage the haunting image of those nine children that were left helpless to drown at Farmakonissi, in a sea that is tragically real, in no way metaphorical, something that will stay with us. No requiem, no aesthetic, no seal’s lament can ever redeem it. It will pursue us like a collective disgrace, spitting on our culture, cursing our disgraceful complacency.
How many more events like that in Farmakonissi or Lampedusa await us? How many dark seas are we due? How safe can our children be amidst such official, institutionalized violence? And the girls of Iro, how many more friends are they to make?

Manos Stefanidis
12.2.2014

Translation by Eleni Dragona


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