"Pavlos: Discovering a different mode of painting"
There are objects on every level... This is the human world, where man's humanity is measured and defined, setting out from a memory of his own gestures; time is occupied by conventions; man has no other independence than that which he imprints on soulless things, moulding and working them.
Roland Barthes (1)
Every day, our gaze slips over the things which surround us, which make up our microcosm. This host of functional objects is supplemented by a series of other things which, created under other conditions and having rejected their purely pragmatic character, have been elevated through the creative act into works of art.
Yet the work of art is not just a practical imitation or simulation of an idea by means of perception, knowledge and experience; it is also representation, implementation, creation. This is a question which arose by definition for the philosophy and history of art. At the time of the Renaissance it attracted the attention of Vasari and Alberti, and in modern times Benjamin, Adorno, Chatelet, Barthes and Baudrillard, among others, have looked into it.
As the century draws to a close and before we reached the point of talking about the 'de-materialisation' of art, we have experienced periods in which the material, actual character of the work was not just a decisive factor: it became identified with the work of art itself. During the Sixties, two major artistic movements cast a spotlight on the allure of everyday objects - almost as cult images of the post-industrial era - for the world of the fine arts. Under the term 'ready-made', Marcel Duchamp had already transformed ordinary objects into works of art. To the group of European artists who supported precisely this realistic nature of the art-work, Pierre Restany gave the name Nouveaux Realistes, New Realists; almost in parallel - as the stigma of the consumer culture in which even then we were living, in the process of acquiring uniformity - Pop Art appeared in the USA. The New Realists found a thousand and one different ways of intervening in everyday objects, using them unchanged, stressing the commonplace elements of their character, transforming them, comparing them to the products of advertising, converting them, elevating them to symbolic status, and endowing them with a dimension that was simultaneously magical and ironic, while at the same time never ceasing to emphasise their roots as the rejecfs of the industrial society. In their work, a special place is occupied by the use and elaboration of posters, with all the inevitable references to printing and advertising.
Pavlos is among the artists of the Sixties whose works made a substantive contribution to the transformation of manufacture objects into artworks, it was easy for him to join the spirit and atmosphere of the New Realists, since as far back as the turbulent Sixties he had been drawing his morphological components - inexpertly printed posters - from the realm of 'useless industrial materials'. In parallel, he was doing nothing more or less than faithfully reproducing - in methods and media close to those of the mass media and advertising - the images and products of the modern world, and of nature itself. In his first works, where his research into his materials lies, Pavlos made abstract compositions out of the successive superimposition of strips, creating organised surfaces which were originally geometrical and later became baroque forms with the volumetric character of an original painterly act. Around 1965, these forms became more easily recognizable, and ultimately clear as representations of landscapes and objects.
Retaining an earthy creativity which reminds us of - and probably owes much to - his juvenilia, the toys he made as a boy in Phyliatra, Pavlos has since the beginning of his career been creating works full of ingenuity, on whose physical presence is inscribed the artist's love for everyday and commonplace things of no value - in other words, his love of life. As a direct thematic descendant, on the one hand, of the great still-life masters (the Flemish painters, Melendez, Chardin, Cezanne or Morandi) and, on the other, of the landscape artists of the Low Countries, he brings the same respect as his predecessors to soulless, worn-out objects and to corners of the natural world and, like them, lays bare their secret, alluring aspects.
Yet in the oeuvre of Pavlos the process of depicting is more important that the object depicted per se. Although his works are replicas of our everyday life, they are made so as to redefine the concept of the work of art, since, unlike the traditional artist reproducing an object in his painting or sculpture, Pavlos' purpose is to give flesh and blood to the general idea of the object to be represented. Through this interesting conceptual approach, he is not trying to depict a specific object but to strip it, to negate whatever functional character it may have. Ultimately, what he is proposing is not a new object: is more the image of an idea, a definition of it.
Pavlos's works bring reality to mind, but they differ from it because they are entities of a different kind. The provocatively close relationship between them and their originals emphasises their nature as cultural commodities rather than, projecting a popularised and standardised character. In other words, they become the silent witnesses to, or distant echoes of, a different reality. Although they continue to be recognisable, although they seem to come from a given matrix or mould, they have lost most of their essential properties as objects and are clearly dependent on other terms of origin and determinism. One of the reasons for which they win the game is because they use an impression of familiarity and verisimilitude from which no one can escape in order to protect, in an intensive manner, images which ultimately ratify the profound difference between the mere object and the work of art.
In his own unique painterly way, Pavlos has little stories, pieces of everyday life, to narrate. When he paints his coats, ties, tools, boxes, trees, fields or seas, he is not imitating: he is giving away his weaknesses, his sensitivity, his creative vision. His attitude to things is not critical; he simply accepts them, testifying to his love of life. He is creating, and reminding us of the relationship between the poet and the manual labourer. Although his works allow us to see their rational, structural, almost manual character, and although they retain such a manifest relationship with reality, they are above all the products of his mind, which equips them with such poetic dimensions that ultimately they become self-sufficient beings. These are not simply skilful constructions in the manner of a stage set. Despite the broad sense in which the artist uses his materials, the way in which they interlock serves the image rather than entrapping it. It liberates the image, returning it to the archetypal, to the stage of idea or the concept of symbol. And we all know that symbols, whether shared or personal and regardless of the images they may assume, are never only objects.
The third dimension endows Pavlos' works with a special character, though it never affects their painterliness. Like the few two-dimensional collages he has created, they, too, function on a multitude of levels. Pierre Restany classed Pavlos among the New Realists in the belief that that is his natural place, since he uses the strips of poster ready-made. But even from the start Restany recognised the individuality of Pavlos 1 work: «Everything seemed to have been said in this area until the moment when Pavlos appeared. Pavlos looked at the problem from the beginning again. He used the poster as if it were a mass ...»(2) Shadow, whether it is painted or comes as a consequence of the way the work is lit, also emphasises the spatial character of the works. The three-dimensional works are usually placed, for their protection, behind plexiglass, and the smooth flatness of that material does nothing to disturb what is now the historic position of the works on the dividing-line between painting and sculpture.
Pavlos, like Christo, is not strictly a New Realist artist, just as he is not simply a Pop Art artist, even though ihere are considerable similarities between his works and those of the two movements. That, perhaps, explains why he has never been inseparably linked to either movement. His purpose has always been to render in vivid painterly terms the memory of things.
Pavlos' restricted choice of themes really ought to create habitation or even indifference, and the complex structure of his works ought to stimulate our curiosity above all, thus immobilising the emotions. Yet they always inspire joy and are imbued with vigour. The cutters and the scissors, the paper, the wire and the confetti which Pavlos has chosen as a means of achieving a new mode of three-dimensional painting propose highly-charged, strong images in which the dual nature of the authentic work of art is easy to distinguish. He creates works/objects which are a kind of artistic fetish and succeed in engaging being with appearing; although, in his work, Pavlos appears to be orientating himself towards light, colour, everyday life and the outside world, he is actually externalising his inner world, his memories, his tenderness and his own kind of truth. His truths and sensitivities would seem to coincide with our own. This explains why his works, and his occasional performances, have succeeded in convincing - or even justifying - the people of his own generation and those younger than himself. The social equilibrium which he restored in Hydra in 1974 in the use of the shoe-shine boy's box relieved the consciences of many people, even if just for a moment. And when his ribbons (bolduc) became paintings at the Venice Biennale of 1980, they consoled many people «for the gifts they never received as children».
In this review, provided by the exhibition organised by the J. F. Costopoulos Foundation, of the creative career and personal history of one of the most important artists of the Greek Diaspora, in the works of Pavlos, it is almost certain that each viewer will come across his own sensitivities and, ultimately, his own love of the everyday things that he usually finds stifling and insignificant. What Pavlos perseveres in giving us is perhaps what we all need today: a gaze of a different kind, one which is still capable of moulding visions.
1. Roland Barthes, "Le Monde-Object", Essais Critiques, Seuil, Paris 1964.
2. Pierre Restany, Catalogue, Venice Biennale, I960.