"The gazes gaze"
by Nikos G. Xydakis
The first thing you see in the painted figures of Christos Markidis is their gazes; they gaze at you. They are persons that have risen from the earth, stand where the painter placed them, and stare. They are looking at you even when they don’t have a face, even when you can only guess at the eyes inside the sockets of the empty skull.
The gaze reminds. It reminds of the mummy portraits of Fayyum – yes, that reminder of the great Greek painting; the fiery gazes of Orhtodox icons, when Plotinian theomorphy joins the passionate expressionism of Macedonians; the gazes of Rembrandt and Bacon’s coarse cries; the vanitas of Baroque and the gaze of romanticism.
And the body that carries the gaze? Markidis renders it as the aura of a body; a faint body which is diluted and sublimated, with flowing shrouds, until it becomes vapour and light.
Just a gaze? I am reminded of Giacometti: “One day when I was trying to draw a girl, something struck me: suddenly I saw that the only thing that stayed alive was her gaze. The rest, the head, which was turning into a skull, became more or less the same as the skull of a dead person. The only difference between the dead and the living is the gaze.” (1)
The painted figures of Markidis are just gaze. I look at them and they look at me. “The painter ‘takes his body with him,’ says Valery. Indeed, we cannot imagine how a mind could paint. It is by lending his body to the world that the artist changes the world into paintings” (2) Merleau-Ponty poignantly reminds us the riddle: my body sees and is seen. This is what modernist painters claim, from Cezanne who bloomed in the landscape to Klee who turned the inner, the hidden into visible.
We walk in the streets, travel by trains and cars, watch television. We are always looking at something, and everything is trying to win our gaze. Yet they are empty images, lifeless imitations; the images on billboards, posters and screens have no gaze, they don’t look at us. They have no body.
Painting is body; it carries the painter’s body, the painter’s gaze. This is why the figures of Markidis stare at us persistently, perhaps sadly, revealing final but also consoling things, promising something in the face of death: that our gazes shall live on when the body has turned to vapour, the gazes will be remembered by friends and relatives, by daughters, sons and lovers; questioning and laughing gazes will remain in framed photographs and digital files, intangible collections of physical traces.
Together with the gazes from Fayyum, the gazes of Hegeso, Theano, the Kore of the Acropoli and the gazes of Rembrandt and Cezanne, the gazes in the pictures of Christos Markidis keep us company and keep us alert. They are the gazes of our own dearly departed people.
1. Alberto Giacometti, “Entretien avec Georges Charbonnier”, 1951.
2. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, "Eye and Mind," trans. Carleton Dallery, in James M. Edie (ed.) The Primacy of Perception, Northwestern University, 1964.