From Neo-Romantic poetry to ‘Greek-style’ painting: Kostas Ouranis’ Apodimies illustrated by Spyros Vassiliou

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2015 (EN)
Από τη νεορομαντική ποίηση στην ελληνοκεντρική ζωγραφική. Οι Αποδημίες του Κώστα Ουράνη διά χειρός Σπύρου Βασιλείου (EL)
From Neo-Romantic poetry to ‘Greek-style’ painting: Kostas Ouranis’ Apodimies illustrated by Spyros Vassiliou (EN)

Κοσμαδάκη, Πολύνα

Δεν παρατίθεται περίληψη στα ελληνικά. (EL)
The collection Apodimies [‘Migrations’] (1953) contains 26 of Kostas Ouranis’ poems, which originally appeared in various periodicals.  The poems were only published as a collection after the poet’s death.  The version, which we shall examine here, is a unique manuscript example dating to 1943, written and illustrated by the painter Spyros Vassiliou.This version of Apodimies, hand-crafted by that “most Greek of artists”, as Vassiliou is often called, acts as a starting point from which come to foreground problematical issues relating to the development of a vocabulary of Greekness and of the ‘back-to-our-roots’ tendency. At the same time, it tells us about the work and the attitudes of the two artists during the German Occupation, as well as giving us a chance to deal with the broader question of the relationship between word and image.More specifically it allows us to examine the way in which Vassiliou attempts to give the manuscript a seamless style, corresponding to the nostalgic atmosphere of the poems but distinctly Greek in character; how he appropriates the ‘codes’ of the text  in order to move from existential angst to the culture-specific display of epic home-coming which every return to traditional values imposes.  In addition, the context in which the manuscript was created is explored, as well as the camaraderie between the two artists in the intellectual arena of the magazine Nea Estia, where they took part in a shared quest for ways of embracing Modernism and creating a Greek identity in art. During the period of the Nazi Occupation the magazine also provided a focus for their efforts to bolster the nation’s morale.The clandestine printmaking and hand-written documents of  the Resistance movement gave Vassiliou the opportunity to work out a vocabulary of the aesthetics of Greekness more systematically. In Apodimies, as in his other manuscripts from the years 1942-1943 (The Akritika by Angelos Sikelianos, 1942, Mesa apo ta teichi by Sotiris Skipis, 1943 and Drakoyenia by Ayis Theros, 1943, as well as his Illustrated Manuscripts (pamphlets with extracts from literary works of a militant nature) we find the concentrated results of his ongoing research into the roots of Greek tradition combined with elements from sources studied earlier in his career: icon painting, Byzantine manuscripts, folk art, nautical iconography.  Thus in illustratingApodimies, as his writings confirm, he fulfilled two interconnected desiderata which he considered equally urgent at that time: supporting the Resistance with his painting and creating a vocabulary for ‘Greek’ art.  Moreover, the rediscovery of a folk tradition in the context of a socially exigent form of realism (as expressed for example in the work of Tassos and Vallias Semertzidis) and the abandonment of the drive to get up-to-date with modern art signal on the one hand the continuance and strengthening during the Occupation of the ‘intellectual nationalism’ of the thirties and on the other the shift in the leftist intellectuals’ focus towards the folk tradition and the demand from late 1934 onwards for a form of ‘national art’.Seen in this light, as an example of book illustration following the ‘thirties’ trend for ‘Greekness’ and consequent developments in the forties, Vassiliou’s manuscript edition is enlightening. It tells us about the role which the illustration of literature played in the debate about tradition and in the parallel development of art, literature and associated thinking; it is an example of the way in which the conditions under the Occupation proved decisive in giving direction to the work of many artists, who had hovered between various idioms up till then. And it gives us the opportunity to observe the process of shaping an archetypal vocabulary for the arts in which Greeks could recognize themselves, as well as ways of embracing (in this case Neo-Romantic) poetry from this new aesthetic perspective.  The reverberations from these issues continued to resonate intensely, influencing the direction which at least one tendency in Greek art was to take in succeeding decades. (EN)


Μουσείο Μπενάκη (EL)
Benaki Museum (EN)

Περιοδικό Μουσείο Μπενάκη



Μουσείο Μπενάκη / Benaki Museum (EL)

Μουσείο Μπενάκη; Vol 7 (2007); 137-155 (EL)
Mouseio Benaki Journal; Vol 7 (2007); 137-155 (EN)

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