double portraits
by Polly Hatzimarkou
Art Historian-critic
Curator, Museum of Modern Greek Art

text also available in Greek





oseph Beuys writes: "The most important part of creativity, or rather the truest part of the whole of the concept of creativity is freedom…". Angelos Spartalis lives - by his own choice - away from the bright lights of the capital. Since 1999, when he chose Rhodes as the

place of his residence and creation, he has offered to the island remarkable artistic touches. And I say 'artistic' and not only painting ones, since with the same ease and imagination as well as freedom -in the Beuys sense-, he glides through different artistic fields: painting, installations, video, comics, writing and direction of theatrical poems and performances… Beuys goes on: "The demonstration of the results of the ways in which we put freedom of action to practice is more than mere potential offered to us. We have the duty of showing what we have produced through our freedom…". This Spartalis knows and implements. Either alone or with other artists (often inviting them himself), he exhibits in the most unlikely venues -from the Centre of Contemporary Art of the Museum of Modern Greek Art to bars and art cafes of the city but also outside, in the street -what is shaped in his mind each time, with absolute freedom as his guide. The artistic action in any stage of search, with any means, but also with the aim of communicating with the audience, is for Spartalis an open field.

I have written about him many times. Him being a good partner, my "left" hand in organizing art projects MoTeR 1&2, I have been watching his development and progress closely. I have been watching his viewpoints for life, the process of his thinking and expression, his need for actions and interactions. Always with fresh creative ideas, present at receiving the vibes of our times and with an acute mind, Angelos Spartalis is an artist of … "constant flow".

"Then the white dove with wild teeth
like a dog howled in the night" Miltos Sahtouris, "The dove"

"Double portraits", which are presented in PNYK-ART foundation, are a synthesis of oil-and-collage canvases, micro-sculptures and video. They are plunges into different means of expression from a diving board of plastic ampleness and polyglottism.

The canvases presented remind of a theatre cast. The first leading figure that was created was the left figure for the "Double Portrait of Alkisti Michailidou". Paper, insulating tape and charcoal. Everything on the floor. Then the shaped collage-figure was placed on the canvas and before being glued it was copied -exactly like a dress-making pattern- on the right side. The idea had been born: on the left always the black form, with charcoal, various pieces of paper, cement, cloth, and on the right, the same but reversed form, "white", often unblemished, only oil having been used. Thus, each one of the leading characters of this "cast" displays on the left an assembled, firm and visibly anaglyph representation, while on the right its composition deconstructs itself, adopting bold outlines, large one-colour surfaces or games of the brush that converse with the structure of the left form.

It is not the first time that Spartalis has dealt with the idea of dualism. In his last exhibition in the Centre of Contemporary Art of the Museum of Modern Greek Art in Rhodes, he presented his "Groups". On horizontal canvases, two figures - usually a duet of a masculine and a feminine form - dominated the foreground of the canvas, and in the background a host of scanty human shapes. A little earlier, with generous portions of surrealism, the series "Reflections" presented the central figures fragmented while their projections, through mirrors, camera screens or photos, displayed the same bodies in realistic rendering. Even in his unfinished series "The Game of the Century", with chess as its theme, the search into the following conjunctions remains the same: white - black, being - being seen, reason - myth, original - replica, accidental - intentional, beautiful - ugly* (non-shaped), comic - dramatic… The two poles of a situation, "the duality of human reality" similar to yin - yang philosophy or Eliot's alter ego when, in "The Waste Land", he writes: "When I count, there are only you and I together / But when I look ahead up the white road / There is always another one walking beside you / Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded / I do not know whether a man or a woman / But who is that on the other side of you?"

The violence of serenity or vice versa? Nothing is what it seems. Nothing in the artist's work is one-sided or with a one-way meaning. All things converse in interweaved successions of multilateral "readings" and images.

I mentioned before that the canvas heroes of the "Double Portraits" series remind of a theatre cast. Through their given roles and qualities (e.g. tree, jack-in-the-box, child with dog and ballons, drummer, Don Quixote…) Spartalis alludes to a story. The internal tension of the canvases finally manifests itself in the "Monocycle" video, which in fact causes the stitching of the myth. And the myth is rendered after appropriating the idea of the typical fairy-tale: strange beginning, adventurous middle, redemptive ending. I would say that the characters are as if playing in a digital Shadow Theatre. They stand facing the viewer or, often, with their profile turned to him, with one-colour substitutes of the classical stretched "cloth" in the background, exactly in the way the big family of Karagiozis** stand in the acetylene light of the traditional stage. The …stick and handle may be missing in Spartalis' works, but his flat heroes - anthropocentric or not - bear similar associations in terms of both construction and morality. From the first decades of the turbulent 20th century, when the popular Karagiozis appears, we come to the beginning of the 21st century when, in his own way, Spartalis and the Karagiozis-like replica "Monocycle" (a persona of the artist himself?) venture to mutate the bittersweet feeling of our childhood heroes. Moreover, the new version includes elements from the aesthetics of video games; that is the game levels and "lives" until the "game-over", that is, the end of the life cycle. After all, in Adorno's words, "art is a promise of happiness which is constantly denied".

From the stillness and solitude of the canvas to the video that unites the figures and transforms their secret energy to motion. A theatre presentation of the painting representation. For a few minutes and in two dimensions the characters come to life, talk, move, fall in love, get threatened, overcome or create hurdles, combining - here is dualism again - humour with drama (just like the stories of Karagiozis, this "tornado of denial", as he was called by Tsarouchis ).

The second video, titled "Birds", follows a similar pattern but with a different 'technical' approach. Instead of the former combination of painting and technology, here we have an incorporation of micro-sculptures and technology. With allusions to the first animation short films, where everything is directed and built still by still without digital interference or editing (e.g. Norman McLaren's work), the new adventure of "mixed technique" brings a pleasant surprise. This time the new "characters" consist of dismantled ready-mades and ceramic "double" elements. With screws, nails, metal spares, plastic objects and electronic parts as primary material, Spartalis mobilizes a "robotic sculpture" to the service of a peculiarly ecological tale. "Now I'll read you a story. Once there was a forest that had no birds, no trees, it was empty. One day…", says the voice of the little girl who starts to unfold the childlike story of "Birds", a small adventure of consciousness raising. Symbolic heroes are the "woodcutter-robot", the "hunter-scorpion", the "storm-man" represented by the artist himself, but also "the most beautiful tree in the world" and the revolutionary "birds" that distribute poetic justice, in an organic scenery with very few structural elements. "When the enemy takes us aback, we must take him aback", Sun Tzu writes in the book "The Art of War". In a similar fashion and through witty conceptions and reversals, small battles are given, aiming at the re-mapping of the relations between the environment, technology and society.

A storyteller via the fine arts, Angelos Spartalis, draws together wall-mounted paintings, three-dimensional sculptures and videos -their respective digital metaphors- with heretical piety. "Double Portraits" are a shell of continuous experimentations, disparate cohabitations and images that depose stupefied artistic nomadism. It is all freedom's fault….

*The Greek word for "ugly" is "asximos", a compound of the particle "a-" meaning "without" and "sxima" meaning "shape".

**In the Greek version of the Theatre of Shadows, Karagiozis is the central character of the stories, representing the common folk: a poor, hunchbacked and ugly fellow, silly and cunning at the same time. He is in constant collision with everyone and everything unjust, always trying to get through difficulties, often committing hilarious pranks. The performances of the stories also came to be called "Karagiozis" after him.

Polly Hatzimarkou

December 2003...........


Text translated by Tatiana Stavroulaki
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