2009 - Nikitas Flessas, “The boundaries of precious”
by Manos Stefanidis
Little by little things ran out of their marrowΙ
what remains of the inner core is a solid white
Yiannis Ritsos, Testimonies, 1974
I am fond of painters who share their obsessions. Painters who keep on returning to the same theme, not in order to achieve perfection Πthis would be naive- but to bring themselves to perfection as much as possible; this means sanctity. For, art itself is some kind of holiness (without, however, the fear of sin). And since sin Πunder certain conditions, that is only when it is animated with unalienated ardor- is a form of holiness. Hence, sin claims the face (and the mask) of art.
These are the thoughts that popped into my mind by Nikitas Flessas’s last ensemble of paintings, primarily because he approaches older subjects with a renewed faith and fried and tested patience. The artist is trying to render visible not reality, but dream. That is, the invisible. Taking after the byzantine masters or the long standing hagiographists (icon painters), who lived and worked at times not at all similar to the modern era of convenience; and who aspired, through micrographic moves of egg tempera, to conquer high ideals and charge their forms with epic dimensions. This is exactly the way that Flessas functions as a painter, presenting his work to us with humble pride. Like an antidote to the prevailing sliminess of our era, the aesthetics of leveling egg tempera’s. Modern mentality may be likened to the tomatoes we eat. They are colorful but tasteless. As for its passions, those can be purchased Πas Tsarouhis mockingly used to say- from a kiosk, i.e. a pack of cigarettes.
Pascal wrote that by gazing at the universe he was looking for the plan of god. Only that we, nowadays, face that plan as a smudge. We, who are the lovers of the mass, lovers of the industrialized and uniformed objects; that are consumed and thrown away guiltlessly, since they can be replaced so easily. But that’s how the uniqueness of things is lost; in other words, their soul. It would be unfeasible for Vermeer to draw his ‘still lives’ today, because he wouldn’t be able to capture the real objects instead of their fake images. Let us not touch upon how difficult it would be for him to find human models, as people nowadays are avoiding more and more to look straight in the eyes, unless they have a motive. And yet, gazes are lacking of expression, like the tomatoes mentioned above. But the deprival of the gaze means deprival of communication, therefore no painting. And if today we are facing a crisis in art, it is because there is a crisis, due to the vagueness or absence of the gaze.
Nikitas Flessas is a painter who defends both the ‘right’ of the gaze, and the value of the true image of people and objects. In his painting, the living and non- living walk hand in hand towards a strict but transparent path, seeking for the essential time that would allow them to live forever. In art generally and in the present works particularly, mortal things contend fiercelyΠor melancholically, said otherwise- their immortality. In This way by going back to test the endurance of his older iconography, the painter resembles to the talented violist who once more performs the favorite piece of his youth. But how profoundly differently changed! In reality, however, a painter is always working on the same painting, and so is a writer on the same book, regardless of titles and publications. In essence, a text or a picture could be our ticket to immortality. Or not.
It has been forty years since Flessas’s first personal exhibition in the “Ethousa Tehnis of Heraklion”. It was then, when he met Thomas Fanourakis and Yorgos Manousakis, who became his mentor for many years. Since then many presentations have followed in Astor (1973), in Ora (1975, 1991), in Kreonidis (1976, 1978), in Argo (1984, 1987), in Agkathi (1985), and since 1993 Flessas has been working with Skoufa Gallery. In addition, he had three solo exhibitions in Thessaloniki, in the well known Cohlias (1979), in Panselinos (1985) and in Ekfrasi (1994). The exhibition in Panselinos, was the reason for Anna Hatjiyiannaki to note in the periodical Zygos Annual edition in 1985: “A creature of two natures (material-spirit)/ holding lilies /is stoically eagerΙand lives in solitude in his leather jackets”.
It was about then that I met Flessas, during the unforgettable Monday evening visits organized by the collector and friend of the artist, the late Kostas Hatjaras, in his welcoming home in Pagrati. This is where I met among others Bost, Rea Leontaritou, Niki Karagatsi, Eva Boulgoura, Mentis’s cousin, Linda Vakirtji, Maria Pop, Petros Zoumpoulakis, Kyriakos Mortarakos, Yiannis Antonopoulos, Eva Mela, Fanis Kouzounis, Diana Antonakatou, Yiannis Migadis.
In 1976-1977, shortly after the dictatorship, I recall a collective exhibition in Plaka in which Yiannis Tsarouhis, Yiorgos Vakirtzis, Niki Karagatsi, Yiorgos Manousakis, Rallis Kopsidis, Adreas Fokas, Filippos Tarlow, Maria Pop, Eva Boulgoura and of course Nikitas Flessas among others took part. “The Painting School of Athens” as Eleni Vakalo used to name the group of celebrated painters mentioned above and a few others such as Kostas Malamos, Ifigenia Lagana or Yiannis Moralis.
Nikitas Flessas described his work in Zygos: “I would name my work as metaphysical realism; through realism I try to express the metaphysical dimensions of thingsΙI’ve always believed and I still do that the human soul encompasses holiness”. Indeed, in Flessas’s compositions live the ghosts of Magritte, as well as those of Thomas Fanourakis in a charming coexistence of local and international, but also the design formalism i.e. the strict discipline of the so called Cretan school of the post byzantine painting. Nevertheless, all these would be just plain chatter if the paintings themselves weren’t inspired by authentic poetic feeling. That is a feeling of grief in a golden backdrop or joyous grief in deep cyan blue. Flessas himself remarks (“NEA”, P. Katimertji, 23.3.96): “The maker realizes true art if he suffers from constantly altering emotions of grief and salvation”. Art is a hard bet, even if it sometimes rewards those who love it. But this is not enough. Art demands that the artist lay down his life and his soul and be completely and utterly devoted. It is only then that the artist’s satisfaction turns into joy for the rest of us.
In 1989-1991 the painter’s research and personal expression changed radically. More mature, the artist proposes solid block color backgrounds that glow with the fiery red of wine, the inner sorrow. Then, the figures emerge celestial, complete in outlines that define the line between dream and nightmare. As if painting draws near the soft touching of the vision.
Art pieces of that notion were exhibited in 1997 in Wigmore Fine Arts Gallery of London and made an impact. Flessas was at the threshold of an international opportunity, however he returned to Greece. Besides, poetry can be easily found anywhere. In his personal moments Flessas himself is an unsuspected poet. In his collection “The Assumption of the Waters” we read:
“I don’ think highly of gods
blossoms that only live for a while I love more
especially those that weep”.
Mostly because, one would add, tears are often the boundaries in the lake of preciousness; a sea in which only the initiated could travel.
August 24th 2009