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Exhibition of works by Yiannis Gaitis, the ‘radical visionary’ September 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Exhibitions Greece.
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Paintings from all periods of the late artist’s work are presented at the Municipal Gallery of Hania in Crete 

The first thing that springs to mind when thinking about the art of Yiannis Gaitis is the typical, in his work, motif of the male figurine dressed in a suit and a bowler hat. Depicted in profile or frontally and rendered with geometric precision, this motif has been said to express an apprehension for the estrangement and lack of individuality bred by urban, modern life. Although this motif prevailed in the work of Gaitis from the late 1960s to the end of his career, to the point that it became repetitive, it is does not encompass the full work of the artist.

“Yiannis Gaitis: A Radical Visionary” an exhibition on Gaitis being held at the Municipal Gallery of Hania, in Crete, helps provide a broader understanding of the artist’s work by including paintings from different periods in his career. The exhibition is organized by the art collector Costas Ioannidis, 24 paintings are from his private collection, and is curated by Bia Papadopoulou, who is also the author of an informative essay included in the exhibition’s catalog.

In the work of most painters of Gaitis’s generation, figurative work precedes abstraction, the former being characteristic of early work and the latter of a more mature period. The paintings of Gaitis, however, follow the reverse course. After the figurative works dating from the 1940s, examples in the exhibition include “Nude” from 1945, Gaitis moved on to a style influenced by cubism and what Papadopoulou terms “biomorphic surrealism.” The watercolors from the early 1950s as well as a large painting of a biomorphic shape, make evident the strong influence that surrealism had on the work of Gaitis. That impact never went away and can be said to suffuse the later, figurative works with the male figurines.

In 1954, Gaitis moved with his wife, the sculptress Gabriella-Simosi, to Paris. He soon met Jean-Marie Drot, a French journalist, writer and a former director of the French Institute in Athens; their friendship was lifelong.

The work of Gaitis dating from those early days in Paris carries the influence of art informel, an equivalent of American abstract expressionism, and reproduced the eruptive, expressionist style of the movement and the use of heavy layers of paint. Paintings such as “Flower” from 1957 also show the appeal that the work of Thanassis Tsingos, another Greek expatriate in Paris, had for Gaitis.

Like other artists of his generation, Gaitis also made paintings to protest the Greek junta. That was roughly when the motif of the male figure appeared in his work. “The Murder of Freedom”, a large painting from 1968, is an allegorical scene and an outcry against the colonel’s regime.

When the junta fell, Gaitis returned to Greece permanently. The range of his work expanded to include installations, sculptures and happenings. It even extended to the applied arts. One of the most unusual paintings included in the Hania exhibition belongs to the “Antiquities” series that Gaitis began working on in the late 1970s. Inspiration came from scenes found on Attic vases. “Dance Scene” from 1980 is a fine example of the series. It shows the male figure dancing with a female figure of Greek antiquity. It conveys nostalgia for a bygone past and disillusionment with modern reality. As the exhibition shows, these are the kinds of sentiment prevalent in his work, especially that of the later period.

At the Hania Municipal Gallery, Hania, Crete, to November 14.

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