Paintings, 14/11/2000 – 13/01/2001
14 November 2000 – 13 January 2001
TA NEA, 22/11/2000
by Haris Kambouridis
Ostentatious use of old techniques, an atmosphere of brown colour, subjects which lament the lost bourgeois world and exalt the melancholy vision. The well-designed forms and figures are accompanied by deliberate drippings of colour or some thinning which professes to negate the carefully designed forms. No concerns are expressed, no process of solution-seeking is recorded, the fate of art or the world is ignored. Yet of this exhibition of Giorgos Rorris (b. 1963) we had expected a dynamic answer to the languor of the painters’ group in which he belongs, not just a brilliant painting machine without concerns for carving new ways, without a new outlook. This may be asking too much of this talented young painter, but the innately aged art of painting is in urgent need of renovation.
That’s what we wrote about the painter many years back, at a time when the conflict between “canvas-and-brush painting” and “painting with real materials” was in full swing. At that time the latter school seemed more fruitful and up-to-date, the former more conservative and out-of-touch. Many things have changed since then, in both art and our gaze. The realism of actual materials lost its lustre, as we realised that tangible objects are also goods from a programmed production line, products of intellectual design and therefore equally ‘guilty’ of deceptive representation. At the same time, two-dimensional painting found an ally in the computer screen, which concentrates the two-dimensional surface as a universal field of recording.
So Rorris’s new exhibition at the “Medusa” comes at a time when traditional-media painters have won over the collectors and the market, enjoying the full support and promotion of Ms. Μ. Lambraki–Plaka, although not the acquiescence of other art critics, if you discount our own hermeneutic interest. This painter and a few others (like Chr. Bokopoulos, Ε. Sakayan, Ir. Iliopoulou, Τ. Missouras) is called upon to supply the prestige necessary for this ‘movement’ to be seen as the dominant Greek art among the mainstream young generation, not merely a “hit team from the Athens School of Fine Arts”. Does he succeed?
Let us say this in advance: This is a great exhibition, it raises the standards very high, we shall remember it for a long time. Not, of course, because it shows portraits of people in the artist’s studio and therefore is, according to Ms. Lambraki, “anthropocentric” —but isn’t this true of every human creation?— and certainly not because “Rorris selects and traps his victims in the closed, familiar space of his studio” and uses them as an excuse for demonstrating painting techniques. The splendour of these paintings lies in that for the first time the subjects and the delicate visual pirouettes annul themselves, shed their material aspect, turn into colourful energy.
Our gaze forgets that these are man-made paintings, bypasses the control mechanisms of space and outlines, becomes a tool of mediation for inner processes which lead us to seeing with the eyes of the soul, as if the paintings were created by “incorporeal handiwork”, like religious paintings.
Rorris has a deep intellectuality, reminding me of Ν. Gyzis in his late years. He sees an idea platonically before turning it into two-dimensional reality, into forms of objects or people. His subjects are secular, but first he examines the initial divine inspiration and then he depicts them. This is idealistic painting beyond the usual norms of quality. It lends itself more to reverence or exclamations of admiration than critique.
Rorris the sensitive
by ΝΙΚΟS G. XYDAKIS
It is seven years since Giorgos Rorris’s last solo exhibition in Athens. An outrageously long time by today’s norm of over-exhibiting and over-producing. Still, Rorris is a painter, and painting is usually a slow process. It can be neither produced nor assimilated in a hurry. In the case of the so popular 37-year-old Rorris, this slowness is not only commercially outrageous but shows that he was looking for something. I think he found it: not the Solution, of course, but the courage to continue his quest. Let me explain:
Rorris started as a prodigy. A painter loved by painters, master of tones, sensitive maker of images, with both realistic and post-impressionistic qualities. He gradually abandoned the human figure and tried his hand in landscape painting through an academic approach to light and detail, first on rural and then on urban subjects. Yet I think his sensitive, instinctive nature did not flourish in that area and that approach, and now he returns to the human form.
His return is marked by a change in manner: he becomes a rugged, dramatic realist, losing himself in the tonality, the impastos and the layers as the hand struggled to keep up with the restless gaze.
Some of his portraits are exquisite, especially the smaller ones where there are none of the problems of composition which lurk in some of his larger canvases. In his “Study for the portrait of Theodora R.”, for instance, or in the “Woman on a pink background”, the whole work is the background, the daubing and the tonal changes, the cold body on the adjacent cold background which gets warmer towards the ambit, hovering between pink and almond green, warm and cold, light and darkness. The exit from the hovering is through tonality, passages and mutual infringement. Thus he places a small light on a leg or on a door handle, some rouge on the lips, a spot of blood in a strategic, unexpected place, organising and condensing the overall narrative.
Doubt and trial
His whole painting is his doubt and his trial. It is what he is looking for, not what he has decided in advance. His power lies in the muddying of the paint, the seemingly unruly gesture, the fleeting, almost shy depiction of female sensuality (as in the humid, sensual “August – September”). The power of Rorris is not inventiveness or originality: it is his excavation of tradition — Rembrandt, Velasquez, the ‘swift’ brush stroke, the pleasure of going from one material to another. In a time of shallow iconolatry or facile iconoclasm, the undecided, accomplished painting of Rorris raises him even higher in our eyes (Medusa).
I didn’t know him. I went to “Medusa” the day the exhibition was coming down. I just had time to see women in acrobatic, enigmatic, sensual postures, women deep in a thick Pompeii red. The works kept passing before me like half-packed furniture in a house-moving operation — a house where I would love to lock myself in, swallow the key and not come out until they would have to carry me out. I was mad with rage. At the time I kept writing autistically in my journal: “You have to write a book”. I didn’t speak to him. I went back home. I got drunk with cognac, threw up, cried, had a row with myself. Years later, the precious woman I was living with at the time introduced us. In the meantime I had published some of that plague which had eaten me up inside. It was from him that I heard perhaps the best compliment about my novel: “I kept reading it to my grandmother all summer”. From then on we met by chance here and there. Giorgos embraces and kisses you like a Russian: he squeezes you as if he is seeing you for the last time.
Across the street from his studio there is a machine shop and a brothel. A bowl of tomatoes was left to sun-dry on the window sill. As soon as I walked into the room where he paints he turned the canvases face down, like punished children. He served me orangeade on a tray, explaining that it was a hang-up from the time he used to work in his father’s café-restaurant.
Well-known works by Velasquez, Picasso, Tsarouchis, Lucien Freud cut out from magazines. A picture of his sister. Giorgos with a huge head and a swollen foot. A touching photograph of Renoir. These few pictures relieve the solitude of the walls and keep the painter company. “In my father’s store there were only three lithographs of birds, torn from American hunting magazines. Which is probably why the first work I ever made was a panther”. A panther on the mountains of Arcadia in the 1960s, I pondered as he began to turn his works face up. One by one. Small heads, busts, large compositions.
An Albanian charwoman, a glass manufacturer, various friends and, of course, his sister. These are the models in his new show. He rarely paints the women he has gone to bed with. “Who has the patience to sit immobile for forty, forty-five days?” he retorts when I question him about it.
On a small notepad I copied straight from his lips: “I hate theatrical lighting”. “I never interfere with the way my models dress or pose”. “I am not interested in the place I am working in if there is no human presence”. “The objects are silent beings”.
I made it clear from the outset. I am going to write from the viewpoint of one who pours his soul on paper. The analogy here is as follows: Can one sit in his study and keep writing stories which all take place strictly within the study? More to the point: Can one make his friends (or passers-by) sit before him and keep urging them to describe the folds of the curtains, the grain on the wood of the bookcase, the sag in the armchair, the shadows of the pencil on the glass top of the desk, the texture of the walls of his sanctum? Can this be his poetics? What is it that obsesses this writer? Is he blind and doesn’t know it? Does he get his kicks from hearing his visitors describe every detail of the place where he spends most of every day? Does he treat the narrators of the most intimate room in his life as the characters in a deliberately unfinished book?
Every art has its own secrets. And painting has a long tradition in the depiction of studios. It is, of course, no accident that most of the painters who torment Rorris (Velasquez, Rembrandt, Bacon, Bouzianis, Tsarouchis) have left many examples of this practice.
Yet the crucial question is what ‘narrative’ and pictorial elements the painter brings from the life outside in here, in the neglected neoclassical house of Trofoniou Street. Whether Rorris knows or senses this, in any case he demonstrates on the canvas that the way to surpass a given measure is not by denying it —the royal way— but by its perverse, sleepwalking, raving acceptance.