Paintings, 1997-2003 – Foundation for Hellenic Culture, New York – 05/02/2003-05.04/2003
”Portraits and Nudes”
The Foundation for Hellenic Culture is pleased to present a retrospective exhibition of works of one Creece’s most talented young painters, George Rorris. The director of the well-known Athens gallery, Medusa, Mrs. M. Demetriades, will be present on the opening night. The exhibition will open on Thursday, February 5, 2004, at 7 pm, and will be on view until March 5, 2004 (Monday through Friday, 9:30 am – 6pm). An illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition. Available subway lines: F,A,C,N,R,4,5,6.
The exhibition has been made possible by the generosity of private collectors who allowed the Foundation to borrow their paintings exclusively for the exhibition in New York. This exhibition is a unique opportunity to experience the connection between works that are otherwise kept in separate private collections.
The director general of Athens’ National Gallery, Prof. Marina Lampraki-Plaka, writes that (Rorris) is ‘‘ … a born painter who represents a style of painting which is facing extinction. Fortunately in Creece there are still quite a few painters who actively and doggedly occupy themselves with the same utopian ideal: they are the turpentine alcoholics, the advocates of a style of painting which transforms the image into living matter, capable of giving, back life and duration to the dead image, capable of trapping in its passions the passions of man, of the painter and by extension of the model and of the beholder’’
Yannis Kontos, the well known poet, writes “the painter works with different techniques: brush, spatulas, rags, crumpled newspaper which he plunges into the paint, the brush handle, nails fingers, etc.” Describing one of the paintings, Kontos writes how “ On a deeper level, the subject of George Rorris” painting is light in all nuances of darkness and surprise, a light that is turned on and off by a child that plays with a light and with our life”.
George Rorris was born in Kosma Kynourias in 1963. He studied painting in Athens from 1982 to 1987. From 1988 to 1991 he was student at Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris with scholarships. He was given the Young Painter under 40 award from the Academy of Athens in 2001. He lives and works in Athens.
About FHC: Founded in 1992 in Athens, the Foundation for Hellenic Culture is a nonprofit organization, which presents and disseminates Greek culture and language on an international level.
Today, with several branches around the world, the FHC organizes and supports a vast range of activities including exhibitions, conserts, lectures, film festivals, music and dance festivals. The FHC in New York, with eight years of consistent presence, strives to bring unique programs of Greek artistry, creativity, and spirit to the American public. Join the Foundation for Hellenic Culture in an inspiring journey through the ages of Greek Civilization.
Rorris: Painting 1996-2003.
Foundation for Hellenic Culture, New York City
February 5 – March 5
By JONATHAN GOODMAN
February 15, 2004
In a short but effective catalogue essay, Marina Lambraki-Plaka, director-general of Greece’s National Gallery, begins directly enough with her view of the highly talented Athenian painter George Rorris: according to her, “he represents a style of painting which is facing extinction”. But Rorris’s audience may not necessarily be inclined to agree – it is more a matter of who and what is receiving critical attention rather than a situation in which realist painting is dying out. In America, at least, the tradition of realism, while in straitened circumstances, continues; given our democratic love of pluralism in art, there is the sense that, within a level playing field, almost any style, including traditional figuration, can thrive. Things are different in Greece, perhaps; there may not be the same sense of opportunity, the awareness of open circumstances that would support not only an avant – garde but a style based upon painterly tradition. The good news, then, is that Rorris is an artist of distinctive accomplishment and style, who has chosen to paint friends and family with an exquisite awareness of art history.
But while Rorris is clearly an artist whose approach joins him to an ongoing tradition, he has painstakingly chosen a style that links him to more modern figures, painters such as Picasso, Balthus, and Francis Bacon. Today, the difficulty facing the artist who practices figuration is one of independence and idiosyncrasy-how can an artist like Rorris update the accomplishments of the past, so that he cannot be waved away like some well-intended but fusty scholar, too interested in questions that have been discussed for hundreds of years? I think that for such a painter, it is the idiosyncrasy of the image that counts. If Rorris is not concerned with eccentricity – and his efforts are not oddities – it remains true that he presents a singleness of cause and effect that, striking in their intensity, makes him stand out within his chosen medium. His esthetic is indeed singular. Often the people in Rorris’s paintings seem out of place within a much larger space; they don’t seem diminutive so much as they appeal not to fit in the room or on the chair, such is the subtle discomfort his subjects communicate to us. And in the small rooms in which his themes are played out. Rorris gives himself over to abstract passages, which may be a wall of a room or an efflorescence, apparently unnecessary, of effect.
So it happens that Rorris paintings function in more complex ways than mere representation: they are acts of style that encompass a broader range of effects than what has preceded him. To be sure, much of the interest of his art has to do with the subtle psychological reports he achieves in his work; Rorris has said of his sitters, “My models are not professionals. I need to know their life, their story, their tribulations. A person without a story does not interest me.” In this sense, his language is conservative, entirely intelligible within a historical reading. Bui he quietly complicates the situation in small ways – for example, he will expand a small portrait study by painting the surroundings of a room on panels that are then joined to the core of the painting, so that it is possible to see how Rorris has built up his composition. Doing this has the effect of not only metaphorically but also physically opening up the painting, with the result that the work becomes a treatise that includes the space around the person, as well as the person himself. Rorris may owe these intricacies to Lucian Freud, not a painter mentioned by Lambraki-Plaka in her genealogy of inspiration (which includes such figures as El Greco, Velazquez, and Rembrandt), but conceivably an influence in the general airlessness and claustrophobia that give Rorris’ s work its air of inevitable contemporaneity.
There is a certain grimness that accompanies Rorris’s rigor. In Study for a Portrait of Takis Pitselas (1997), the subject, wearing a rumpled tie and suit, sits in a chair in the left center of the painting. The room is shabby: scuffed linoleum, in an arabesque pattern, covers only part of the floor, while there are signs of use on the walls and door. The essential seriousness of the portrait is intensified by the shabbiness of the sitter’s surroundings; the audience feels as though a certain truth is being witnessed, so intent and intense is the expression on Pitselas’s face. Yet the painting is not only about a person, it is also a brilliant study of an interior, its off-white walls and abstract passage on the far right compellingly beautiful despite the intimations of the wear and tear of time. The painting is also about light, which is suffused through the atmosphere of the bare room. It illustrates the poet Yannis Kontos’s larger point, in his short catalogue essay about Rorris’s body of work: “On a deeper level, the subject of George Rorris’s painting is light. Light in all nuances of darkness and surprise.”
The work, then, is composed of contrasts – light and shadow, intimacy and distance. In the painting Margarita Skarpathiou on a Salmon-Colored Couch (2001), we see a single female figure wearing a burgundy –colored shirt and black pants; she sits on a salmon-colored couch in the center of the picture; panels describing the room surround her as Rorris expands the painting to include more of the interior space. Here, the light matches the pale features of Skarpathiou, who smilingly looks directly back to the viewer. Behind her to the left is a blank wall with some sketchy black lines; to her right is a wall with some unrecognisable pictures pinned to it, next to a window that is above a slate-blue couch. Light rakes over the composition with compelling authority; the central figure is isolated and highlighted by it at the same time. The objectivity of the rendering shapes our emotions to an an extent; we see with a distanced eye the face and figure of a woman in a bare but light-filled room. A similar distance occupies our response to the 1998 painting, Iris Kritikou with Yellow Shoes, in which a somber – faced woman in a print dress sits in the back of a room, an old couch upholstered in blue cloth some few feet away from her. Rorris has focused his attention on the gray-brown floor, and there is an abstract passage on the far right of the painting, but the viewer concentrates on the dour expression of Kritikou, who casts a dark shadow behind her.
Light is also a subject in the Kritikou portrait; the dark floor and wall behind her is lit with a glow that originates in front of the sitter, whose light-colored skin offers tonal contrast. In the two portraits of his sister, one a small study and the other a large interior, Rorris appears to capture another person with a serious, even melancholy mien. The large portrait (1999-2000) is especially powerful: the sister sits in a round-backed chair, in a room characterized by seediness- there is a broken floor, bare wiring, a door in need of a paint job. She throws a wild shadow, in contradistinction to the somber expression she wears on her face. The emotional stoicism is a key part of Rorris’s sensibility. In addition to being a superb craftsman, he is very much a painter of a kind of stoic pessimism, intent on reading the sadness of people’s lives. In his Self-Portrait (2003), perhaps the most complicated painting in the show, there is a voluptuous nude lying on a small red sofa; the light highlights her breasts and things in an otherwise mostly dark work. We see the artist himself in the mirror of a clothes closet; he is a ghostly presence hard to make out, contrasting with the erotic reality of the nude.
In the Self-Portrait, we see the artist at a remove, distanced. Yet the naked woman signals passion and intimacy. It would appear that Rorris is expressing both the anonymity of craft and the deeply personal nature of the theme. Light illuminates the write walls of the room; art makes itself felt in the images pasted on one of the walls. This is a wonderful painting that comes dose to allegory – to a symbolic reading of the artistic life. The artist is a brooding presence whom we do not even directly; the nude, with her open things and thatch of pubic hair, is a siren negotiated by the idiosyncrasies of art. Painting is here not only about the people being represented, it is also its own end, a kind of romantic reading of the erotic possibilities of life. Because he is so sure an artisan, Rorris can capture himself imaginatively from afar. The mystery he addresses, however, is not only esthetic, it is part of life itself. Like the light that emanates throughout these paintings, the riddle of human existence is something told indirectly rather than straight up. Rorris’s subtlety is such that he reads the lives of his subjects by implication; their steadfast silence and melancholy make for highly memorable art.
Jonathan Goodman is a contributing editor to greekworks.com
The passions of man and painting
by Marina LAMBRAKI - PLAKA
Giorgos Rorris represents an endangered species of painter. Happily, Greece still has quite a few artists who persistently serve the same utopian ideal: they are the ‘turpentine addicts’, the disciples of a painting that turns the "vertigo of the visible" into living matter capable of investing the dead image with life and duration, of capturing within its passions the passions of the man, the painter and hence of the model and the viewer. Giorgos Rorris, while still a student under Panayotis Tetsis, surprised us in the mid-80s with his graduation project: his impressive canvases covered with large monochromatic fields captured young girls in unexpected but not accidental poses, into an unusual compositional ‘pagination’. Young Rorris had already revealed his painterly destiny. His first show at the "Medusa" in 1988 did not go unnoticed. Rorris became the focus of the hopes of art lovers who yearned for a rebirth of good old painting in a contemporary guise.
Next came his postgraduate studies in Paris at the École des Beaux-Arts, under the good painter Leonardo Cremonini. Rorris added to his techniques the adventures of the accidental which characterise the poetics of his Parisian teacher. The young artist’s next exhibitions show a crisis in the choice of subjects and the dominant colours in his works. A born painter of figures will never ostracise man from his compositions without a reason. Rorris’s Parisian works explore the uninhabited, bleak world of the studio, with cold and dark colours which detract nothing from the rich quality of his style.
The absence of the human figure continues in the artist’s timid attempts to explore his natural environment, just the garden around his studio at the village in Lakonia where he often goes in order to be alone and paint. A familiar, almost palpable nature where the sun penetrates by breaking through the foliage. No, Rorris is not a born landscapist. This is also evident in his next show at the "Flak" gallery in Paris in 1996, where the subject was the crumbling urban setting around his Athenian studio.
Rorris takes up again the red thread of his artistic destiny with his current exhibition at the "Medusa" gallery. He returns to the familiar space of his studio, to his habitat, where he selects and traps his victims—I mean, his models. I did not use the word ‘victims’ by accident, though; it takes love and patience and faith to go through as many as fifty sittings. "My models are not professionals", confesses Rorris. "I want to know their life, their history, their troubles. I am not interested in a person without history". These are not portraits, they are figures in space. But they are figures with their own identity. The face, often tortured, the gaze and the posture also take part in this confession.
What I have said so far might lead to a misunderstanding, i.e. that Rorris’s expressive considerations have caused a shift from writing to description. The exact opposite is the case: man’s passions are revealed, suggested through the "Passions" of the materials. Giorgos Rorris had good mentors, not just his actual teachers but the others, too, those who now inhabit the Elysian Fields and the great museums. A careful look around the walls of his studio will reveal the figures in his imaginary shrine: Greco, Velasquez, Rembrandt, Picasso, Balthus; Degas and Francis Bacon in terms of spaces; our own Pantazis, Tsarouhis, the early Moralis, and others. It is no accident that all of them belong to the anthropocentric tradition.
At a corner of the studio, from an oblique perspective through the wide-angle lens of the gaze, never that of the camera, in a space which has known many experiences and sufferings, the models of Rorris, seen from afar, sit —how could they stand for two months?— and wait for their painterly ‘confession’ to come to an end. The viewer feels as if entering the space of the painting, walking on the old paint-stained floorboards. The face, the figure, the dialogue with light. The colour, at once rich and subtle, lurks beneath the greys, suddenly to rise to a controlled luminous crescendo, where the green, the red and the yellow find their absolute clarity. The brush strokes are sometimes lightweight, in the shade, and sometimes thick, with tensions and impastos, in the light, in layers ranging from dense to sparse: all the good old recipes of a cordon bleu painting which leaves the palate with an aftertaste of honey.
FIGURES, EVENTS AND INDOOR SPACES IN THE PAINTING OF GIORGOS RORRIS
February - May 2001
The reds, the greys and the in-between ranges of lighting and hues set the pace in the portraits of Rorris. His name has the colour and speed of an image. The figures of the painter are like a deck of cards, you deal and play; you usually lose, but you gain in imagination, time and colour.
The woman in the wooden armchair with the printed dress and the slight sadness in the eyes is lit from both outside and inside. The floor, worn out by strangers’ feet, needs to be removed but still exists. This must be a painter’s studio. It gives out smells and colours. She is looking elsewhere, at the ‘before’ and the ‘after’. I want to penetrate her thoughts. The other woman with the red jacket is sitting on a couch with her fingers knotted, looking her creator in the eye. She is wearing black trousers and a black shirt. Two bottles filled with liquid complete the setting. A beautiful woman is reading before a red background. She is wearing sunglasses and dreams of seas and voices. If she were not enclosed, she would be singing songs about the sea. The colours here whisper and breath serenity, which, however, is about to explode. They are all oils on canvas. The colours are there, but only as traces: ochre, cobalt blue, titanium white, cadmium red, cadmium yellow, ultramarine, carmine, etc. The visual event is depicted in closed spaces. All the portraits are of women—the male presence is suggested by the gasping breaths and the persistent waiting.
A young girl lying on the couch, wearing russet-coloured trousers, naked from the waist up, looking at the wall and the ceiling with her hands behind her head. Here the painter is savage, the oils are in dynamic motion. The room gives a sense of earthquake and excavation, yet at the same time it smells of coffee and nostalgia. Time is omnipresent, always ticking away.
The painter employs various tools: brush, spatulas, rags, newspapers crumpled up and dipped in the paint, nails, the other end of the brush, fingers, and so on. There is also a man with a pale tie, sitting and watching the events of life passing before his eyes like a film. He is wearing a dark suit, his eyes are dark and his dreams crushed. The setting is light brown, suggesting distress. Elsewhere a fat woman is thinking amidst a grey-brown. These closed rooms of the painter’s, with the different figures, wish or attempt to approach time but they get lost. The colours, however, find ways, unfold their story, converse with silence. A young woman, almost a girl, lies sleeping. The floor and the walls have their colours all mixed. The window is blunted by a brown that cuts off all communication with the outside world. The walls hide the din and the ruins. Everything is in place and retains its shape. Antonia is sitting absent-minded before a reed background. From the waist down she fades away. The wall here is a stage set. On a deeper level the painting of Giorgos Rorris is a question of light; light in all grades of darkness and surprise, as in the blinking of a bulb when a child plays with the switch and with our lives.