The Sotiris Felios Collection – Giorgos Rorris: “The Hidden Image”
16 Fokionos Negri
Organised by: “The other Arcadia Foundation”
Opening: Wednesday, 3 February at 8 p.m.
On Wednesday 3 February 2016, at 8 p.m., an art exhibition with the works by Giorgos Rorris in the Sotiris Felios Collection will be inaugurated at the art space “16 Fokionos Negri”.
These 33 works, which date back to 1990 until the present day, constitute a group highly representative of the artistic route of Giorgos Rorris (b. 1963), one of the very few painters working with a model today. The thread connecting the works in the “16 Fokionos Negri” show also offers the possibility for one to discern the glance of the collector who distinguished them by meeting the gaze of the painter from the first steps of his painting to this day.
The structure of the show, which essentially constitutes a brief retrospective of all the oeuvre of Giorgos Rorris, follows a loose chronological itinerary. The main aim of this presentation is, however, to bring forward the common quests running through Rorris’ subject matter, which constitute the deeper features of his painting: the early interiors, his first urban and rural landscapes, the still lifes, the world of the studio, the dressed and the nude model, the adding of canvases to the original canvas of each work, the importance of space, faith in realism and at the same time a connection to abstraction, the rendering of the visible through an insight coming from the soul and transcending the field of reality, are some of the aspects of Giorgos Rorris’ work on which this exhibition concentrates.
The exhibition is curated by art historian Elizabeth Plessa, who is also the editor of the exhibition catalogue, while the show’s architectural design is due to architect Stamatis Zannos.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated, bilingual (Greek-English) catalogue, which includes texts by Sotiris Felios, Elizabeth Plessa, Michel Fais, Giorgos Rorris, as well as photographs of the artist and his studio by Jean-François Bonhomme.
Elizabeth Plessa notes in her text:
If a portrait is the struggle with the rendering of the visible against the ravages of time, then everything in Rorris’ work is a portrait, since for him, the painter is the “interpreter of the visible”. His models are not only the human figures posing on the stage of his studio. It is no less the tin barrel of his first exhibition, the heads of carcasses and the fruit in his still lifes, the orange trees of the landscapes, the old motorcycle, that has a name like all his women models, the neighborhood garage, the furniture of the studio, the reflection in the mirror, the objects placed on the small coffee table, the desolate walls, the cliff-like staircase, the dirt yard in Kosmas and the wooden floor in Trofoniou Street, the glows and the shadows, the outside and the inside exactly the same. Rorris’ model is whatever his gaze pins and brings it as a protagonist onto his canvas.
Michel Fais writes in his text:
The space, the visual space, is something to be conquered. Rorris, as a captive of the visible, is in urgent need of models – relatives’ faces or young girls – who pose for months in front of him and at some point end up ignoring his gaze, his presence, until they lose the weight of their existence, of their shape, of their self-image, until they transubstantiate on the canvas.
This explains why a model for Rorris is the agent of the visible – an informal psychic who recalls the “scent of things”, as Cézanne would say.
Obsessed with images, Giorgos revolves around, makes numb and finally pierces the meaning of representation which is drawn to the realism of desire rather than that of the object. For that reason he immerses himself in the molecular structure of things, where the only things present are premonitions, shadows of shadows, the erasure of sound.
TOURS TO THE EXHIBITION AND PARALLEL EVENTS
Giorgos Rorris will be hosting 3 tours of the exhibition, on the following dates:
Saturday, 13 February at 12.30 p.m.
Saturday, 27 February at 12.30 p.m.
Sunday 20 March at 12.30 p.m.
Also, in the context of the exhibition, a series of events will be taking place (conversation with the artist, round-table discussion et al.), whose exact programme and details will be announced shortly.
Admission free of charge
Wednesday – Friday: 6-9 p.m.
Saturday: 12-8 p.m.
Sunday: 12-3 p.m.
Closed: Saturday 12 March & Sunday 13 March 2016
16 Fokionos Negri
Tel. +30. 2108824681
Giorgos Rorris: The Sanctity of Nudity
The 52-year-old visual artist opens his studio to ΒΗΜΑgazino and talks about the female figures in his paintings, the sacred images of nudity and the experiences that shaped his gaze
“I’ve been painting for 25-30 years, and if you had asked me earlier I couldn’t tell you what moves me. To be honest, though, what I’ve painted shows that I am moved by people in the house, in an almost empty setting”, the artist confesses. Photo: Andreas Simopoulos
The house seemed abandoned. I walked around it twice to make sure I was at the right place. When Giorgos Rorris came to the door to show me in, with his slightly tousled hair and his eyeglasses he looked as if he had emerged from the depths of another world, from the labyrinthine lab of a studious scientist. As I walked in, the smell of turpentine hit me in the face. While settling down at the small table with my papers and tape recorder, I took in the walls of the studio. They were full of splashes of colour, like scars from the battles that Rorris waged with the paintings he has created in the 20 years or so that he’s been here. An ‘explosion of creativity’, I would call it, only my gaze has already shifted elsewhere, influenced perhaps by his so human nudes from the Sotiris Felios Collection which are to be exhibited at ‘16 Fokionos Negri’ — i.e. the reason for this meeting. My eyes had fallen on a postcard which centred on the derrière of a woman whose posture exacerbated the presence of some merciless cellulite on her ample backside: a rare, if not nonexistent, sight in the world of faultless beauty projected all around me every day. “What a great work!”, the 52-year-old Giorgos Rorris agreed with me: “It is a painting by Felix Valloton and it is a masterpiece. It is like sculpture…”
When you were growing up in the village, what captured your imagination most? “I loved books from a young age. We had no books at home, but when I was about 16 I started saving my pocket money and sending 150 drachmas to a fellow villager who worked at Protoporia, and he’d send me books. He sent me Faulkner, Balzac… Later I read issues of Epikaira and Anti, and I loved the reviews. I had never been to the theatre, never seen an exhibition in Athens, which I only visited to go the ophthalmologist, but I used to read about all this from afar and picture it in my mind.”
Your parents ran a taverna. Was it hard for you to find the path you followed? “The school at Geraki, Laconia gave me an adequate education, and my subsequent studies sharpened my curiosity. With hindsight, however, I realise that a taverna gives you lots of images and transformations of things. My mother and father would take primary materials, which came in abundance, and transform them into delicious dishes. They put their passion into it. It is passion you put into painting, too. For a painting to be made the colour must die, because the mission of painting is to abolish the primary, mundane property of the objects. Similarly, in the tavern the raw materials were killed, altered, cooked, turned into something else. And then there were the images, because a taverna entails a carcass as well. I have painted three carcasses and the image does not freak me out, although I wouldn’t want to go to the slaughterhouse itself.”
And when did you realise you had a talent? “I knew I could turn my hand to it, but I didn’t know how well I could do it. My world was narrow, I lived between two mountains — Parnon and Taygetos. This is not necessarily a restrictive universe; it allows your imagination to travel. But I didn’t have enough imagination to see myself studying at the School of Fine Arts. I may have wanted it, but I wouldn’t allow myself even to dare imagine it.”
How did you decide it? “It was when a teacher of mine urged me to take the exam for the School of Fine Arts. The next day, when I phoned them from the village’s single telephone, my heart was beating very strongly. It felt like I was ringing my destiny. But when I got to Athens and went to the preparatory school, I took a look at the walls and said, ‘that’s what I want to do’. It was good luck and a blessing, because I do what I always wanted.”
What did you imagine you would become when you were little? “Nothing in particular. Teacher? Doctor? Learn a trade at Sivitanidios School [technical education school], along with so many kids of my generation? Some went into heating, some into elevators, others became plumbers. I wanted to go to the School of Fine Arts, and I strove to get in. Other than that, I believe that psychologically painting was seen by my unconscious as a vehicle for escape — both literally and metaphorically. It was later that I realised what a major and important chapter my childhood and its images were, and how they influence the aura of the works I make. Paint alone won’t make you a painter.”
In the persons you paint, do you want to convey their ‘landscape’ or their inner worlds, their depth? “I cannot answer with any certainty about the latter. I believe that up to a point it has to do with the subject’s depth or shallowness, but more than that it is about my own depth or shallowness. I have neither the ability nor the knowledge to do a ‘psychographic study’ in my portraits, as it is often rashly said. Even Rembrandt’s portraits, where one feels the subjects to be reflective, sensible, introverted, they cannot possibly be. It is his own soul that is externalised. That’s why he paints. That’s what I believe.”
Aren’t you interested in the truth of the person before you? “I am not interested in what things are; I have no aspiration to philosophise with my works. I am interested in how things look, the way I perceive them. And of that, what really interests me is what I lack. For I am convinced that if you practise art you have something missing, something deep and essential. If you lack nothing you don’t need to make art, because if you do you will inevitably suffer great pain and bitterness: you will always come against the spectre of your failure to make what you see and which you can never approach. To take it a bit further, a painting ultimately is what you managed to make from what you managed to see. It has nothing to do with what it is. That’s why I often say it is all a ‘performance’.”
So what you see is never conquered? “Never. I’m always left with the feeling I failed again.”
Why do you talk so much about your inability and failure? “I have often had this feeling of insignificance before the great works I have seen, and to me it was liberating. I have never, ever experienced any sense of equality before masterpieces like Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks, i.e. a work that so fully answers my own questions and the deficiencies I feel I have. First of all, the material possibilities I have are not the same as in another time, when man was closer to nature and determined the entire corpus of his art himself. Because after all painting remains a physical condition, and strangely enough the terminology we use to describe it is similar to that of the body. We talk about ‘the flesh of painting’, the ‘painterly body’, the ‘skin of the painting’. No matter what you paint, what you do is to externalise your desire in a tangible way.”
What kind of desire is this? “It is a desire you cannot resist when the phenomenon before your eyes fascinates you. It is above all a desire to get to know it; you tell yourself, ‘what is it that moves me, fascinates me?’ To get your answer, the painting needs to be made.”
So, what moves you is people… “Yes, I want to paint people. I believe that if one were to seek a trace of political stance in what I do, it is that by painting a specific person you monumentalise the face of man. We see the Renaissance paintings and we can almost picture Rome from the countless portraits that era has left us. So by painting a person you paint an era, a class of people, and you retrieve from anonymity the individual, the user, the customer, the voter, as we are all described every day”.
Yet more specifically you are moved by women. I’ve read that when you were young you fantasised about becoming a painter and flirt with your model. “I had seen this photo, most probably in Tachydromos, of a painter and his model, a beautiful young woman lying down. I was 16 at the time, still at the village, and I thought ‘Wow, is that how it is for painters?’”
Does this picture correspond to the truth? Is the painter in search of his muse? “No, I have nothing to do with this picture. I am interested in painting the portrait of the Greek woman, the woman of my time and the way the traces of History are inscribed on her body. I mean piercing, for instance. I believe that if this was the ‘50s, we would be entirely different — I as a man, you as a woman. We would occupy space in a different way, and even our voices would be different. I remember an interview by Kotopouli I once heard on the radio: the way they spoke, both she and the interviewer, was a lot different. It was pompous, it came from afar. It would seem almost absurd for me today to have a girl pose the way Yannis Moralis used to stage his nudes. For the woman I’ll paint today does not have the same aura, the same expression. Her bathing suit leaves different traces on her body. But what is painting, you may ask — Anthropology? Perhaps. But it’s not just that.”
What is it, then? What more does your work offer compared to a photograph, for instance? “The outcome we see in my work is the product of successive changes, erasures, destructions, rejections. This is because the reality before you keeps changing, and you are changing day by day, and things you liked when you’d started the work are revised. To our eyes the world is pulsating; we could say that the spirit comes out through the eyes and takes a stroll among things. Photography is what your eye is not: a mechanical gaze which provides an image that represents a frozen moment of the past, a past forever monumentalised. If you look at one of Nadar’s photos from the late 19th century it will seem old, won’t it? If you see a Van Gogh painting from the same time, will it seem equally old?”
Not necessarily. But why is that? “My answer is this: Given that painting preserves intact the impulse that guided the hand to perform this act, it remains an eternal present. It may look old because of the image, but the act, the gesture, is ever present.”
Nevertheless, painting is dismissed as an art of the past which cannot express today’s concerns and anxieties. “But it is an art of the past. Along with sculpture, it is the oldest, the most elderly art. As painters who walk into the studio every day and stand before the painting, we do nothing different than what Rembrandt, Giotto or Cimabue did.”
So why does it concern our time? “In our time it is not the arts and letters that rule; it is technology, research, and so on. I don’t think there is any art that concerns our time. Even in the cinema, none of the films produced with the aid of all this technology moves me in the same way as Bicycle Thief or a Charlie Chaplin or Fritz Lang film. And we are talking about a modernist art, since all other arts are ancient: dance, theatre, music. Of all these, why is it painting that must be seen as dead and obsolete? Who imposes this ‘must’? On the other hand, let’s not fool ourselves; I know that I am trying to speak with a severed tongue. I have questions about the material condition of this art to which I cannot get an answer.”
Why do you continue to paint? “With painting you try to erect a small obstacle to the advent of death — to perishability. As Leonardo da Vinci writes in his Treatise on Painting: ‘Painter, paint well; leave no defects in your work, because while you will die and turn to dust, your work will not perish but will forever display your deficiency’.”
And you express this “deficiency” by painting nudes in the last twelve years. What John Berger in Ways of Seeing calls “nude” versus “naked”. In the former case you become an object of art, in the latter you are yourself. I am not sure if the distinction is equally clear in Greek… “In Greek we would say ‘unclothed’, ‘bare’, ‘naked’ — and then there is ‘the nude’; in painting, the nude is in the neutral gender. You wouldn’t say ‘I am painting a naked woman’ — much less ‘a bare woman’. The word ‘naked’ might imply shame: ‘Someone saw me naked, and I was ashamed’. Yet the girl who poses is not ashamed. Is she shameless? No.”
What liberates her from shame? “She realises, protected as she is by her immobility, that she is covered by the innocence of her nudity. You know, a young woman once told me, ‘I can pose, but I must have something on; my underwear, at least’. She didn’t realise that this would be worse. It is in concealment, in suppression, in prohibition that sexual fantasy resides. Besides, to the painter’s eyes human nudity must be like a revelation. In an age when the nude human form is so heavily commercialised and vulgarised, what else remains? Only painting; a painting in which one will seek sacred images of nudity. Western man has often used a nude human form to depict God. In many major works of painting — Crucifixion, The Descent from the Cross — or much earlier, in Olympia or the Parthenon, the bodies were nude.”
So you try to purify the nude body? “I am not saying I want to do religious painting. There are also some nude images that every person aware of his destiny as both artist and human ought to take into account. They are the images of the naked people found at the death camps. This saying of Adorno, about how can one write poetry after Auschwitz, I apply to my own art, too: ‘After these images, how can you paint a nude?’ It is very hard.”
And how do you go about it? “Look, a painter of nudes paints lots of others things as well. He paints the natural phenomena but also their mental implications. You paint limbs, thighs, bones, a person’s state of fitness, the ravages of the body but also the tiredness, the gravity, the latent eroticism. The nipples, the breasts, the texture of the skin, the perspiration, the oiliness — all these are part of man’s existence. They are not just a question of good draughtsmanship. You must love them for what they are, reject none of them, and above all have a feeling for them. They must be born within you so that they can be externalised on the canvas. Many people believe that painting with a model is a simple thing; you just take things from here and convey them there. Nothing could be farther from the truth.”
What is the truth, then? “A painting is created with spots of colour. It is a map of abstract assemblages, because as it begins everything is completely abstract and chaotic, but gradually they come together to create what we call the ‘total visible’.”
How does this “total visible” end up being more than a record of reality? “The painting I love most, what we call ‘great painting’, is not so much about things but about their aura; about what’s happening at their borders — and I’m not talking about outlines. It has to do with small spaces in which a kind of negotiation occurs between things; for instance, between a figure and its shadow. All the great masters — Caravaggio, Velasquez — have arrived each at entirely different solutions to this, which is about something that they did not see, I believe, but they devised it. It was possibly because they reflected deeply upon their own human, finite knowledge and left some room for their ignorance. They said, ‘here is something I cannot discern’. It is not a record of reality: it is a philosophical stance which leaves room to unawareness and the unknown.”
Yet your paintings end up exuding a strong eroticism, which may be so intense because from what you say I understand that this is not your ultimate aim. “Eroticism produces complexity, in the sense that an image is complex when it ‘sits on the fence’, when it is suggestive: it may be this, it may be that. One incredibly complex insinuation is the figure of Mona Lisa, a deeply erotic work. The kind of painting I love is the one that does not give clear answers but triggers questions and conjecture. What human condition can accommodate this? The erotic condition, when one person is trying to guess about another: she told me this, she told me that, why didn’t she call today, how should I take this?”
What urges you to paint a specific woman? “She must have lived her own life, not by proxy through borrowed, television lives. I am interested in the person next door. I need to know the person I’ll paint; the model is not an object but a co-creator. Without my model, I don’t paint”.
Aren’t you interested in ‘beautiful’ women? “You know, beauty is another matter. I am not interested in what is generally seen as ‘beauty’, and I certainly believe that the standards imposed on women, young as well as older, are oppressive. A beautiful woman certainly interests me, but not necessarily for painting her. You paint because you are under the spell of painting, never because you are under the spell of nature.”
Can you distance yourself — aren’t you erotically attracted to your models? “No, because then you cannot paint. If you are attracted, there are forces which are not under your control. You must certainly feel admiration, allure — but that’s quite a different thing.”
Tell me, what do you think your paintings reveal about yourself, about the person behind the painter? “My own paintings interest and preoccupy me while I am working on them. Once the painting is finished, I feel that till then I had been under a protective mantle, an envisioned life, whereas now I am exposed to my ordinary, mundane life. And this life is much harder to deal with. Soon I must start a new work, I must get into the difficulties, the disappointment, the bitterness of having failed once again. But that’s painting.”
“Giorgos Rorris: The Hidden Image”: Fokionos Negri 16, Kypseli, Athens; from Feb 3 to Mar 27. Curator: Elizabeth Plessa.
* The paintings in the exhibition date from 1990 to this day and make up a representative sample of Giorgos Rorris’ work.
* This interview was published in BHmagazino on Sunday, 31 January 2016
Painting is a personal passion about which I can somewhat talk. I find it moving that, through his art and beyond his technique, a painter finds a way to ‘persuade’ me with his intelligence and sensitivity. It is through Elissavet Sakareli that I met Giorgos Rorris after I had previously owned my first painting by him.
If I remember right – it’s been years and years, almost thirty – one of my first thoughts about his painting was that he gave figures a soul.
I really enjoyed the few times when the two of us could have a light-hearted conversation. Giorgos would not judge anyone.
On the contrary, he would empathise with everyone.
He is an intellectual that does not act as one.
Talking with him, you realise that his mind apparatus remains calm when reality happens to become twisted, that is, when it acquires unexpected features; nor does his heart become numb before a disenchantment.
It’s no secret – you can see it almost immediately – that Rorris is a truly knowledgeable person. He knows quite much and has a personal view on many aspects of the human condition. He is reserved, he asks questions carefully, listens carefully and, when he gives, he gives with a warm heart. He speaks of his fellow artists with respect which gives you a clear idea of the deeper need they all share, that they should all be, that they should all thrive.
Rorris shows his work and avoids showing himself. I want to talk in just a few words about how I, myself, can understand the way Rorris puts his heart and mind in his painting.
He is aware that hardly anything can be achieved without hard work. He trusts his mind and his hands. A painting by Rorris reveals Rorris himself.
The way he treats the subject he wishes to paint, when this subject resists him, suggests that he learns more about himself while painting. Perhaps that’s what he tells me when I look at the canvases he adds to a canvas he was painting.
MICHEL FAIS Footnotes on a Gaze
To Elissavet Sakareli 1.
On 12 Trofoniou Street, close to Larissa Station, a two-storey middle-class house built in the 1940s, chosen by Giorgos Rorris as his studio in 1993, one year after he returned from Paris at thirty years of age. A wooden, serpentine staircase with a railing leads to the spacious landing. A sitting room, three bedrooms, a dining room, a utility room, approximately hundred and fifty square metres; high ceilings, with an ornamental plaster ceiling in the dining room, wooden floors in the bedrooms, and burgundy and white tiles in the kitchen. Behind the kitchen, an iron flight of steps ends on a terrace.
Among the very few shaky facts we know about the former residents of this building is that it was a family of four, living with another elderly relative, and a live-in girl to help with housework.
The father may have been a merchant or a civil servant, he may or may not have been aware of the fact that Trofonios, apart from being a legendary architect in antiquity (he was the one who replaced bricks and wood with stone as a construction method), was also a god of the underworld. Maybe, because his name originates in the verb “trefo”, which means to feed (Strabo names him Trefonios), Rorris’ studio is a stone’s throw from brothels (where Aphrodite Melainis takes it upon herself to feed the insatiable flesh), while on the floor below lives a ragpicker who stacks his knick-knacks there (in other words, he feeds on city rags, while, at the same time, above his head the painter struggles to feed the demons of memory and colour).
What I am trying to say is that the space where Giorgos Rorris paints, his isolation ward, where he has spent every living hour in the last twenty-two years, is as immaterial, non-existent and invented as it is existent and mapped out. On the one hand, the wrecked house that drips, rots in mould, falls apart, and on the other, the need of the tenant upstairs to restore, fortify, reinvent it with images, stories and memories – inside and outside the frame.
Before we move on, let us sketch a fragmentary biography of the fifty-two-year-old artist, consisting in gestures inside and outside the canvas, memories, thoughts, and also books or music which keep him company when standing in front of the easel. 2.
The Birthplace Period
“The first image I remember making, not with colours but by scratching the wall until the ochre underneath came out, was a dog’s head. This happened over many nights, as I lay down next to my grandfather listening to his stories from the Asia Minor front where he fought…”
The Athens School of Fine Arts Period Imaginary knowledge of painting through illustrated albums / self-confidence of youth / big canvases / under the influence of Tetsis.
The Paris Period (until 1993) “I closed the shutters and painted in deep darkness…”
Time of mourning / time of going under / time of doubt / under the influence of Cremonini, Lopez Garcia and Botsoglou / Small-scale works, dark.
The Landscape-painting Period (1993-1996)
“I was taking down the paintings from the terrace, tied up with ropes…”
12 Trofoniou Street / Eddy Hopper and Garcia Lopez / urban painting of declined city / Liossia Avenue, garages, brothels, Larissa Station / whatever he spies on from the terrace / and, on the other hand, return to the birthplace / Kosmas of Kynouria / anti-nostalgic, anti-communal, anti-collective gaze / corroded outdoor landscape.
The Studio Period (1997-2001)
“I dared to paint ugly people…”
At the beginning it was quick portraits / as it went on, it was the studio as the psychological extension of the models / Roman portraits and Pericles Pantazis / full-body portraits and busts / relatives posing and models posing, women mainly.
The Period of Painting Nudes (2001-2007)
“The nude in painting is not naked, it is dressed in the garment of stillness and the immaculate coat of nudity.”
Titian, Rembrandt, Courbet, Bonnard, F. Bacon, L. Freud / classical Greek sculpture / broken statues / The Possessed, The Magic Mountain, Moby-Dick, The Man without Qualities, The Sleepwalkers / the Goldberg Variations and Bach’s French Suites / Beethoven’s late quartets.
The Crisis Period (2007-2015)
“After eighteen years I opened the window to the studio to let natural light in…”
Scattered works / withdrawal / Anna Karenina / Searching for Lost Time / the Radetzky March / almost anything by Bernhardt / the Thoughts of Pascal and Marcus Aurelius / the Confessions of Rousseau, Bach and Beethoven / change in lighting / moving the easel to the wooden staircase at the entrance.
An unaccompanied space, when he paints, is unimaginable for Rorris. Hyper-active, he is constantly talking, laughing, listening to music, but has moments of pure self-concentration and absolute silence too. The space, the visual space, is something to be conquered. Rorris, as a captive of the visible, is in urgent need of models – relatives’ faces or young girls – who pose for months in front of him and at some point end up ignoring his gaze, his presence, until they lose the weight of their existence, of their shape, of their self-image, until they transubstantiate on the canvas. This explains why a model for Rorris is the agent of the visible – an informal psychic who recalls the “scent of things”, as Cézanne would say.
Obsessed with images, Giorgos revolves around, makes numb and finally pierces the meaning of representation which is drawn to the realism of desire rather than that of the object. For that reason he immerses himself in the molecular structure of things, where the only things present are premonitions, shadows of shadows, the erasure of sound. Yet this happens in the most clear-cut, robust, material, corporeal fashion. It’s got nothing to do with symbolism or dematerialisation, with paraphysical oddities or metaphysical poses.
The bodies painted by Rorris are everyday bodies, in that they are crushed by reality, they fall silent, they envy, they get angry, they defacate, ejaculate, they stink, love, forgive, while at the same time they have been stripped of anything anecdotal, precarious, familiar. Their present converses with something past, forgotten or repressed, while their future is defined by these mouldy rooms, these walls splashed with colour, these rooms that used to be inhabited, these little stages of memory; solitary bodies which are reminiscent of sculpture, memories of colour, of the mud and manure of Kosmas of Kynouria, of the shamelessness of dream and the mourning for the brother who took his own life, of his life’s dark shining in the painter’s gaze.
I will risk a thought: the female presence in Rorris’ work is the pretext, the sparkle, the incentive to paint. Painting-ness as memory, as experience, as adventure and as technique is the only, the ideal model for the artist. And this painting-ness takes its departure from the existent, the documented painting in order to touch, to hide, to dissolve into the possible, the potential painting, into a painting dreaming of itself as painting. This painting-ness is breathing, reclining, resisting, getting tired, disheartened, annoyed, infatuated and, eventually, succumbing only to this senile building.
One could say that the painter is in the process of descending: from the time he used to bring down his works from the terrace tied up with ropes until today when he paints on the wooden steps (is this a hint of exit? or a return to the inner self in a changed mood?). In the meantime, however, he has worked in every room. Under artificial light, always, always with the shutters closed or the windows covered. Atmosphere gloomy, insular, secluded, dense, as if time is concentrating, as if painting time is devouring real time. On the other hand, the walls, the floors, the ceilings, the wear and tear, the cracks, the bacteria, the deep cuts of the nails of time, but also the oblique light, sleepwalking, which rather obfuscates in its illumination, in its hiding and telling, is the shell, the membrane, the womb where the artist hatches his images, becomes his images, loses his image to become at once a model and his representation, to cave in to the fluid zone, where the history of the model, the history of the self, the history of the studio and the history of painting congeal, merge, lose their boundaries and their centre.
“I will suck all Venice red from your lips, I will smell all cadmium green on your nape, I will suckle all manganese violet from your nipples, I will kiss all Naples yellow on your belly, I will caress all Prussian blue on your thighs, I will lick all pink ultramarine from your fingers, I will climax and climax and climax endlessly, ceaselessly in caput mortuum until — ”. If I wrote a stage monologue for Rorris, I would begin approximately along these lines. Except that the artist’s soliloquy on stage would reflect his magical transferral to the studios, to the palettes, to the easels of elective affinities (Velasquez, Rembrandt, Bonnard, Bacon, Freud, Bouzianis, Cremonini…) or its duplication in mirrorings of motherly, brotherly, sexual embrace, of blasphemous absence and immaculate solitude.
The Visible as Dream
Writing about a painter you undertake the task of conveying to the reader and viewer of the artist’s painting, as insightfully as you can, what you saw. Unfortunately, it is not enough to trace the routes of the brush and whatever the oil layers are hiding. You have to find the words that match them without losing your own. Your writing should be aware of its charm but not of itself. You must not forget that your existence is attributed to the very painting that you are talking about. You have to go deeper and deeper, to know and forget, to bear and to discard. You have to, if what you will write is to have some amount of truth. Too much already. The dialogue on your paper is not with the reader, but each and every time, with the painter.
A piece of writing about Giorgos Rorris is both a complex case and a great responsibility. First of all, because an important bulk of texts on the course of his work to date already exists. But, mostly, because the indisputable admiration that has enveloped his painting, years now, has created an entire mythology that often leads parallel lives, and which one should be able to perceive but also push aside, if one wants to escape the grave, yet so attractive, danger of theory – talking around the works and not about the works.
When writing about Rorris’ painting one should know the childhood memories of the village; the sounds, the smells and the darkness he always carries within; the great painting of the past that shaped him and keeps shaping him; the aura and the ritual in his studio; the contemporary art that he personally distinguishes; the literature that absorbs him; the plays that captivate him; the music that stands by him in the battle with painting; the canvases that were added to the initial canvas; his obsession with woman’s world and the female body; the wonderful stories behind the works; the teaching; his love for particular people, for people, and for life itself.
Nevertheless, painting is an art which, even in its greatest abstraction, or perhaps even more so then, asks for the eyes first and then the thinking. Rorris’ images, painted on the spot and never by memory or from photographs, trust in the end the self-reliant knowledge of the gaze, since they were born from it, and it is the gaze they address in order to shake the body of the person who has the great fortune of facing them for the first time. From the intensity of the senses they may, one day, reach the deep emotion kept in those “back rooms of the mind”.
The thread that connects the thirty-three works presented here inevitably leads to the gaze of him who distinguished them by meeting the gaze of the painter from the first steps of his painting to this day. The early interiors by Rorris with the female figures, his urban and rural landscapes, the still lifes, the dressed or nude models inside his studio, the constant presence of woman and space – all the brief stops are here, in a course that declares its faith in the visible and to that sort of painterliness that will render it on the canvas as a “piece of painting pulsating and alive”.
If a portrait is the struggle with the rendering of the visible against the ravages of time, then everything in Rorris’ work is a portrait, since for him, the painter is the “interpreter of the visible”. His models are not only the human figures posing on the stage of his studio. It is no less the tin barrel of his first exhibition, the heads of carcasses and the fruit in his still lifes, the orange trees of the landscapes, the old motorcycle, that has a name like all his women models, the neighbourhood garage, the furniture of the studio, the reflection in the mirror, the objects placed on the small coffee table, the desolate walls, the cliff-like staircase, the dirt yard in Kosmas and the wooden floor in Trofoniou Street, the glows and the shadows, the outside and the inside exactly the same. Rorris’ model is whatever his gaze pins and brings it as a protagonist onto his canvas.
In his juxtaposition with the image of the real, Rorris’ realism is faithful, yet not relentless. He deals with matter but is not constrained by matter. The light coming from the side and the usually moderate matière in his works depict the subject with no exaggerations and in accordance with the dominant painterliness that shapes the forms excluding a dramatic viewing of reality. It is a sense of trust that stands out as the main feature in Rorris’ realism – it conveys to us the painter’s admiration for what he sees and what he learns from it every time, his astonished gaze. Rorris’ realism comes from the soul.
The same admiration is served by the dramatic perspective of the works which depict the conversation of the figure or figures with the space of the studio, introducing a unique tension in the composition and the atmosphere of the painting. The wide-angle view in these interiors though, is not the result of an arbitrary will of Rorris to create a disturbing viewing of the real by means of a visual trick, it is not a distortion for the sake of distortion. In the rooms of his studio, seeming to invade reality, the widening of the viewing angle, which defines them and characterises them, occurrs as a natural consequence of his perpetual longing of fitting on the surface of his work as much as possible from what he lays eyes upon, the whole world if possible: “If I could, I would extend my canvas to infinity”.
For the same reason, Rorris adds, almost without exception, small canvases to his initial canvas from which he started the work and which always includes the human figure: because he wants to discover the unknown ends of a hidden image of the visible and to reveal it by painting it, offering it anew to his eyes and our eyes. And vice-versa, Rorris’ small works on rectangular pieces of canvas and, even more so, all what is painted on lopsided remains of larger paintings’ cloth work as reflections on precious fragments of a painterly mirror.
Rorris, after all, selects and assembles in his canvases pieces of images of the real, thus disclosing the sincere awareness that his works are suggestive fragments of a reality that will not be conquered because it will never be depicted in its entirety. That is why painting will always dominate him with an almost erotic desire, until the next work, the next work, the next work.
From Giorgos Rorris’ course to date, perhaps Blue Alexandra gathers together all the traces of his route, while constituting at the same time a unique case in his artistic path.
In the painterly condition of the Trofoniou Street studio, a long diagonal divides the work in two: darkness and light, floor and wall, brown and blue, earth and sky inevitably. In between, Alexandra, “dressed in her nudity”, is seated on the edge of an armchair.
Rorris paints today while aware of the past of painting, which once met with his own past. Since those initial sloped boards of the Children’s Concert by Iakovidis, “imprinted inside” him, the torrents of his brush strokes still sweep the planks that Alexandra barely touches with her foot, emerging into our own reality. Alexandra’s image is thus transformed into a living presence floating amid the space of painting and the space of reality. Her exquisite flesh constitutes the verge between the empty space of the floor and the walls, both privileged fields of the very abstraction that already claims, since the first canvases Rorris painted, the subject of his works, while featuring at the same time their realism.
For a painter-follower of the gaze and master of the canvas, perhaps this may come as a paradox. But in the “doubtful” areas, in the peculiarities of the wall which do not describe anything, lies hidden the very substance of painting, an unconcealed hymn to painterliness itself. The scars of the blue wall plaster are traces of the visible, remains of decay as endurance and resistance against time, tending towards a non-visual spirituality, free of the restraints of meaning.
It does not matter if the magnificent blue of the wall is the Scrovegni Chapel or the wallpaper that was hung as a background. Emotion lies not in the knowledge or the resemblance, but in the dream of the visible that we shall recognise in the hidden image.
Through the penumbral mortality of the blue wall and the chthonic floor Alexandra emerges both divine and human, of a time past and present – surrounded by her blue melancholy, her sandals lying on her side and the seams of the canvases, which reveal the viscera of a work of the present. Her body, still unspoiled, casts behind it the shadow of the Self. Yet, from her slanting head, perhaps a soft murmur resists the silence, because Alexandra does not know she is the regulator of space and light.
It is of painting Alexandra dreams in the twisting of her body, herself already the memory of her own, fleeting beauty. Alexandra is Painting.
GIORGOS RORRIS Scattered Thoughts on Painting
Painting is an art of silence.
Shadow in painting is often unsubstantial, incorporeal, it has the least material, chromatic presence.
Shadow is the extreme borderline preceding silence.
My aim is to make certain images that would have the power to remain imprinted on memory.
What I try to do, is to address through vision the nervous system of the viewer.
The fact that I am unwilling to follow, without second thought, any given trend, has its roots in my agony to be profoundly and essentially me... I cannot understand what “contemporary” or “traditional” means, since the only possible “fairness” that can be is the consistency of the work with its maker.
We had better not try to conceive painting through the juxtaposition of rival camps, but rather through seeking the consistency of every work with itself.
The brush as much as the imprint of a wire net can be integrated within my inner self, which I do not divide into traditional and non-traditional, but into necessary or unnecessary.
I never think that Rembrandt or Bonnard painted before me. I believe that I have the strength to breathe into this humble work my own pain, agony, joy and so affect a person totally unknown to me.
Every painter carries within himself the whole history of painting and introduces, in his turn, a certain tradition. His works may not last through time. But if they do, they will become the past of the future. Carrying within you other painters also means that, at the same time, you are struggling to find your own voice.
Painting is a bodily secretion and the painted work is a sort of tissue between the eye, the neurons, the painter’s hand. It is a bodily recording of agony and a direct imprint of it. It is this recording that interests me as a creator, yet not exclusively as a viewer. As a viewer, I can take an interest in other manners of artistic expression.
The behaviour towards the work is probably defined by an anxiety to fill a chaotic, empty surface and form the framework of the image. You deal with a large white surface which obstinately denies to surrender itself to you. Initially, the chaos should be eliminated and, little by little, become a form. Then, behaviour is defined by the hope given to you by the entirely open path of leading the work as you would like. In the end, it is defined by the anxiety to lead the image through the path it has already shown you by now. The image has acquired its form and suggests to you itself how it will be completed. For me, therefore, there are two emotional conditions that define the creation of a painting: anxiety and hope. If we could say that the amalgam of these two would offer us the word “passion”, I would myself support that.
To paint means to fall in love with matter and try to remould it. It does not mean one has good ideas. I try to activate soil. To make it move me by participating with my body in the process. Through my arm, my elbow, my wrist, the motion of the body. Painting means the offering of a body.
Painting is the result of vision-heart-hand. The mind comes in much later.
I ask my models anxiously if they find a resemblance. When they nod, I calm down. But I will not cease painting them until I have come to believe that it is them I have painted. This is the basic condition of a portrait. I am making a portrait means I try to make it look like the model. But what does it mean it should look like the model? I am concerned with a resemblance that is essential and profound. Depicting their perception of life, who they really are and, if possible, how they think.
A model is not a thing, it is not a tool or an aid. It is the inexhaustible source that constantly feeds you with the feeling that what you are doing is lesser than the affluence of the source.
I never throw away a painting. I have a feeling of guilt, particularly towards the model that poses for me. In many of my works pieces have been added in the process which are nothing more than admitting a fault. They express a mood for an expansion and the conquering of a depiction that I do not know in advance. That is, I start attaching the canvases together, if I feel that what I do is part of a larger image which I do not know, yet I should try to look for.
It is like looking for an image of which only a part is known to me. The rest is concealed from me and I am to discover it.
The final image is the result of assembling and arranging blots of colour.
If you have the final image on your mind, then you are not a painter.
I am not interested in a prior designed image. If it is prior designed and predetermined I have no interest in painting it. What I am interested in is to find out what the result will be and that this should come as a surprise. Inevitably there is also a story. What will the story be? Each person will say what they believe.
To me there’s no room for poses denoting that the model is doing something because, in the end, it will come out as fake. I want what I see. And what I see are simple things: the woman is posing.
I do not paint characters but bodies. And bodies are appearance itself. You make a painting in order to understand the other person that is standing opposite to you.
I want to say something very simple. In an environment that classifies man as a user, consumer, unit, as a faceless mass, I want to bring forward and make a monument to certain faces, against time – to the face of man. To me it is sacred.
The person posing is never naked in the pose, but dressed with the innocence of a birthday suit which removes any kind of weird fantasy. The sitter is protected by the marble stillness of the pose and dressed with his nudity.
If I painted you right now, exactly as I see you, I would put that coffee table next to you with the ashtray on it, and the coffee table would reduce your loneliness, because the little table would be your companion in the image, but, on the other hand, perhaps your loneliness would be deeper, because your companion would simply be a little coffee table and nothing more. Painting does not give you much joy, it is an endless bitterness, because each time you leave, you feel that you failed, that you failed again.
To me beautiful is what will offer me the possibility of consolation, what will offer me the illusion of immortality, what will make life seem less insignificant and small.
I feel that a painting is finished when I approach it in order to intervene and it does not let me. It leaves no passage for me to enter it. The joints are so firm, that there is not a single crack.
When the painting is finished, the painter gives his place to the viewer.
I am in constant agony as to what I will do next, if I will create a good work in the future. If I will make painting that is more insightful, more essential, more profound, more sincere, that will leave behind works which will record my time with accuracy, with power and which will be able to last, that is what I am concerned with.
Thoughts were compiled and edited by Elizabeth Plessa.
Giorgos Rorris was born in Kosmas of Kynouria (Arcadia, Peloponnese) in 1963. He studied painting in the Athens School of Fine Arts under Panayiotis Tetsis and Yannis Valavanidis (1982-1987). He pursued his studies at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, in Paris, under Leonardo Cremonini (1988-1991), thanks to scholarships awarded to him by the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation and the P. Bakala Brothers Public Benefit Foundation. He collaborated with the “Apopsi” Centre for Letters and Arts (1996-2002); as of 2002 he has been working with the “Simio” Art Group, where he teaches painting. In 2001 he received the Academy of Athens award for young Greek painter, under the age of 40. In 2006 he was awarded an honourable distinction for his work by the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation. He has maintained a permanent collaboration with “Medusa Art Gallery”, in Athens, since his first solo exhibition there in 1988. Works by him can be found in public and private collections. He lives and works in Athens.