Painting as a deconstruction of reality in the work of Panayiotis Beldekos

"Make the workmanship surpass the materials".

Ovid

This new group of works by Panayiotis Beldekos comprises 10 large-scale oil paintings. They are full length portraits of female figures, which the painter has worked on over the past few years, placed in an interior that, on the surface, appears to be identified as his studio. In their final painted configuration, however, the realistically depicted forms, which there is a manifest absence of any desire to imbue with precise identity or the ready instantaneous potential psychology of each individual model, are combined with abstract painted fields in a departure from the functional structure of the painter's familiar environment; abolishing from the very start of their re-composition, the concept of a peremptorily designated course in the direction of a faithful portrait.

 

In these intense designs by Panayiotis Beldekos - whose already large dimensions, appear to seek to extend themselves even further - unexpected elements of composition extend to nodal points and address the listless poses of the models: flat single-colour fields coexist with strict structural lines and geometric elements, with a wealth of interpretations both in manner and materials, lead to a release from the formal static manner of strictly pictorial imagery, taking on a fresh artistic, contemporary nature, clearly sought by the painter. Their style, dense with successive sculptural elements, allows a transition from a strictly defined tone of representational imagery to a new field, defined by expressionist forms of pictorial depiction. Within this field, the merging of illustrative visual sources, from the painter's workshop and from abstract creative interventions, assembles a set that attempts to deconstruct objective space, to construct a new sovereign universe, capable of highlighting the compositional individuality that extends throughout his painting.

"But, after all, the aim of art is to create space—space that is not compromised by decoration or illustration, space in which the subjects of painting can live".

FRANK STELLA, Working Space1

According to Aristotle, a well-executed portrait should reveal the internal essence of the subject (from the artist's point of view), rather than simply indicating a rational similarity. However, its main purpose is to remind us of the purpose of Art, which is to present "not the external appearance of things, but rather, their internal interpretation: this, rather than any extroverted details, compose the real truth". And perhaps it would be fitting, at this point, to refer to an historical event, having to do with Renaissance art: at a certain point in time, on the occasion of some painting he had completed, Filippino Lippi was warmly congratulated by his circle, as somewhat "paradoxically" his work "appeared more like his model than his model appeared like himself".

To what does a painter aspire, nowadays, one wonders, when seeking to compose a subjective portrait story, setting aside information on time, space and place, which could be unsparingly at his disposal due to his exceptional technique?

The work of Panayiotis Beldekos under no circumstances could be described as meticulous portraits, composed within the familiar precincts of a painter's studio - but they nevertheless distil both the familiarity and the acutely exacting nature of his regard.

"My gaze lingered on these not in order to reveal and deconstruct their features—in the way we would say that a face disintegrates or loses its content under the influence of a certain emotion – but in order to recompose them, to maintain them in his thoughts... as fine-beaten gold, similar to that used for the masks placed on the faces of the dead in Mycenae".

JEAN CLAIR, Journal atrabilaire2

Observing Panayiotis Beldekos's robust imagery, the concentrated textures and the overwhelming energy that runs through it, we come face to face not so much with the painted subjects of that imagery, as much as with the dynamic austerity of the space that connects and contains these. An understanding of this space - which is achieved by the artist with the conviction that, in the absence of descriptiveness, it is articulated perhaps more dynamically under the gaze and for the gaze of an educated observer - cannot but lead, correspondingly, to an understanding of Beldekos's exceptional capacity to create contemporary worlds using traditional media. In his article Pictorial Space and the Possibility of Art, Paul Crowther examines the field of knowledge of art of creating pictorial images, setting aside the issue of any further information these images may contain. In Crowther's opinion the structure of the painted space persists as a major issue, irrespective of the individual artistic themes in each individual work. In his opinion, pictorial space is composed of the relationship between the variable creativity of the painted content (i.e. its capacity to represent current data, capabilities, as well as juristic and metaphysical impossibilities) and the definitive role in forging the image played by the structure of the draughtsmanship and all lesser organisation. On the basis of this we can draw the conclusion that "alternative creative products and aesthetic significance are contained in the structure of pictorial space, forming an inalienable part thereof". Thus pictorial space cannot "but be connected semantically with the overall capacity of the art of painting".3

Here it would be far from pointless to refer to the recent exhibition proposal for presenting part of the permanent collection of the Davies Museum under the title "Perceiving Space in Art", as this is governed by the same conviction: According to the museum curators: "the perception of space in art constitutes a prerequisite for the perception of art itself, as artists build cosmological concepts through the ways in which they organize space, pictorially or physically, and their choices affect our experience as viewers, not only in our relationship to art, but our place in the broader world".

If space always constituted a significant issue in art, the fact that it can be described in many various ways, renders this issue ever more complex. Topologically, space can be defined as the infinite extension of the three-dimensional field in which all matter exists. However, it can further be equated with a significant condition of organisation and classification. Given that producing art contains just such a condition, isn't it paradoxical that Frank Stella, in his well-known treatise Working Space, also perceives, in turn, the creation of space as the major purpose of art? According to Stella, if all painters create space, "it appears ironic that 20th century painters had to work so hard in order to create abstract space in their works". Stella himself creates a non-representational space, incompatible with physical space, which in his opinion "cannot be detached from historical, cultural, metaphoric, philosophical and religious ideals. "From the time of Kandinsky, in order to invent this self-determining space", Stella goes on to say, "Compositional space was stretched, twisted, cut, articulated, inverted, gridded, minimalised, blocked, textured, splashed, lashed, exploded and imploded".4

However, for Panayiotis Beldekos, self-defining space is conquered not by warping the pictorial surface of the composition, but mainly by the artist's power to propose a fluid, ever-changing representational space, where each individual viewer can activate the painting and its space in a new manner. The conquest of self-determining space is gradually converted into an ideal delusion of pictorial space, against which Plato inveighed, claiming that it "represents reality, distorting Truth".

Therefore in order to progress into an in-depth view of Panayiotis Beldekos's world, we must first comprehend the fact that the space he manipulates in his painting includes the natural space he observes, his personal feeling for space and the action he takes to define space through the pictorial plane. Moreover, that for him the manner is usually more significant than the purpose: in his oeuvre, a capable pastiche of drawing reference, notes and points, addresses successive layers of colour, creating a dense visual field and a re-distribution of this particular matter on the canvas, where a spontaneous skill coexists with the absolute freedom to organise colours and composition, lines and horizons. Invoking this dialogue between space, colour and form, proposing invented visual impressions that alternate with an interpretation of physical space, which appears mottled with mutating, interactive elements, he accurately depicts the primordial matter of the world that surrounds him, while simultaneously attempting to record his personal sense of the texture and atmosphere of this matter. In conclusion, when talking of his work, one could also extend the opinions of Christopher W. Tyler and Amy Ione, whose The Concept of Space in Twentieth Century Art proposes the current concept of space in painting as a complex entity which, as is precisely the case in digital art, "mirrors views of space and vision from a myriad perspectives and compositional elements and dilemmas that are transformed into dynamic affirmations".5

In any case, according to the artist himself, at the artistic age he finds himself now, certain constants in painting are inevitably overturned: "although specific figures most definitely have a role to enact, I myself gradually exist at a distance from the thematic core of any work. My statement with this exhibition is an introduction to aspirations for the future. I want to see this group as an exhilarating investigation, which, in its maturity, is only just commencing: as a beginning and not as an end", he notes.

However, this does not gainsay the maturity in expression, as the works in this group involve twenty-year-old elements. With these figures, Panayiotis Beldekos confronts the physiology of his mental condition vis-a-vis painting. Where their realistic substance is concerned, in fact, these figures do not form the primary issue which concerns the painter, who in painting about the event, seeks a physiological projection not of "why this?" but instead, of "why thus?". Perhaps this too is an oxymoron: seeking to challenge everything, he labours doubly through an unshrinking and boundless effort, lauding his doubts unmistakably, installing contemporary convention as a factor in his painting and permitting a life-giving freedom to choose to appear in his work.

This pictorial process, whose starting point does not lie in an insistence on figure, but mainly on an obsession with painting itself, with the how and why of it, rather than academic processing, beyond the space drawn with this admirable economy of materials, proposes volume, seeking to render the immaterial material through "manner", while simultaneously deconstructing existing matter and action. To this end, the artist hides skills that might potentially distance the works from their essence, reins in emotion, marking a participation in a new field, the beginning of a new, different situation, where action and experience of a painting are equal to a biological human experience.

As we penetrate this new condition, the studio ceases to exist; it departs from the artist's imagery. It isn't chance that the artist himself, in abandoning the familiarity of his previous studios with their neo-classical burdens, has sought, over the past few years, a large, unfamiliar, unstructured and therefore easily formed space. Within this he achieves precisely that which he so vigorously sought: a painted environment, converted into the materialised projection of an intent to be transported into an abstract world, which, as a choice, becomes an agent for the painter's ideological intentions to transport and his limitless capacity to paint, just like Edvard Munch, "not what he sees, but what he once saw".

In the same manner, Panayiotis Beldekos's models are almost random. The same people sometimes crop up again, selected due to character, or their potential capacity to observe and interpret, while, using each model as a starting point, both painted subject and chromatic range change: creative matter, the colour which in this recent group has reached absolute levels, addresses frequently unseen notes to the geography of the space, leading to sometimes less and sometimes more charged pictorial fields. Fields which might well be daring as to size, but which are never sufficiently large for the painter: "my works are large, because I consider that the field that surrounds the figure, is the smallest possible that would permit the space to best exist. I would still say that I consider these small!".

"Whosoever scorns painting, is disdainful of truth. He is, however, also disdainful of all the wisdom that has been bestowed upon poets" noted Philostratus the Elder in Imagines.6 In Antony Gormley's work, where the purpose is to merge the internal world of the spirit with the external world of emotions, figures are placed within a silent and slow moving field and Gormley attempts, through their physical presence, to render concrete a living presence that develops in our mind: "I want to converse with existence and seek to utilise my own existence" he has stated. Gombrich also addresses truth and the artist's existence, stating in a very clear-headed manner that centuries-long aspiration of exquisite pictorial self-determination, which remains paradoxically the same, changing only media and techniques: "if we have learned one thing, it is that a representation doesn't ever constitute a faithful copy. Correspondingly various forms of art do not constitute facsimiles of that which the artist had in mind, nor are they facsimiles of what he sees in the outside world. In each instance, they constitute interpretations with the help of the medium used, a medium that develops and matures through the tradition which governs it and self-determining skill – both that of the painter and that of the viewer.7 Discussing in his own way the independence of a pictorial reality in his treatise "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", Walter Benjamin compares the Painter with the Miracle Maker: both, in proposing catholic pictures, maintain a natural distance from reality.8 Finally, Paul Cheptea, in his treatise on the representation of Inner Space in painting, talks of an art that has "the dynamic capability to translate structures through the imagination, to bring about the sensation of a complete experience, as those who wish to, are allowed to render the world compatible to their private spirit, instead of limiting their gaze to the surface of things".9

Bearing in mind all the above, as I penetrate the painstaking, yet exceedingly fertile adventure that is the painting of Panayiotis Beldekos, I would like to add one thing more, which in his case, I believe, fits absolutely: "We should always apologise when daring to speak about painting", wrote Paul Valery. However, he continued, "to see means to forget the name of what you saw. A work is never complete, except if chance factors should arise: exhaustion, temporary satisfaction, or the need to deliver the work to some recipient... because, referring to who or what makes it exist, it cannot but continue to exist on stage, to be governed by a series of inner and outer transformations".10

IRIS CRITICOU

February 2009

 

  1. Frank Stella, Working Space, Harvard University Press, 1986
  2. Jean Clair, Journal atrabilaire 2, Editions Gallimard, 2006
  3. Paul Crowther, Pictorial Space and the Possibility of Art, The British Journal of Aesthetics 2008 48(2): 175-192
  4. Frank Stella, op.cit.
  5. Christopher W. Tyler and Amy Ione, The Concept of Space in Twentieth Century Art
  6. Philostratus the Elder, Imagines; Introduction - translation into Modern Greek and comments by Dimitris Plantzos, Katarti Publications 2006
  7. Ernst Gombrich, Art and Illusion, a study in the psychology of pictorial representation, Phaidon Press, 4th impression. 1986
  8. Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1936
  9. Paul Cheptea, Surrealism and the Representation of Inner Space in Painting, University of Art and Design Clujnapoca, Doctoral Thesis 2006
  10. Paul Valery, Recollection, collected works, vol. 1, 1972
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