National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens


26/05/2011 - 25/10/2011


Apostolos Georgiou


Athens Conservatoire

26/05/2011 – 25/10/2011

Curated By: Daphne Vitali

As painting of the “private vision” one is tempted to describe Apostolos Georgiou’s anthropocentric work, drawing a parallel between the poetry of his generation of the 80s, in the much discussed term. It is a painting of a retreat to the individual, narrative and enigmatic in its laconic ellipticality, which illustrates small stories, speaks of the mythologies of the daily life, reveals existential situations of human vulnerability and weakness, failure and emotional breakdown, opening up the private realm to public view, to the others’ gaze.
The artist’s tender and at the same time sarcastic stories, in a time when, at least for the past two decades, the art of the intimate sphere has come to the international artistic foreground, go beyond a solitary confinement in their autobiographical, or not, self-sufficiency. They presuppose our exterior gaze in order to impose their introversion, seeking an encounter and a communication with the “outside” world, and mobilizing our emotion and critical smile.
Having as a starting point the private universe of a male, for the most part, humanity, Apostolos Georgiou’s painting becomes a field of critical reinvestigation and redefinition of love relationships and identities, gender and social roles. Through the unfolding of subjectivity, where alterity and difference seek their own space, we are allowed to rethink the fragile certainties and to accept the other side, of ourselves and of the others.

Anna Kafetsi

[…] The painter centres his artistic investigation on existential anxiety and man’s place in the world and captures his inability to deal with life, focusing on personal and intimate moments. His protagonist is a plain, dull and colourless individual, a faceless middle-aged man, who appears in commonplace and quotidian situations: while staring, fishing, leafing through a book, trying, failing, falling down, getting up, and starting over again. Georgiou captures the fundamental ambiguity and ambivalence of the everyday. As Henri Lefebvre reminds us, the Everyday is both humble and sordid and simultaneously the time and place where the human either fulfils itself or fails.  Through his prosaic accounts, Georgiou investigates deeper questions concerning the constant presence of human fear and the fundamental despair and difficulty of life. His protagonist is an anti-hero filled with a poignant sense of life and an anxiety to exist in this world.

The dominant motifs in his work are contemporary man’s loneliness and alienation. Through his staged painterly stills, the artist introduces us to an isolated, desperate and confined man who carries a drama. It could be a loss or a separation, or even something indefinable. It is possible that this man’s struggle is the great trial of life, the personal difficulty that each of us carries and with which we struggle everyday, at unsuspecting moments. This loneliness is everywhere in Georgiou’s work, usually appearing as a “painful” loneliness which is experienced by man as a sensation of suffering and emptiness. But there is also another dimension to this loneliness. It is the loneliness that appears as solitude, or even as “beneficial aloneness”.  In contrast to other emotions, such as aggressiveness or anger, loneliness is both an emotion and a situation. In Georgiou’s stories, the drama of isolation is not only presented as something painful and overwhelming, but also as something ambiguous, which is occasionally made fun of and given a more light character.

[…] It seems that it is these contradictory and ambiguous elements, which can be found in Georgiou’s painting, that make his work so interesting and sincere. This acerbic sensation and profound anxiety is depicted with a sense of humour, imbued with irony and sarcasm, as if the artist is winking at his own self and his existential anxieties. This tragi-comic and bitter-sweet vein, as well as the element of self-mockery, prevails in most of his paintings. His anti-hero is enigmatic and the situations in which he is involved are at the same time familiar and nonsensical: a man drinks water from the shoe of another (p. 131), a couple sits quietly, being unable to react, on a kitchen counter, while the room is flooding (p. 121), five men climb one on top of another without any explanation of why (p. 109). In Georgiou’s work, drama borders on parody, while tragicality meets farce and meditation meets naivety. Man appears as a hapless creature, a loser and, at the same time, as a blunderer and a clown, making us laugh and weep at once.

[…] His paintings display a pronounced theatrical strain, which also contains a satiric element. A sense of theatricality and satire, similar to the one exhibited by the father of satire, the great British artist William Hogarth, who made a travesty of the eighteenth century British bourgeois society. In Georgiou’s case, the driving force seems to be the artist’s need to make fun of the bourgeois and decadent, for him, society of 1950s Thessaloniki, in an attempt to liberate himself from the “heavy and conservative climate” he had experienced. Aside, however, from the tendency to make fun of his personal experiences, the painter detects a funny and farcical element in all ordinary human activities and behaviours, in a way that seems to highlight the well-known Shakespearian phrase that “all the world’s a stage”. Nevertheless, Georgiou’s theatre appears to be closer to the shadow theatre of Karagiozis, or Commedia dell’ Arte, or even Marx Brothers comedies and Woody Allen’s contemporary existential cinema. His sarcasm also brings to mind the, post-ironic and humorous, cynicism that was a prevailing trend in the art of the 1990s. In Georgiou’s work, this caricature of man, the anti-hero, is anonymous and almost identical in every work. This man is, on the one hand, the painter’s alter ego, as the artist is painting his inability to exist in this world, and, on the other, the everyman, who engages in self-examination by observing the painter’s characters. In his works we identify overt and covert aspects of ourselves, while we think, sulk, suffer, make mistakes, make a fool of ourselves, and recompose ourselves each time.
Georgiou’s painting has a marked illustrational character, and his references can be traced back to cartoons, movie billboards, and Classics Illustrated, while, looking back to Greek painting, Georgiou’s drawing alludes to the distinctive world of the Greek artist of the 1930s generation, Diamantis Diamantopoulos. The colours in his paintings mostly have cool hues, while the painter occasionally uses a more warm and vivid palette as well. The background to his compositions is usually monochrome or duochrome, and it is through this indefinable space that the anxious and alienated human figures emerge, as in Francis Bacon’s paintings. Most of Georgiou’s works –like the ones by the British artist– lie somewhere between the two extremes of an imposing simplicity and a complex theatricality. The human figures do not pass through the painterly space, but rather act within a flat and two-dimensional field.

[…] Although many of his works depict a lonely man, Georgiou addresses in a series of paintings the relationships that develop between people. There either appears a man and a woman, or two or three men, or, more infrequently, two men and a woman. Whatever the composition may be, what prevails in his group portraits, also, is the sense of solitude and alienation. Georgiou’s characters, like Gerhard Richter’s characters, never look the viewer in the eye. They seem distant, giving one the impression of a “detached third person narration”.  Still, the figures are not even exchanging glances between them. They seldom look at one another, appearing to be lost in their own world. They are drawn in to themselves, without communicating with the world around them. There is a pervading silence in Georgiou’s paintings. The cries of Bacon’s paintings have been turned into pauses here.

[…] But why the protagonist, the man, in Georgiou’s work appears under the table, naked, insecure, confused, split, weak, and fragmented, while the woman is seen as strong, imposing, able, and pugnacious? Why does the man have a shattered self-confidence and a need for self-affirmation and liberation, while the woman is the one who offers protection and comfort? Here the personality traits of the two sexes have been reversed. In a number of cases, Georgiou makes fun of males, while he appears to not attack women. Women are protected, and it seems that the artist is on their side.

[…] Responding to the perennial question of whether art tells or distorts the truth, I would argue that Georgiou’s art brings the truth to light, since the painter highlights unseen aspects of reality and reveals what could be hidden behind each common and ordinary gesture or situation. Georgiou shows us that the commonplace can be sensational; as Paul Klee has said, “Art does not reproduce the visible, but makes something visible”.  The stream of consciousness and the first-person narrative in Georgiou’s work make the truth visible. And this truth can even be terrifying at times. […]

Daphne Vitali
Curator of the exhibition


Apostolos Georgiou. Painting
Editor: Daphne Vitali
Texts by: Barry Schwabsky, Daphne Vitali, Denys Zacharopoulos
159 pages, 30 x 24 cm, Αthens 2011
Bilingual (Greek / English)
With texts and reproductions of works
ΙSBN: 978-960-8349-56-8

Ιt will be available for sale: 20 euro

Photo: Apostolos Georgiou, Untitled, 2005
Courtesy of the artist © Boris Kirpotin