GEORGE HADJIMICHALIS, THE PAINTER A.K, A NOVEL EMST NEW COMMISSIONS 2011
09/11/2011 - 18/03/2012
George Hadjimichalis – The Painter A.K. – A Novel
09/11/2011 – 18/03/2012
Curated By: Daphne Vitali
The National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens presents from November 9th 2011 until March 18th 2012 the new work by George Hadjimichalis titled George Hadjimichalis. The Painter A.K. – A Novel in the framework of the series ΕΜSΤ Commissions 2011, with commissions by the Museum that are realized with the kind support of Bombay Sapphire gin.
George Hadjimichalis’ new project, entitled George Hadjimichalis – The Painter A.K. – A Novel, is an installation that consists of 265 small and medium-sized paintings, 27 photographs, a structure and a video, which comprise the retrospective exhibition of an imaginary painter. Adopting the practice of a novelist, Hadjimichalis envisions a fictional person and creates his artwork, telling a story. It is a work open to multiple readings and includes a plethora of references and correlations. In this work, Hadjimichalis connects the personal to the collective, the experiential to fantasy, fiction to reality, identity to otherness, and the self to the Other. The work also contains an underlying autobiographical element, as the life of the imaginary painter inevitably meets that of the novel’s creator. In this narrative piece, George Hadjimichalis addresses issues such as the human body and the human soul, illness, loss, memory, psychosis, and death.
The title of the project and, by extension, the title of the exhibition, is, in essence, the information given about a book. George Hadjimichalis is the author, the painter A.K. its title, and the type of the book is a novel. It clearly concerns a visual novel, which isn’t written in words but images, mostly painted but also photographic and moving (video), which took approximately four years to make.
Through A.K.’s psychological state, Hadjimichalis tells us, indirectly, about his own story, his own journey through art, his own thoughts, desires, needs, phobias and preoccupations, revealing secret moments from his own life. A quest for the self through the Other, as well as of the self as the Other, is ultimately the raison d’être of the entire project.
With the kind support of
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An Encounter with the Other[…] The starting point of George Hadjimichalis. The painter A.K.. A novel is the construction of an Other person, and its objective is to tell the story of that person’s life. By constructing a new person, Hadjimichalis is charged with imagining the details of his identity, namely his gender, his ethnicity, his age, the time in which he lived, his occupation, state of mind, etc. Therefore, Hadjimichalis puts together a character that is, primarily, of interest to him, for his own personal reasons and artistic preoccupations. So we have a male artist, a painter in particular, who, were he alive today, would be 87 years old, though he died at the age of 60. We could argue that these biographical details of the fictional hero are not accidental. Hadjimichalis makes his hero exactly 30 years his senior – so he could be his father’s age – and has him live to around the same age that Hadjimichalis is now.
It is obvious that the name A.K., in the case of this particular piece, is not merely a pseudonym, as in A Moment in the Mind of Mr. A.K., but a heteronym, to use Fernando Pessoa’s literary sense of the word. Just as Pessoa attributed his works to literary alter egos, so Hadjimichalis, in a similar way, doesn’t just choose a pseudonym for this piece, but creates a character with a complete identity, an alleged biography, a particular physique, and a personal painting style. He creates, in other words, an artistic alter ego, which he then confronts. The difference is, of course, that Hadjimichalis makes us aware of this practice, highlights it, in fact, in contrast to the Portuguese author, who kept it quiet. […] […] Hadjimichalis’ choice to construct a personality and to create a body of work signed by someone else, allows the artist to keep a distance from the artistic subject (himself), as well as from the artistic object (the artwork he creates). Subsequently, that distance gives Hadjimichalis the opportunity to visit mental states and issues – personal or artistic – that concern him with greater ease. As psychoanalysis teaches, our issues are easier to deal with when they are projected onto an Other. Through A.K.’s psychological state, Hadjimichalis reveals the personal thoughts, ideas, needs, phobias and difficulties of an entire life. Thus, the artist creates a painter to tell us, indirectly, about his own story, his own journey through art, his own preoccupations and desires, revealing secret moments from his own life. […] […] It is, therefore, an adventure through the soul of a painter, who became psychotic a few years before he died. The painter’s work is mostly divided into two parts: the works he created before and those he created during his internment. Hadjimichalis tells the story by taking on the painter’s role rather than acting as the narrator. This first-person narrative process creates an identification between Hadjimichalis and his hero. Hadjimichalis takes his lead from the painter’s psychology. Through the artworks, their subject matter and their visual writing, as well as through the succession of images and the associations that arise, we can make out the story “painted” by Hadjimichalis in the approximately 300 pieces that comprise the exhibition.
The first piece of the exhibition is a self-portrait painted by A.K. in 1942, at the age of eighteen. It is the portrait of an elegant, thin and peaceful young man. On the right hand side of the painting, a shadow is cast on the grey background; something like a reflection, a shadowy figure that follows him. Is this an encounter between A.K. and his shadow? His Other self? Or his Double? I believe this painting encapsulates one of the key themes of the entire project. A man’s encounter with his shadow; in other words, his encounter with himself. The shadow, the mirror image, the reflection are symbolic notions of the soul and pertain to the theory that our soul is independent of our ego. The various forms of the soul (shadow, reflection, etc) refer to the concept of the Double, which is a representation of the ego. Thus, in the first piece of the exhibition, A.K.’s encounter with his shadow symbolises Hadjimichalis’ encounter with A.K., which takes place in this novel, since A.K. is the projection, the double self of Hadjimichalis. […] […] It is not accidental that the second and third pieces of the first chapter are copies of Hadjimichalis’ paintings created when he was fourteen and fifteen years old. Through those early pieces by A.K., Hadjimichalis brings about a meeting with himself at a young age and renegotiates the subject matter of his painting, his painting style and his influences. The second piece portrays several anxious and animated expressionist faces pulling odd grimaces, clearly referencing the mask paintings made by the Belgian artist James Ensor. The mask as a symbol is also connected to the concept of playing a role, of disguise and of embodiment, which we discussed above.
After the second piece of the exhibition, dated 1939, the rest of the works are presented in chronological order, which is also the order in which Hadjimichalis created them. The paintings that make up the first chapter of the exhibition and the accompanying book were created between 1939 and 1951. On the first wall of the chapter we encounter weary, worn and distorted faces, human screams, a hanging man, a man about to be executed, a face that looks burned, a mummy in foetal position. Faces expressing pain, emotional angst and terror. The intense dark colours and the painting style allude to German expressionism and artists like Edvard Munch, Chaim Soutine, Oskar Kokoschka, etc. This section also includes a series of night-time landscapes that capture a highly evocative atmosphere of mystery and darkness, which deeply engage the viewer.
The reason A.K. portrays a world of corruption, pain, sickness and worry is possibly related to the time in which he created these paintings. It was a calamitous time for Greece, a decade during which it suffered through Metaxa’s dictatorship, the German occupation, and a civil war. As a young man living through such hard and tough times for the Greek nation, A.K. creates works that, albeit not depicting the events as such, nonetheless carry that prevailing sense of hardship and desperation. Beyond that hypothesis, however, we could also assume that A.K. was going through personal difficulties, possibly connected to psychological problems or health issues, his own or a loved one’s. In these paintings, individual suffering and misery meets collective misfortune and trial. […] […] The project’s fifth and final chapter begins in 1976 and ends with the death of the painter A.K., in the mid-80s. Those are the years when A.K. decides to seclude himself in his house, making a series of small-scale paintings, acrylics on wood, one after another. In a true borderline state between neurosis and psychosis, he paints, obsessively and with extreme accuracy, details of his house, such as door knobs, handles, keyholes, tiles, pipes, switches, sinks, radiators, cracks, etc, as well as certain personal objects he finds scattered around the place. A.K. focuses on details and creates close-up “painting shots”, striving for faithful representation and absolute perfection. What the painter seems to struggle with in these pieces is his need to hold on to the realistic element, in an attempt to stay in contact with reality. With extreme dedication, he clings onto details, trying to keep his grip on himself and not lose his mind. The Kafkan stereotype of a solitary figure writing in anguish and agony makes its appearance here through A.K., who paints amidst a similar sense of agony, torment and need.
These acutely realistic and figurative pieces are completely different to the work he created when he was depressed, and, despite revealing his psychotic condition, these pieces are imbued with a lighter sense than their predecessors. The large number of paintings (170 in total) states and highlights the painter’s psychotic state. These are works devoid of any visual quest or artistic preoccupation. Effort is pointless and futile. What characterises this unit is its disjointed and fragmented nature. The act of focusing on the details and the harsh light of the paintings result in the loss of the whole. A.K. thinks he can see and that he still has a grip on things, yet, in truth, he is blind and lost. A.K. dies in the early 80s “completely out of touch with his environment”. […] […]The final scene of the film, which is also the final image of the exhibition, is enigmatic and evokes psychoanalytic issues such as our reflection in the mirror, the portrait of the self and the Other, and the idea of the Double, concepts at the project’s very core. A quest for the self through the Other, as well as of the self as the Other, is ultimately the raison d’être of the entire project. The motivation for its creation doesn’t seem to be the painter’s artistic quests; that would have us wondering which of the two painters we were talking about. And here we have an oxymoron: in truth, the individual paintings do not belong either to A.K., since he is not actually a real person, or to Hadjimichalis, who wouldn’t sign them or present them as his own outside of the particular context of this project. On the other hand, however, the work belongs to both of them. To Hadjimichalis because, since he has made them himself, they bear his personal visual writing – even if his intention was to give the pieces a neutral style and impersonal nature –, and to A.K. because they tell his story, even if that story is fictional. It follows, then, that this project depends on the two painters coexisting. Identifying with one another and yet remaining separate. […]
Curator of the exhibition
Editor: Daphne Vitali, George Hadjomichalis
Texts by: Daphne Vitali, Savas Mikhail, Ulrich Loock
360 pages, 16,5 x 12 cm, Αthens 2011
Bilingual (Greek / English)
With texts and reproductions of works
Αvailable for sale: price 25 euro
Photo: George Hadjimichalis, Self-portrait, 1942