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Published: 22 December 2021

By Andy Ross

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Art in Athens

Athens has not disappointed on the art front.

Modern art from the country is not something that we know much about. It has proved to be a fascinating study with its roots in the ancient worlds of not just Greece but also North Africa, Europe and across Asia. It has been an enjoyable journey, tracing the art of the middle of the 20th Century - a favourite period of ours - from long-past roots to current practice. Here are some of the artists and some of the art we have enjoyed. 

The first encounter with the artist Panayiotis Tetsis was in the Goulandris Foundation, Basil and Elise Goulandris' important collection of art and sculpture. Two panels of a huge work, 58 panels long in its entirety, are displayed. Street Market is a view of the life that the artist saw each day when he went out to gather impressions on the streets of the city, returning to his studio to paint while the memory was still fresh. The bright, clear colours capture the life and vitality of the busy scene as well as the clear light. 

Theophilos Hatzimihail was another new-to-us artist - a true folk-artist who changed the art of the country through his depictions of everyday life and Greek characters and history. An exhibition at the B. & M. Theocharakis Foundation brings together more than 80 artworks to demonstrate the artistic vision and patriotic feeling of the artist. 

Patriotism is very much on show in Greece this year. In the 200th anniversary of the Greek War of Independence that saw war and battle and the final days of the Ottoman Empire rule, there are shows across the city including Philhellenic Painting at the Benaki Museum  demonstrating the pride Hellenes and those who have made Greece their home feel. It is an amazing time to be here; Athens feels alive and vibrant. 

Artistic expression in Greece in the 20th Century was expansive. The Generation of the 30s started out as a literary term for poets and writers who were influenced by the turbulent 1920s, but became widely used for other artists, including painters and sculptors. It was this group that rediscovered Theophilos. Amongst them were the painters Yannis Tsarouchis, Yiannis Moralis and Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas. The Armos Art Group was the result of these and other artists coming together to re-present the ancient glories of Greece in a contemporary light.

What I have found particularly interesting is the way in which these artists switched between art and design, many working in the theatre on set design or costumes as well as illustration for poetry and music books, painting and sculpture. Tsarouchis in particular was a fascinating man who undertook work to record  folk craft including costume, and learned Byzantine music to be able to record the traditional chants. 

There is much more discover and much more that we have seen. They will be the subject of future blogs.