A condinderation of tsoclis by BRUNO CORA
I met Costas Tsoclis in 2000, during preparations for a collective retrospective exhibition at the Luigi Pecci Museum of Modern Art in Prato, Italy, where I was at that time director. He introduced me to his work, placing works of art at my disposal, so that I could understand the course of his career.
It is a career that began in difficult circumstances in Athens, where he was born and where as a small child (although he belonged to a poor family) his interest in Art began. At the age of twelve he began several years of study with the painter Vakirtzis, who made motion-picture sets. At eighteen Tsoclis entered the Athens School of Fine Arts, where he received traditional instruction in the techniques of painting and sculpture, as well as in the history of art.
In 1957, thanks to a scholarship, he settled in Rome (together with a few artist friends) where he was immersed in the cultural environment. The leading proponent of modern Art at that time was Alberto Burri, who presented as works of Art, not representations, but the natural appearance of his materials: sometimes a sack, sometimes pieces of sheet metal or various plastics. These made such an impression on Tsoclis at the end of the 50s that we have from his hands a series of works done with coal and concrete.
By these works that we understand how much Tsoclis was, at that time, a new territory, a fresh clay, upon which any event left strong traces. He was a youth who took in everything, was very active, very curious, with many interests. This was important experience for his artistic formation.
After some years he moves away from Rome and establish himself in Paris, where he quickly embraced a different environment. Paris is an open city, with large galleries and gallery owners such as Ileana Sonnabend and Alexander Iolas, from whom Tsoclis received a warm response and hospitality. With their co-operation he presented many exhibitions and found rapid success, as much with the public as with the marketplace. He was a beloved artist. And when he had moved on from this first period, which I would call 'presurrealistic' (of the Tanguy type), he developed his own very individual manner of expression, which led him to a place between representation and life, that is reality. He used objects, what we call 'found objects' or 'ready made' objects, as Duchamp did, but Tsoclis transmuted them by means of his particular manual dexterity into a very personal visual idiom that ebbs and flows between parable and representation. This particular form was highly esteemed at that time, in the years of his European success.
It was at precisely this moment that he felt a calling. His homeland was beckoning and there was a desire to return to Greece and revisit his old friendships and loves. He was afraid however that this return would have a negative effect on his career. I believe that it did not, because in Greece he enjoyed wide recognition, and mounted important exhibitions. And I myself was able to verify how well known he had become in his own county, and how much people love him. This was important because Tsoclis returned with strong critical support in regard to European culture generally, and also in regard to the practical realisation of Art. But he was not satisfied, and continued always searching for new modes of expression.
In these circumstances he managed to create an important new visual idiom, which marked his appearance at the 42nd Biennale of Venice. It is an idiom that combines, indeed unites, cinematic projection with painting. It was considered revolutionary at that moment, because while the medium of video already existed, and many artists were already working in video, no one had yet integrated electronic projection with painting as he did. This was an invigorating union, which incorporated the older tradition of painting with the new forms of narration.
I must say that this was one of his great successes. We are now in the decade of the 8O's and this success burdened Tsoclis with a feeling of psychological debt, because he was aware that his work was once again a centre of interest and attention from great collectors such as Guiliano Gori, who purchased the 'Harpooned Fish' and commissioned certain environmental works for Gori's collection at Fattoria di Cele in Pistoia.
It is difficult to determine why his restlessness drives him to diverse experiences. But if we must in some way define what Tsoclis has introduced to the History of Art in the 20th century, to contemporary or modern Art, it would surely be the integration of the static quality of painting with the dynamic of illuminated projection. This visual idiom, I believe, belongs absolutely and uniquely to him, and it singles him out in the history of Art.
This success led Tsoclis to do a highly significant series of works marrying electronic projection to painting, the 'Living Painting', in which he sharply criticizes contemporary society in regard to the problem of consumption and human conditions. So we have a series of important works that give flesh and bones to the visual idiom that will distinguish him in the international arena.
In spite of this brilliant career, our artist will again feel dissatisfied. He was like a person who yet seeks the path, though he has already arrived at a clear maturity of his idiom. This emphasizes the vitality and the character of the painter, of the artist whose internal restlessness leaves him always unsatisfied. That restlessness led Tsoclis to the Theatre. In his Medea, his Prometheus Imprudent, his Conclusive Oedipus, and other such works, he is always struggling to break the traditional vocabulary of painting and to move toward an 'absolute Art'. We could say, toward an absolute work of art, where action, theatre, actors, sound, all co-exist. All those elements that characterize 'absolute Art'.
We shared a great experience on Spinalonga, the little island near the coast of Crete where Tsoclis created an amazing narrative parable with a series of works that form a kind of prosodic experience of that islet. Lepers were once confined there, people who had nothing to expect but an early death. A place of isolation. After serving as a leper colony, the island was abandoned and its buildings fell into ruin. There Tsoclis installed an extraordinary poetic parable in which he traces human destiny, almost from birth to death. In a crowning touch, the artist uses himself personally in a physical performance where he walks a circular path, continuously, in a closed medieval space, leaving the tracks of his footsteps in its salt-sand floor. There he received a large number of people, who were captivated by his simple act. An act that presented precisely a person in suspended anticipation. Probably in anticipation of death.
I believe this intense experience of Spinalonga has shown us that Art is a thing that marks human life, and cannot be just an element of pure aesthetic decoration. Art must be a way of understanding reality and it must be able to intervene in that reality.
But again Tsoclis is not satisfied with this mode of expression. So, after 85 years he gives himself a gift. He paints 85 works upon which he writes out a question, a motto, or a problem. And that means the provision of: 'elements for the creation of possible masterpieces'.
Certainly it is ironic, but it is also an underlining of what he wants to assert. And what does he want to assert? That thought and intentions are more important than the result. That is what characterizes an artist enlisted in the realm of philosophy, of ideas and poetry. I must say that no other artist has done that before. Not even Titian. And that is what distinguishes Tsoclis from his contemporary colleagues, and generally in the History of Art.