the conversation with thanasis lalas
Costas, fortunately or unfortunately, we are Greeks and ever since we were aware of the world we have been burdened, one of us with a broken statue, another with a fragmented tragedy or comedy, another with the philosophy of a different world, another with Alexander the Great, yet another with an aristocratic democracy... But I say, also with a passport (albeit expired now). Let's admit it. You say:
but not as a crutch
rather as a halo
Has yesterday played a role in the work you've done up to now?
Certainly. Whether I want it to or not. You see, I have sacrificed very many years, especially those of my youth (I mean my best years) trying on the one hand to copy nature (like a child who learns first from its mother), and on the other painting in museums and archaeological sites, (trying to comprehend the works of antiquity, which I loved very much), drawing for endless hours in museums and archaeological sites.
But I want to take this opportunity of our conversation to make clear my position in relation that of the archaeologists, because I never saw, as they did, the works of the ancient Greeks as archaeological discoveries, but always as enduring works of Art. Indeed, these last years I have been trying, inspired by themes of the past, to make modern, contemporary works.
So, I want my respect and understanding for the ancient world to be considered a given. But when the archaeologists use the past as a bogey to make unruly children behave, I get angry! Just as I am absolutely opposed to the exploitation of the ancient world, which is used so often by archaeologists and other idolaters of the Greek past as a shield of deliverance or as a bridge of return to what we imagine is our safe haven.
I believe that haloes form automatically over the heads of worthy persons in all eras like rainbows, and that's why I am against the fear that is provoked in us by the comparison of what we do today with what was done yesterday.
I also was born in Greece, but I have lived and created in many other places in the world. I have known many civilisations. I loved them and respected them all. I don't consider myself privileged because I am a Greek. It was my lot to be the child of a country that had (two and a half thousand years ago) a great culture. Today, that doesn't satisfy me, but it doesn't frighten me, either. On the contrary, the responsibility it carries is what activates me and inspires me.
What is the difference between the modern and the ancient?
The ancient is a fact that has already been recorded in our memory and we carry it inside ourselves, like a blessing and a curse. It is the 'in the beginning', I mean that which happened first, and which for that reason is forgiven everything, as children are forgiven, because they are beginners. The modern is not yet established. It is being created now, in other words, later, afterward. And if it has some value, it will find its place in tomorrow. Only then will it too belong to the past. Otherwise, it will belong nowhere. It will pass into non-existence. But, even if it remains, it will not be ancient. It will necessarily be latter, because we know, we have seen, and it will therefore be subject to our merciless criticism. Surely there do exist in our own time, among us, certain ancients, but they are drowning in the sea of the past.
At one point on one of your paintings, you pronounce a curse:
'A curse upon knowledge and information.
A curse upon love, which has castrated us.'
Can knowledge really be a stumbling block?
Knowledge sometimes becomes a stumbling block! An unavoidable reality, that prevents us from seeing the world from the beginning, from finding the probable error and taking if necessary a different road. My own concern is how to propose a different form of Art. I believe that if that ever happens, and it will happen, it will be the work of a person who, while knowing what has passed and is passing around him, will never have seen a work of Art. And with the inclination he has from nature for the fine arts, he will create his first pictorial work. This, even if poorly done, will be the work that will actually represent our historical moment. Because Art doesn't evolve as science does, but constantly changes form.
Do you say this about information today? Are you writing only about today? Or is it because there has always existed a problem of too much information? Has information always been a curse?
There was a time in my life (especially the years when I lived in Paris) when, so as not to appear an ignorant yokel, I filled my head with useless facts that were never of any use for anything. They only put continuous obstacles in my way, continuous inhibitions. 'Ah . . . that has already happened, has already been told! . . .'
Yet, I wanted also to tell it, wanted to do it, and surely I would have done in my own way, if I hadn't been afraid of reproach.
Those facts, those bits of worthless information are now like stains, like a residue that I must slowly erase from my conscious and from my thoughts, so that I can see the world again from its beginning, as it really is, and not as I was taught it is.
Very well, a curse on both knowledge and information. But . . . on Love?
Love is what more that anything else enslaves us. I don't know. I don't see you, you don't see me. Maybe you think you see me but you see my phantom. Who among us truly (and despite the love we bear for our companions) doesn't feel, hasn't sometime felt, that love is an enslavement, a vice that grips and squeezes us, and in the end we die without having used any but a small portion of the possibilities that nature has granted us, to give and receive sensual pleasure, to receive and give joys. I fear love. I have paid dearly for it and I don't want it any longer. It transforms the passion of eros into tenderness, aggressiveness into kindness, demand into begging. And that's what I feel, that I (at least) am castrated by it.
Each one of your answers is at least ten more questions, but I will pass on to another awesome phrase you used in connexion with knowledge and information.
You've been saying it for years ...for centuries
within the divine ignorance
a wise man
All words, all phrases, contain (or do not contain) a poetic self-reliance and they cannot in any case be explained, nor can they be analyzed. I think that my previous response more or less explains what you're getting at. I have known people who didn't have the opportunity to learn, and curiously, they knew. I've known others, many others, who though they had learned, didn't know. They didn't know how to give us what we rightfully expected from them. That which would enlighten our life, which would be useful to it.
Today of course when the machines know (if you ask them properly) more than even the most learned polymath humans, I prefer getting information I need from a cold machine. Just as I prefer communication with people who don't know, and nevertheless can teach me something. People who can unexpectedly reveal to me that which I have been hoping for all my life. From those who know, I now expect almost nothing, because the things they know are things everybody now knows. From those who don't know, I expect everything.
How is it that this universal blindness exists in the present time? What makes people, though they can see, to be blind? To be blind is perhaps not the worst that could happen to you. At least the blind person hears. The one who is not blind often believes that he can see, but he doesn't see, he just looks. And, because he's busy with appearances, he doesn't hear, either. It isn't by chance that, as the scientists say, a blind person is far wiser than one who is deaf.
But, the old pictures
continue to guide our steps.
Let us not forget it.
Despite all that. Beyond what we have said, let us take as an example ourselves. (I imagine that certain colleagues who are present here, close to us here, and who have suffered the same injuries as we have, will understand us.) Many of us, from having studied so much of antiquity and the Renaissance, have acquired a syndrome of balance. I, at least when I left Greece, then a young man, carried with me this absolute balance that our ancestors taught me, and suddenly I found myself in another world where the truth was so different that the idea of balance was a negative element, a defect. And I was ashamed and rejected what I had taken such pains to learn, and, like the others, I tried to get rid of balance. I failed. But now that I've grown older and am afraid, and collect the pieces of my life like precious stones, I say 'But why should this balance be a defect? It could have been a characteristic distinguishing me from other foreign colleagues. And that would have been my contribution to the universal pyramid of Art.' Shame on me! I make a virtue of necessity.
Can a condition of uncertainty be a condition of balance?
Yes it can. Unfortunately! You're asking a person who, (as you have seen) in this exhibition, has tried to impose order on a chaos. I created a chaos and then attempted to put it in order. I envy those who don't put order into their lives and into their Art. They are the ones who can hope for everything. I have learned to put things in order and I have to drag inspiration out with a meat-hook. And that is often painful.
How well I understand you . . . And humbling, I would say . . . Inspiration should be like the grasshopper, like an accident.
Let us not sink in the sea of masterpieces of the past.
Have you ever sunk? Been shipwrecked?
The idea came into to head that the only work that deserves to exist in this world is the masterpiece. Though, as Iolas said, the world has now filled up with masterpieces. Anyway. I aspired to it.
And, you know, those masterpieces are not created on the shore but in the open seas. And I felt that I didn't want the shore any longer, I couldn't stand it. And I said that I prefer to be a corpse washed up by the ocean, rather than a lifeless body sunning itself carefree on the beach.
Why couldn't you stand it?
Because I expected more of myself. Because God made me inferior to what I would want to be, to what you have to be to make masterpieces. And that made me angry. I am not, I was not. I wanted. And that 'I wanted it', as much as the awareness that I couldn't do it, (may I be forgiven for saying so), may be my masterpiece. The acknowledgement of failure. That too has its charm.
And I tell you there is another phrase that may perhaps open a door to all of this futility that exists in your words. You say:
The history of Art is a lending fund, our contribution is the interest
In other words, maybe everyone can contribute to Art?
Yes, if you are 'latter', as unfortunately we are, and not 'ancient', you can borrow, but you must at least pay the interest. That is, you also must offer something to the cause and transaction of Art, as every honourable person would do. But many artists, though they are in need, are ashamed to borrow, so they remain inactive and poor. And when the time comes for them to open their books and be accounted for, we see that they are even poorer than we thought. Or again, if they had agreed to borrow, they cannot repay the loan.
And I say that whoever among us was able to add even the slightest bit to the cause and transaction of Art, helped it by increasing its Capital. Of course, without being counted among the big depositors and becoming thereby one of those who create masterpieces. (The masterpiece has far greater demands.) But he was a useful person, within his limits. It is enough for him not to inflate himself.
Do outstanding and unpaid loans exist in Art?
Ninety-nine per cent of them are outstanding and unpaid. There are only a few artists who manage to repay what they have received, plus even a small amount. Not of course in accord with the laws and rules of the banks, but with the laws of Art.
Like vampires we are still sucking juices from the continuously renewed present.
I say that about myself. Although I have now grown older, I insist on drawing juices from the everpresent here and now. Always with the hope of nourishing the prerequisites that will perhaps one day lead me to the masterpiece.
What do you mean when you say you've matured a lot?
I've grown old. Not in soul, nor in body. I'm in good shape for my age. But I belong to a different historical moment. The time of my great strength has passed. Even worse, my friends, with whom I have walked for so many years, some have died, some have become statues, some have abandoned the effort, and others have transformed into enemies. And from one point of view, I like that! I also like being old with a cane (that I will carry one day) and people will see me and say: 'Hey, look, isn't that Tsoclis whom we once talked about so much'? And I'll be happy, even though I belong to another world. It's enough that I am still able to see what's going on around me now and if I find some isolated animal to drink its blood.
What does a person lose when he passes from youth into adulthood and then into old age? And what does he gain?
He gains nothing. What we call life experiences, if they aren't made use of in time, become food for worms. On the contrary, he loses much, and above all the capacity to realise his desires. Because he continues to have desires. But he becomes unworthy of them.
Knowing that there is no way back
we feed the hungry birds with paltry crumbs.
This refers to the people who tenderly surround us. Once we started out from a certain point, with the aim of arriving at some vague and distant end. Hell or Paradise. But because we had the precedent of Hop-o'-My-Thumb (who, if I recall, left a trail of bread crumbs so he could find his way back home) and though we knew that there was no return, we had provided ourselves with such crumbs and scattered them behind us as we walked ahead, not any more to find our way back but to feed those who love us and follow us. And this, not so much from altruism as from the fear that we might be abandoned. Because then, to whom would we prove that we are important persons and that we have finally arrived at the terminus we hoped for? So it was due to cowardice and ulterior motive that we fed the hungry birds, so that we could feel that something was happening around us, that some live thing was moving.
So a great 'I' must have a 'We', is that it?
A great 'I' means nothing without the 'We'. The 'I' is a kind of self-inspiration. (We often say that, the two of us, don't we?) And it's been years now since I've practised self-inspiration.
certain forgotten roads
lead to dead installations
and stop there without any explanation
certain movements in art
open fresh paths through time
that lead to cemeteries of thought
they move me
those amputated roads
and the abandoned sites of industry
and I find my nourishment there, where for others
the world ends.
How beautiful that is, like a poem.
That's why I tell you it's not always easy to explain a phrase, a poem. In any case, it isn't necessary. I remember a paragraph from Romain Rolland's L'Âme enchantée (if you've ever read L'Âme enchantée) which says that Jean-Christophe didn't want to be original, he wanted to be deep. Do you understand? . . . What is there to analyze? What is the meaning of 'deep'? Yet this phrase has stuck with me all my life, like some others . . . by others . . . my friend, and they guide me . . . What were we saying?
The interest of the phrase is that you believe that different movements of Art . . .
Many times among the things that have already happened and have died or so we think, I (since I cannot see the world from the beginning as I would like), when I find myself by chance before some abandoned work site or in some dead-end road, I go and look, I search to see if there is some hole, some hiding place, I push my way in and sometimes I find a treasure (I mean valuable elements of inspiration) that some old woman had hidden away before the pirates came after her and she fled her house and left it there for years and years for me. Or it might be something left there and forgotten by some impatient and unsuspecting child.
It's the same with movements in Art that have been hastily abandoned by the artists. Sometimes there is material for exploitation. If that material suits what I want to say at the given moment, I pull it out and use it for my own purposes.
But isn't there a contradiction in that? In movements in Art, might someone through movements in Art end up at cemeteries of thought?
Of course he might. I have known intimately almost all the Schools of the second half of the 20th century and I have taken part in each of them in my own way. Many of those movements, I remember, lasted six months, a year, two years . . . and then they were finished. And it was a pity. They had no continuation. A few, it's true, held on a while longer. Nouveau Realism, say, held on a bit longer, Pop Art . . . lasssted . . . Arte Povera . . .
I say 'held on' because already they no longer interest us so much. We saw their works once, twice, we admired them, but because their aim was surprise and originality instead of emotion, our interest was exhausted. But on the other hand, you see a person like Duchamp who led and still leads our thought. What nearly all of us are doing today is based in his thought. He, no, he did not lead us to the cemetery. But look on the other hand at a Picasso, that giant, yes, he did lead us to cemeteries of thought. Because every door that he opened (and he opened many) he quickly closed behind him. Nobody dared to cross the same threshold, to make works related to his. Because Picasso proposed works, while Duchamp offered a Philosophy of Art. He always left the road behind him open, and you also could walk it without qualms.
Lines shapes and colours
the Giocondas the Meninas and the Guernicas
the devil but also God
For a long time now I have been troubled by the thought that I wasn't able to see the beginning of the world. That's why in this exhibition, at a moment of inability to create a work of interest, I said to myself: 'Hold on there, Tsoclis, how the hell did this business of Art begin? What things formed it, how is a work of Art made?' And naïvely, but fortunately, I determined that it is made first of all with ideas. (In the beginning was the Word, as we say) and then you take lines, forms and colours, and you give them to Da Vinci and he makes you the Gioconda. You give them to Picasso and he makes you the Gurenica. You give them to Velázquez and he makes you the Meninas. But the same things, the same thoughts, the same means, the same materials, in the hands of mediocre artists, are debased. And I said: 'Look man, since you can't make masterpieces with these things, why don't you propose them to others who have more talent than you or who are younger and full of promise? Maybe they can make some masterpieces.'
My own offering in this exhibition is not the works but mainly the understanding, deep, original, of what a masterpiece is made from. Of course I'm speaking here only about painting, to be clear about it. In my opinion, this exhibition does not consist merely of works of art. It is above all a teaching. An instruction for those who don't consider me naïve, because naïve, unfortunately I am not.
years, years with stones and with blood.
Two very important materials in your own painting.
Marked. As young children we threw stones at one another in the streets and knocked our heads with stones. I lived through the war, and through the civil war, and through blood-soaked loves, blood-soaked years, hard years. And so those two elements, the one characterizing the earth (that is, stone), and the other life (which is blood) have stuck inside me like two larger realities of this existence, of this society. And at least half of the many works I've done are inspired by blood or by stones. They are two elements, comrades that I love, and I know that when one of them is absent the other will step in to justify me.
A look of the eyes . . . to indelibly stain the world with its secretions.
I think that's what we artists are striving for. Wherever our gaze falls, on object, face, or event, that is what will bear our name from then forward. When you see jars and bottles doesn't it bring to mind Morandi? When you see apples don't you think of Cézanne? When you see tropical leaves don't you remember the Douanier Rousseau? And when you see horses is it possible not to recall Degas or Kounellis? Blue, Yves Klein? I want to say that your great success is when, without the image imposing itself on you, you leave your own traces upon it and you move past it, as dogs do. And from that moment on, whenever others approach the objects that carry your traces, they sense the odour of your passing.
I'll tell you about a thing that happened when I was directing 'The Sixth Caryatid' by the Koufalis brothers at the Alma Theatre, and which goes even further beyond what I want to say.
At a certain moment, when everything is white, I had a red umbrella appear on the stage. And then I hear behind me a voice, 'TSOCLIS'. I was startled. Until that moment I had never done red umbrellas. What could it have been that urged my unknown friend to say my name? It was that he recognised my spirit, my efforts, that which I might perhaps have done. It was one of the greatest expressions of praise I have received in my life. That an act, an object, which had no precedent in my work, should nevertheless bear my name. I think that is the dream of all artists. Is it? Or have I gone crazy?
And it is my heart
like a wretched bloody rag
dragged through the streets by stray dogs
Aren't you being a bit excessive?
Come on, allow me to be a little poetic. And of course poetry uses words that people in their everyday language are afraid to use. In any case, I said those tragic things in a moment when I saw so much suffering all round me. And . . . damn it, that's what things had come to, that I could have whatever I wanted. From the slightest to the greatest. And, instead of being glad, inside myself I felt shame. Remember Palamas, where he says:
Among the Toilers, among the rude peasants,
the snow, the grippe, the hunger, the wolves,
rivers, seas, lands,
annihilation and horror.
Raw winter, but in my room
the summery fire.
I am ashamed of my warmth
and of my humanity.
Isn't that what Palamas says? Is he being excessive? Believe me, I had analogous feelings at that time. I am not and cannot be happy when I know that other people near me are suffering. I don't think I have that right or at least I don't accept that I ought to have it. I would like them to be in my place, and they aren't.
And that, if the words don't sound too heavy to you, tears my heart to shreds, to drag itself through the streets, even though appearances would justify those who say: 'Come on now, Tsoclis, is it you who says these thing?' I do say them!
When does happiness become a lethal weapon?
Happiness becomes a lethal weapon from the moment it begins. I mean the first work an artist does that ensures his happiness, is simultaneously the harbinger of his death. We all know certain artists who, though they had some talent, had a Word to tell. From the moment they pronounced that Word, from that moment on, their life stopped having meaning. Because they have said what they had to say. The lucky ones died in good time. And the drama of the others, the survivors, is that they continue in the now useless remainder of their lives, to tell and retell the same words like parrots, sometimes better, sometimes not as well, now louder and now more softly. But it is the same Word. And as life proceeds it passes them by and leaves them whispering their Word, their successful, their saving, their fatally saving, . . . if you will permit me the phrase, Word. That's what I want to say.
At which moment of your life do you die?
I ought to have died already twice. When I was living in Paris there was a moment when they discovered my perspective objects transforming me within three months from an insignificant painter into an international star whose works began selling even to buyers who hadn't seen them. That was a moment when I should have died, and since I didn't die I gradually cheapened it, because I succumbed to the esteem, the opinion, that others had of me. And the second time (I'd like you to acknowledge this because it's clearer, and more well-known in Greece) was when I exhibited at the Venice Biennale the Harpooned Fish and the Portraits, it was just such a crowning moment. But as I continued in my life, that also remained as mere recollection. Like an event in the course of my life. At that moment they should've buried me, even alive, but there wasn't a suitable gravedigger to be found.
With how many dead persons
do we daily exchange handshakes
and greet with kisses!
I would say . . . that for me, are dead are those who care only to be at peace with their conscience. To be calm, to do nothing bad nor yet anything good to their fellow humans. To take care of their children and wives. Eh, it doesn't matter, if their neighbour is hungry or if he wins high praise. It's not our problem, we are not to blame. No harm is done, not a bit. I consider those persons to be dead. Nevertheless, I embrace them often, shake their hands, dine with them, invite them to my house, go to theirs. I love them. But inside my conscience, I know that they are people who if they had already died, it would have no importance.
Unfortunately not sperm, but blood
Now I am trying to open a new path in Art, and I persist even though I know that I can't do it, that I am no longer capable. On the contrary, I can deepen in those others, those that already exist. To give my blood, that is, to nourish things, ideas, that could have died and that I still maintain in life with my blood. It's so simple! I can't do it any longer. I've grown old. I can't even make children, I have no more sperm. But I still have blood. If you cut my hand you will see the blood flow. So, I can still do something, not that, but this. You see, the effort has become a habit.
I seek the cool
in the shadow of my own body
What is the body for you?
Sometimes it's all the universe and sometimes it's only the shell of our spirit. Those of you who know me well as a person, those who know my work (and haven't settled only for what's written in newspapers, shown on television or the internet, or what is whispered behind our backs) you will know that I am a person who is to be found twenty-four hours a day daubed with paints and with words. Or I am seated at my little desk (you know the one) trying to organize my thoughts, to shape mysel.
I am someone who has made all the mistakes in his life and suffered all the indignities and all the failures. I say that because I have begged, received, taken, demanded many things from others . . . and I never felt that what I took, what I demanded, what I begged, managed to make me sensible, to make me a better person. Now finally I think that only I can protect my own self and help it to offer a phrase that might be of interest. For me, that's the shadow that cools and refreshes.
That is the great repose. When I manage to tell a Word or to do a work, that might be able to cool and refresh this hard, I would say, this ugly, this evil, this dangerous, this bright course of my life. I don't expect anything of anyone. I expect everything of myself.
I hope, so that those who love me will not misunderstand, I need them absolutely, because they keep me to one motion, alive, yet . . . I have no expectation.
I have no expectation but neither do I transfer my responsibilities onto anybody else's back. I think that all people are good, I am bad. All people are rich, I am poor. All people are honourable, I am shameful. And those who are considered bad, and it's likely they are . . . I say no. In their own way they are good. It's my fault, I am to blame. This assumption of responsibility, which believe me is sincere, sometimes refreshes me.
What, for you, is truth.
Truth? That's another matter. My mother had seven children (as you know) and she treated each one in a way that, in her opinion, was suited to him. Whenever I would say something and one of my siblings would try to question or refute it, my mother interceded: 'No, Costas never tells lies.' So I was obliged for all my life to tell the truth. And I have paid for the truth very dearly. And you'll tell me it was worth it! The truth is an easy thing, banal. I wonder why I accepted it. Because certainly everyone can tell the truth. But a lie, as I now realise, creates on the one hand obligations, but on the other it requires imagination. You have to polish it. A lie is a creation. Truth is a mere constatation ['verification of fact'].
Do you believe that those works, the masterpieces, what we call masterpieces, which endure, have something to do with truth?
What is it that makes something survive through time?
Look, first of all, let's be honest: it's charm, enchantment.
Somewhere I say: 'don't wait for explanation, hope for enchantment'. Before all else, a work of art produces enchantment. If it does. Afterward begin the analyses by the specialists who seek to find what produces the charm of the work. Surely they know something. I must confess that I don't have any recipe to give you for how to produce charm and enchantment. I am always ready to receive it, or rather to produce it, but inside a cloud of uncertainty, inside a cloud of ignorance, of illiteracy, inside a cloud, I would say, of desperation. But what does truth have to do with Art? They are two opposite worlds.
The murky waters
of the wells of inspiration
Why are the waters of inspiration murky?
You know, inspiration is a fragile thing, like the little crab that lives in a seashell, an insignificant nothing. At one time I used to fish with a rod. (That's where I learned everything, and I declare it.) So when the waters were clear my hook with its bait could be seen, and as soon as I saw a fish coming I got flustered and made a false move and the fish got away. On the contrary, when the sea was turbid or whipped up, I couldn't see the fish and the fish couldn't see the hook, and then it would bite.
How much does inspiration participate in a great work?
Inspiration concerns the artist, not the work. The work is another matter. There are people who have wonderful inspirations but are not able to convert them into visible and demonstrable objects. Isn't it so? There are others who are able to convert the most humble, the most common object into a masterpiece. I think they're two different things. Hoping and believing that we will be able to convert our inspirations into works of art, we seek and long for them. Yes, we desire inspiration . . . as an igniting spark. But inspiration concerns the creator. The created work concerns the receiver. hat an inspiration was this phrase:
I also wanted . . .
The 'I also wanted' is a great pardon that I beg now from all of you who hear me and see me . . . even though some of you will have come at some time to a position analogous to mine . . . you know . . . but . . . I'll tell you a few things. . . . My years of childhood were not pleasant, nor those of my youth. I was a very poor child. Despite that, I believed in Art and expected from it . . . glory, posthumous fame, and whatever other intangibles Art may provide.
But at a certain moment, there came a collector or a dealer, I don't recall exactly, and he said to me: 'I'll buy these pieces you're doing. How much do you want? 10- 15- 20. Here, take it.' And I took it. And the there came others and they said: 'We also want to buy, because we like these', and I did pieces for them, too. In this way I fragmented and parcelled out some of my dreams. You see, I also had sometimes to get a pair of velvet trousers, like those young people were wearing, to wrap a scarf round my neck, to buy a fat, clumsy, awful wristwatch, but to say that I also have.
I also wanted, and I also wanted that (I'm speaking of the most banal things, because there are things far more valuable, which I won't mention). Many times it made me mimic my own self
and now . . .
I ask innocence to forgive me
and to receive me again into its bosom.
This painful rejection and this unwanted admiration
Can admiration be unwanted?
Admiration? Yes, often . . . Sometimes you are obliged to admire certain works or certain persons that you dislike, that you detest. And yet, they deserve your admiration and so you give it them without wanting to do. Against your will. Doesn't it ever happen that you say to yourself: 'No, not him'? . . . And yet . . . Yes, him! That, Thanasis, is unwanted admiration.
Has unwanted admiration affected you? Has it played a positive role?
It has played the opposite, a negative role, because I'm not envious. I know people who hate me but don't dare open their mouths and expose themselves. I know such people. Actually, they are the ones I had in mind. It happened that I also disliked certain people whom I simultaneously admired. And I don't like that, because it hurt, it hurts . . . But that never prevents me from expressing openly in public that unwanted admiration.
I envision the embrace of a bear
who, as I sleep, will warm me or eat me
Some of you will remember, when in Goethe's Faust the animals speak to Mephistopheles and tell him . . .
Now that's done! We see and we say,
And listen and rhyme.
And if by chance our rhymes succeed,
Straightaway they become ideas.
Some things are said because it's beautiful to pronounce them.
And it isn't necessary to explain beauty, to justify it. What can you explain of these verses? They have already been transformed into an idea.
The whole point is that you envision the embrace of a bear that in the end may also eat you.
If I get into details, there may be some here among us who will misunderstand me. I'd have liked, while there was still time, to have lived all of my desires for life and sensual love, with a bear-woman, who would like to eat me or to warm me. But on that level. Not in tenderness, or affection, or understanding. Simply to warm me. Or to eat me. A dangerous embrace. That's what I wanted! I loved and was loved by mild women, balanced and sensible. And that unbalance that exists inside me and has kept me alive, that I will take with me. That, that's it . . . But why have you set me to reveal such things?
We don't lay claim to any kind
nor to any manner
but to a lookout
to our own watchtower
What do you mean by that?
Look, to be understood here, I'd have to mention the names of persons whom we know, here in Greece, whom we love and value. (Though the phenomenon is the same all over the world.)
So I say . . . We don't lay claim to any kind, nor to any manner. But to a lookout.
When I say kind, I mean that with your work, you declare that you are, let's say, a painter of flowers, or a landscape painter, or a portraitist, or you do abstract Art. This means that you are specialised in that kind. And we recognise you by the image that you offer and not by the method or manner, or the means with which you express yourself. We have other artists, however, who practise a kind of art, and we recognise them not by the image they offer us but by the manner in which they practise and by the materials they use. I don't want to mention names because among them are also some dearly beloved friends. I'm afraid it might annoy them.
Don't be unfair. Say a name.
Look, let's take for example certain important Greeks. Let's say, Pavlos. A serious, recognised artist, an old friend whom I regard highly. He is recognisable much more by the posters cut into strips that he uses and by how he uses them, than by the image that he offers us. It's the same with Takis with his magnets . . . isn't that so?
They are recognisable by their manner and by the media they use.
Now let's take another example and let's describe it differently.
Moralis, say, or Fassianos. You'll always find them in the neighbourhood café and you will recognise them immediately. They are there and they always paint the same, the very same, image. It reassures you. It's as though time has stopped. You begin gradually to greet them and show them respect, because they deserve respect. We recognise those artists by the image they offer and from their habits. There's nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, it is esteemed because it shows a certain stability. You know who you're dealing with. Besides, that's what most of the artists everywhere in the world do, that's how they are.
Be me. You'll find me in different places: sometimes in the café, sometimes in the theatre, or at the beach, on a journey, inside an aeroplane, in the sea, in the Museum. And if at some time you say: 'Hey, isn't that Tsoclis? I saw him yesterday in the Museum, what's he doing today in church?' Ah, that's what I want.
I don't want to drown only in a single kind, nor in a manner, or a product. Because I believe that an artist, if he is sensitive and isn't dead inside, surely cannot make the Art he did when he was thirty years old and in love with a girl who he saw as a goddess, and the same Art when he is forty and the girl has already died, the war in Algeria has intervened, the economic crisis in Greece, the migrants . . eh, you can't paint the same. At least I can't.
When that happens (and it happens often), it is entirely for reasons of practical everyday survival. It is Tsoclis, the professional painter whose works you will see decorating many private salons, and who has assumed the task of supporting Tsoclis, the amateur, the searcher, whose works lie in storerooms awaiting their day.
So, from my lookout (note that I do not say 'refuge' or 'hang-out') I have a different view of the world every morning and I try to record it. Thus, I am obliged to change both my method and my materials each time, to adapt them to the new image. It is by this that I want to be recognised. By my constancy in the face of the instability of the events that inspire me. And not only by my 'Seascapes' and 'Trees', which in any case do not change, because Nature doesn't change. Still, those are also my works.
Yet you insist
rhabdomancers of inspiration
by confirmation . . .
Yes, that's a phrase that I've used again . . . I like it very much.
I remember as a child, usually alone, I would go out holding a little wand. I'd close my eyes and walk the streets, whole kilometres, searching and hoping to feel the wand move. If it moved, aha! I stopped, set up a little tent, took pick and shovel and began to dig until I found water. Each time that gave me courage to go on with my life. To find the water and then to continue further. Always searching for something else. There is so much underground water. .
How much has your work been determined by character and how much by inspiration? My work is the child of my character.
Because I am patient, because I defend my character, I support my life with words or with actions that somebody, some people, may not like and that may cause them to treat me accordingly.
Therefore my character has played a large role. It has determined the posture of others in relation to me. And perhaps in relation to my work. As for inspiration, shall I dare to say that from time to time the wand moves in my hand? I prefer that you say it. That others say it.
We eyewitnesses or eavesdroppers
give form to your acts
I say this because the artist is not a person who takes a position in regard to things. It wouldn't make any sense. I value, love, take account of as a likely source of inspiration, the ethical as much as the unethical, the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the tall and the short, the intelligent and the stupid, the educated and the uneducated . . . I look and, according to the form that I think I must give to a thing, I act. I don't offer things, I record . . . no, I don't like the word . . . I give form to situations and conditions. That's better!
Consequently, if you don't take action, I am dead. Because I'm just an observer. I have my views of course, and indeed strong ones, but I leave them out of Art. I look at you and according to your own actions, I make your portrait. My ambition is: if you look in the encyclopaedia of the future, among the entries for 2015 or 2010 or 12, instead of a photograph of the planet or other explanations, there will be an image of yourselves, but as I have created it. That would be my great success. It's crazy. How could such a thing happen? I don't know. But that's what I aim for, I confess that's what I want. . . . Vain, foolish, selfish, all of those together.
This answer of yours goes hand in hand with, or embracing if you will, that other phrase of yours:
Art doesn't express emotions
it produces emotions
I say it mockingly. And it relates to those artists and lovers of art who assert that: when he is creating, the artist expresses, pours his emotions out over his work, that is, his repressed feelings. But things aren't that simple. The artist doesn't work only for himself. Above all he works for others. He is a professional of emotion and recording. And he uses his ideas, materials, and skill to give form to his era and to move the viewer. That's his role in society. To emotionally move his fellow humans, enriching their spiritual world, and not to burden them with his own sufferings and passions.
Art is otherwise . . .
I want to say that Art, what deserves that name, is never what you expect, what you study, what you have learned. It is always something else. It is the unexpected, it is nearly always the opposite to what you are hoping for, it is that which you may not have wanted, that which will humble you when you stand before it, because you realise that's what Art is. Not what you knew, but otherwise. That's why I have infinite esteem for all those who create something, even a bad thing, that is nonetheless an offering of their own. I have a weakness for people who have something to offer. I don't judge the quality nor do I predict the future importance of their work. Quality is another matter, which will, as they say, be judged by time. Though who can hope any more for a return to the past! Anyway, that 'otherwise' could be produced as well by what already exists.