Annita Apostolaki ∙ 2014 ∙ Art historian — MA from the Sotheby’s Institute of Art and a BA in Archaeology & History of Art — Curatorial Assistant at the Athens Biennale

Art, Love and the Humanity

A talk with Giorgio Pol. Ioannidis

Giorgio Pol. Ioannidis is a Greek painter whose work stands out for its exquisite draughtsmanship and expressionistic colours driven by social awareness and a sincere love for humanity.

Born in Thessaloniki in 1956 he painted his very first landscape at the age of ten (!). When asked about the way this need for painting was expressed, Ioannidis remembers:

I fell in love with the olive trees, their colour and form. There were two olive trees in a field and I felt like I just had to paint them. That’s how I made my first oil painting. As a teenager I copied the works of the Old Masters; Goya, Renoir, Rembrandt and Cezanne were my primary influences. I was so impressed by their works; they had a huge impact on me.”

Despite his young age and the lack of any training, these early works reveal the natural talent of the artist in drawing and painting. Featured on USEUM are a copied portrait of Goya (1969) and a painting with a detail from Delacroix’s The Massacre at Chios (1968), which impress with their accuracy in the execution.

The love of Ioannidis for art in all its forms led him to study not only painting, but also architecture, scenography and portraiture in the Academies of Venice and Florence (1974–1985). When we discuss about his studies in Italy, he recalls:

Venice liberated me from any former conservatism. My teachers always told me to express what I have inside me and not what the system forced me to present.”

That is why although he experimented in the 1980s and 1990s with abstract expressionism, an characteristic example of which is Orphic A (1984), he returned to include figurative elements in his paintings, as in Apocalypse (1989) and Megas Erotikos (1990), inspired by the respective disk of Manos Hatzidakis:

I need figurative elements for their inherent symbolism. I love total black and total white; I think they are irreplaceable. But as much as colours help me express the drama and tragedy that are very often depicted in my works, figurative elements are an inner need for me.”

In the painting Passions (1983) the artist has painted the Passion of the Christ as an amalgam of abstract shapes through which human bodies emerge. The figure of the Christ is depicted on the cross and in the Deposition from the Cross and is highlighted with shades of red and ochre. The subject of the painting is an allegory on the problems of society and the pains of humanity.

According to Giorgio Pol. Ioannidis artists cannot stay apathetic to the social and political reality of their times. Art must be attuned to the struggles of the people and express their concerns in order to stimulate them and empower them:

I always give titles to my works because I remember Giulio Argan saying that there is no important work of art without a title. For me untitled works are apolitical. And art cannot be apolitical. Since artists cannot make a direct contribution to society, their role is to offer to society stimuli that the average person does not receive in everyday life. That is why my purpose is to encourage and exalt the viewer with my works.”

His literary influences further reflect his social and political awareness. The works of Greek writer Costas Varnalis as well as of the Russians Maxim Gorky, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy, a portrait of whom by Ioannidis is featured on USEUM, played a catalytic role in his artistic production:

My work is anthropocentric in the sense that humanity is presented stripped from all humiliations and standing up to its rights. I attend every protest because I feel the need to stand up for our rights and contribute in any way I can to society. The struggles and demands of the lower classes and the poor give me strength and inspire me to continue my work. The three pillars of my work are art, love and the humanity.”

Inspiration and the flame of the passion for art is what Ioannidis has been trying to pass on to younger generations during the last 25 years through his teaching:

I tell my students not to hate art and make an effort to love all its forms. That is why apart from visiting exhibitions I try to bring them in touch with the broad spectrum of the visual arts, meaning video, cinema and performances. Maybe this stems from the lack of artistic feedback in my school, which makes me want to offer as much as I can. My contact with younger generations through teaching has given me hope in return.”

Since Ioannidis is an artist devoted primarily to painting, I was really interested to hear his views on the relative disregard towards painting in the contemporary art scene:

Art should express and project the spirit of the times, but the influx of “new” money in art during the last 20–30 years has resulted in an over-projection of materiality. Artists have succumbed to the rules of the system and they create works to satisfy their egos and compete with other artists. In this process they have made huge compromises with their technique and have become a mass that lacks personality.”

Although his works can be found in big and important collections, like Isaac’s Sacrifice (1992) that is in the collection of the State Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, Greece, Ioannidis refuses to abide by the rules of the art business system. In his effort to remain true to his ideals and maintain the high level of his craft he creates not more than seven paintings per year.

From more abstract works like the allegorical Prometheus (1998) depicting the Titan that was punished by Zeus for giving the gift of fire to humanity, a work bold in its almost monochromatic palette of shades of red, lately the artist has shifted towards an explicitly figurative painting. In the impressive Shadow of Death (2013) Ioannidis is not afraid to show in a symbolic way the reality of the current state of social and political affairs; personified by the man depicted on the left the people lie weak, ready to become prey to the vultures of the neoliberal system, who are ready to devour what is left. Nevertheless, the artist also paints the people fighting against their enemies in Doxastikon (2012), overcoming the obstacles and rising above the bleak situation as winners in Anthropogonia (2012). After all, Giorgio Pol. Ioannidis is a true believer in the potential of humanity, of a unified society and this belief is what constantly fuels his passion for art and painting.

Annita Apostolaki ∙ 2014 ∙ Art historian

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