Stratis Athineos was born on the island of Lesvos, Greece, in 1953. He had liberal studies in drawing, painting, engraving and the History of Art. Since 1970 he systematically occupies himself with art. He lives and works in Piraeus. He is a member of the Greek Chamber of Artists.
Life and Symbols
Soon after his early exhibitions, Athineos’ painting became channeled into two distinct cycles: calm agrarian scenes, seascapes, or realistic landscapes on the one hand, and the imaginary couple of the horse and the woman riding through eternity at a furious gallop on the other. The surprise is legitimate: what do these two cycles have in common? What is the point of this juxtaposition of such dissimilar themes, which intensifies the contrast?
I should like to note, first of all, the obvious symbolic dimension of the themes. The images of the two cycles are proposed as symbols of two stances that quite frequently co-exist or alternate in the same person. The precisely observed and realistically treated landscape depicts the visible, specific place in which human action takes place, with its possibilities and achievements. It also conveys the instinctive drive towards the world and the intention of claiming it. The realism and power with which the image of nature is portrayed emphasize the sense of the real and strengthen man’s involvement with nature.
This stance is altogether negated by the horse and woman rider. Their impulsive and desperate ride attempts to represent extrication and disengagement from the environment of order and repeated rhythms. The idea inherent in the theme is disengagement from regularity and man’s forced expulsion into untamed space.
I should observe that although the figures are conceived as symbols, this is not the attribute most strongly emphasized. Their bold visual composition and the spirit that animates them overshadow it.
Works in which a human being and an animal interact are not easy to approach. In addition to the bewilderment of the first impression, they often generate fascination mixed with awe. Nevertheless, it is primarily in this category that the artist’s broader concerns are set out, his personal vision is given form and his capabilities are more accurately judged. The origin of the animal figures that inhabit Athineos’ iconography - initially the horse, then the bull, the Minotaur, and finally the bird of prey - is easy to identify in mythology or art, but this is of minimal assistance in understanding them, since the animals are introduced here not as figures in a legend, but as symbols of powers with vague dimensions that co-exist or clash. They are, above all, arbitrary visual forms, vehicles of inordinate power that break through natural patterns and boundaries.
The group of a human and an animal is captured at a moment of extreme intensity. The figures are depicted in an embrace, catapulting through space in huge leaps, and separating, sometimes forcibly and at others more serenely, each one seeking refuge in the bosom of the other. In the alternating versions of the theme, the organization of the group changes, as do the movements and configuration of forms, as they are portrayed suspended in the air. Thus the group becomes a composite interpretive study of forms. In these successive depictions, one appreciates the artist’s inventiveness and his ever-increasing boldness, as well as the consistency with which he satisfies the demands of his concepts.
The principles that govern Athineos’ painting and constitute distinctive features of his work are, inter alia, the following: the very close relationship between theme, form and visual treatment, the combination of the concrete and the abstract, the leaning toward distortion as a feature of extreme realism, and the particular usage of color to signify either movement or space. Examples of applications of this ideogram include the dizzying perspective from which the scene is presented and the amazing foreshortenings and elongations to which the figures are subjected. Also noteworthy are the large, abstract chromatic surfaces that demarcate the space and make it more material, without influencing its abstract dimensions. Space results from the group of bodies and extends to the limits demanded by their movements. It is the depiction and emphasis of their movements. This is achieved precisely by the large swirls painted with impasto color, the spiral zones, the intersecting lines of light, and the fans of light rays that are occasionally absorbed by the group.
The idiom of Athineos has not suffered the attrition brought about by the carelessly generalized adoption of the robust idioms of Greek expressionism. Perhaps because expressionism remained just another medium in his work, an instrument at the service of an art governed by a vision. The realization of this vision can assimilate the rough color, the gesture that frequently takes the painting to extremes, and the daemonic pace that moves the composition. Another distinguishing feature of Athineos’ work is the sense of his study of the whole and the details alike, the sense of balance - always very fine - between an instinctual dynamism and a stylistic idea that directs and shapes these forces.
Professor, University of Athens