The artist's hands. Photo Copyright Philippe Brame 1992
Reflections on Art by Ghiorgo Zafiropulo
Firstly I would like to note my aversion to the use of the first person in these lines to be published but what is to be done given the subject which motivates them?
So I begin by noting some episodes of my youth which seem to have been critical regarding the relationship I still have with the visual arts and are significant in terms of the authentic acts of creation which have come about .
I was born and raised in a typically comfortable and cultured environment of a collector at the end of the nineteenth century. An amateur enthusiast of ancient art objects of all kinds; furniture, tapestries, ceramics, precious trinkets, Phoenician vases, chinoiserie, Persian carpets etc. and so my eye was formed.
The few pictures which adorned the walls were conspicious by their insignificance, with the exception of two small views of the Venetian lagoon by Guardi. One or two examples of the "Modern style" were lost inadvertently and contempoary art (Impressionist and Post Impressionist) were were totally ignored. I had to wait twenty years to see a Van Gogh, Modagliani, Monet etc..... Meanwhile from the age of eleven, on each trip, usually annual, to Paris I was led through the entire Louvre and I was frequently taken to Florence. A numismatist friend of the familyand famous collector of coins and Taranto terracotta, whom I visited at least once a wek on returning from school, instilled in me a fascination for Archaic Greek Art. Arnaud d'Agnel did the same for the Romanesque and especially for Cistercian abbeys. And then there was the unforgettable Meyer-Graefe, Paul Jamot, René Huygues and many others.
Art and objects of art were part of the pleasure of life of which it was good taste to enjoy. I profited enormously and saw so much. However until after I reached the age of forty it never crossed my mind to pick up a pencil, a brush or a lump of clay for artistic purposes. My academic studies were focused on the scientific side, the only ones considered to be serious. Following a series of blunders, misunderstandings of various sorts, they were strangely crowned by an agricultural diploma from Grignon.
One thing led to another and at the end of the war I made an unsuccessful attempt at farming in the Transvaal (South Africa). Bella, my wife, having decided that I was stultified in my attempts at agriculture and in particular at repairing machines, found nothing better to give me for Christmas than the strange and whimsical gift of a box of oil paints! This marked the beginning of an adventure I had never dreamt of.
In 1954, after the final defeat of my agricultural endeavours, we returned to Europe. In bad shape financially, living simply in Austria without a serious occupation , I was literally invaded by the need to deepen my knowledge of drawing. But line drawing clearly differentiated from painting, drawing where the plasticity of line must stand alone without the artifice of shading or altering the white background. It was then that the first fundamental awareness intervened. It struck me that in their spatial reality, all objects have neither shape nor lines. For in terms of drawing, lines are able to show the perspective of various surfaces defining the volume of the subject, they act as a tactile action, a sort of caress moving from front to back and vice versa and this implies continuous variation of the thickness of their paths and at the points of overlap and other significant places.
The great artists of all time gave evidence of it whether they be painters of Greek vases of the fifth or sixth centuries, or Chinese or Japanese painters, or Michaelangelo or Toulouse Lautrec etc.
The rigorous training cannot be line drawing without the contours of the human body, the drawing must be from head to toe. Yes, the feet are essential, when they are included it does not lie. The drawing must stand alone as an entity. Whether the model be walking, sitting or lying down the balance must be evident by the lines of the drawing alone of which, nota bene, none can correspond to a non existant line.
From then on the representation appealed to me. I was fascinated but how was it to be done? To b able to fix an animated model into a precise attitude is an illusion. A trail produced an intellectualized routine without life and with no interest. To avoid this problem I turned to sculpture, modelling and forced myself to think tridimensionally to the depth of my subconscious, of joint function and of movement itself. Thus I was hoping to be able to draw dynamically, instinctively without having to think analyitically.
Having always been captivated by the ballet (only as a spectator) and dancing as well as the rhythm and bearing of animals, I realized that the accuracy of any representation (type of photographic instant) failed miserably. I then understood that to remain faithful to the movement, and to give a convincing picture, it was absolutely necessary to intergrate into just one representation three successive stages; the immediate past, the present and the imminent future.
For this I had to put to the side everything I thought I knew of the anatomical changes of body movement and its invariants; for example to forget that both legs or both arms respectively have the same length. Thus I was led to renounce a rational knowledge of a moving body and let my fingers, chisels and files act, follow, caresse, create and correct volumes and surfaces with the sole control of the eye.
From thence came my second fundamental awareness: That the execution of any representational work, human (naked or clothed), animal or plant in order for it to appear satisfactory, convincing, alive (even in an attitude of rest, but animated) needs a profound visuo-tactile sensitivity of the subject's anatomy. But at the same time, precisely to achieve this, any formal analytic knowledge must be set aside. It is the necessary condition to implement the paradoxical unity of the three times. (i.e. immediate past, present and imminent future) Only this experienced unity can give movement and lead to a valid work.
As for me, after these two fundamental experiences and contrary to what one might assume, I have not thought of myself as an artist or have what is known as a vocation. First the word "artist" does not seem to be a "state". It is essentially a qualifying adjective. Although I recognize a work of art when I see one,(even if it comes from my own hands) regardless of subject, style, period, country or belief system under which it was created, I do not know what would be the defining characteristic of this "sacred monster" true chimera known as "artist". I am also in ignorance as to what is meant by the terms "artist's profession" or "artist". All I can say is that for me, art is not a profession. To think otherwise seems almost inconceivable. Stonemason, marble or bronze sculptor, modeller, painter, portraitist, photographer.... I consider to be trades and trades well or poorly renumerated according to the social realities of the momnt as are cabinet makers or carpenters.
Those who attempt it may aquire fabulous tecniques, sometimes very unique, but are they worthy to be deemed artists? The application of this term is much rarer than is suggested by our art books.
Too often painters and sculptors, past and present, even he most famous, have lost their right to this title, at least temporarily, in spite of their technique. In contrast a Van Gogh will complain bitterly of insufficient technique and the copies of paintings by great masters are sufficient proof. However the same van Gogh has become for our time the "artiste par excellence". It is not important, he has created many masterpieces.
As for me, each new creative, manual experience, (I intentionally avoid the term artistic) I become aware or "rebecome" aware that the essential experience has never been to feel it as "mine" or to realize a desire for a personal project in order to accomplish something or to have a success. On the contrary, this experience seemed "to be lived" and to be lived by something other than me. It is basically to feel oneself an instrument. Michelangelo said: "The true artist is the brush of God"
Myself, I never felt I possessed the personal qualities, the means or the techniques needed to create this or that work of art. Whenever I began a statuette, an object or a paining I always felt an immeasurable presumption, my inadequacy for the task, all the risk and the almost certainty of failure. For me, I repeat, there can be no technical "good for its own sake" possessed , known and established . It is always to be recreated. It can always fail. As Fenelon said: "There is no receipe".
This basic uncertainty in all creation is a fundamental condition. Without it, it is just a trade; not that I despise trades but it is a completely different thing and as such has a different value. Rather, the grace received, on completion of a successful work of art is a gift, totally free. I am not here for nothing. It gives me no right to compensation of any kind and only lets me appreciate the participation in the mystery of an unexpected success.
It still remains to talk of the ultimate moment: the choice or decision, involved in each creative process, of when it is finished. When can a work be considered as finished? How can I know? It is clear that this has nothing to do with achieving a certain Otherwise a work would be infinitely perfectable towards which one aims, nor does it correspond to a precise predetermined goal. No, it is rather a coming to fruition, which takes place outside of me, without my knowledge and out of my control. It is the stage of the work of which I am aware that applies to me. Then I know that I must stop, I cannot go on, it would make no sense and would only hurt the work.This end is not a final step, a pinacle but rather a barrier, which for the sake of the work is important not to cross. Otherwise a work would be infinitely perfectable which is patently false.
This end, the sometimes abrupt termination can arise at very different stages of the creative process. I only need to cite for example the finished and the "nonfinished" works of Michelangelo (Pieta de Florence, Dawn, Madonna of the Medici Chapel, the medal in the Bargello), or the earliest successes of Giacometti (later transformed into routine stereotype) and the work of Giambologna.
To conclude and to return to my own experience, I would say it is as if a superior will stopped my hand, infusing in it a reverence that dare not touch what exists for fear of removing something particularly valuable and that, because it does not belong to me, I have no right to do. And so the work is finished, is it beautiful? In this case it cannot be mine and thus it is totally free. As such it is only "the infinite love of God" (Evdokimov)
Ghiorgo Zafiropulo (Summer 1993)