I discovered the work of Ghiorgo Zafiropulo at the same time as I made his acquaintance in 1981. This was during the procession organized to place the statue “Notre Dame de la Sainte Espérance” that the artist had donated to the village of Tinée in Provence. It was a meeting in a beautiful, dramatic setting, an immense panorama. The work reflected the mastery of his art as well as the depth of his spirituality.
Several years later after the death of Ghiorgo, when visiting his son Pitro, I discovered the rest of his work which expressed the power of life and movement in the sculptures of dancers and animals. There was nothing static or fixed, but many representations of movement given by the impulse of muscular tension, joyous elevated figures which seem to defy the laws of gravity, movement in progress suspended in time and space. No useless detail distracts from the clear message: perfect technical mastery, true works of art.
It was for me an aesthetic experience, an initiation not felt since my encounter with the classics, another approach to representation both living and timeless.
After this aesthetic impact, a careful study of these works, the dates of their creation and the personalities of the artists who were his inspiration, another dimension appeared. A dimension where symbol is connected to spiritual concerns : for example, “Liberty” in the sculptural form of Rudolf Nureyev and Nora Kovach, who both fled the East block to continue and expand their careers in the West. Therefore, it is not only sculptural beauty but the works contain other dimensions which are clear once they have been perceived. His thoughts, so directed through his fingers, that finally one cannot differentiate if it is muscular power which animates the subjects or their spiritual strength.
Forword, M. Lafon
Photo Copyright Philippe Brame
G. Zafiropulo in his studio next to the plaster model of Madonna dell'Unita 1979
The works are presented in chronological order following the process and evolution of Ghiorgo Zafiropulo. It should be noted that from the outset they are works of an artist in full maturity and show perfect technical mastery. It was on returning from South Africa, when he felt a failure professionally, that he developed his artistic talent which, coupled with intense spiritual reflection and an exceptional artistic culture, led to his creation of art works. He produced sculpture during two periods; one in the 1960s i.e. aged between 52 and 60 and after devoted himself to his monumental work “La Madonna dell'Unita” which he finished in 1979. He then studied Sanskrit and researched for his work on Buddhism.* He restarted sculpting around 1986 and completed his last works between 1990 and 1993 when he was over 80 years of age.
His first art works expressed the movement that animates an animal or dancer, over time he increased this difficulty of representation by creating the fighting bulls (in 1962) and then various “Pas de deux” from the year 1968. Towards the end of his life after an interval, he again increased the difficulty by attempting a “Pas de trois” and once more in in his last work “The Skaters” he was challenged by the kinetics of ice dancing.
The chosen cold and heavy material, bronze, does not detract from the liveliness of the subjects, on the contrary these works have a vital and joyful presence and the bodies seem animated by a great lightness.
One can only regret that from his youth he was unable to devote time to his art. His works were exhibited on several occasions in well-known galleries such as Bernheim in Paris. But with the exception of “Hommage to Balanchine”, the great artists who inspired him were left in ignorance of the source of his inspiration.
*Ghiorgo Zafiropulo, L'Illumination du Buddha, De la Quete à l'Annonce de l'Eveil , essai de chronologie relative et de stratigraphie textuelle, Innsbrucker Beitrage Zur Kulturwissenschaft, Sonderheft 87, 1993, 199p ISBN Nr. 3-85124-168-1
Ghiorgo Zafiropulo was born in 1909 as the third child of a well to do Greek family in Marseille and brought up in a combined French, English, Italian, Greek and German cultural environment. The elder siblings had already moved to Paris when Ghiorgo obtained his baccalaureat. The father, wanting to keep at least one child in Marseille to continue the family business, pressured Ghiorgo to begin law at the local university.
Ghiorgo longing for the glamorous Parisian life, enjoyed by his elder brother and sister, soon rebelled. A compromise was found between father and son; if Ghiorgo would persue agricultural studies in Gringnion, Polybe Zafiropulo was prepared to let his youngest child move near Paris. Ghiorgo finished his agricultural studies although they had only been a pretext to get to the capital.
As a young man Ghiorgo was fascinated by Romanesque architecture and managed to combine this with his interest in the still novel art of photography to create a sizeable collection of fine Laeca photo prints.
The artist modeling his last work 1992,
Photo Copyright Philippe Brame
He fell in love with Isabella (Bella) Princess Schönburg whom he met in Trieste at his mother's family house. They married in Vienna where they remained until 1939 before returning to Marseille where he was requested to take over the Greek Consulate during the war years. The situation was less than comfortable as his wife was of Austrian nationality, therfore they decided it was too dangerous to remain in Marseille.
When the war ended in 1945 they joined their children in Switzerland. Tired of war-torn Europe, Ghiorgo and Bella decided to move to Ireland while waiting for a passage by ship to South Africa. They first arrived in Dublin and then went on to Glenngariff in the South Western tip of Ireland.
During this time (1946) Ghiorgo was influenced by Rudolf Steiner's Anthoposophical approach to art and began paining water colours. It is also around this time that he discovered Eastern philosophy through Tibetan travel reports such as those of David Neal.
On arriving in South Africa, Ghiorgo decided by virtue of his agricultural training to go into farming, choosing the Transvaal region and buying a farm in the high Veld. He continued painting during his years in South Africa (1947 - 1955) switching to oil and moving away from the flamboyant antroposophical colours. His subjects were mainly the landscapes of the high Transvaal region.
At the same time his interest in eastern thinking turned to the discipline of yoga. Ghiorgo's involvement with eastern philosophy never abated. Buddhism became the primary focus. He taught himself Sanskrit to better understand the Theravedic texts and in the seventies began writing his opus "L'Illumunation du Buddha: De la Quete à l'Annonce de l'Eveil" which was published in 1993 the year he died. Forever fascinated by original sources, Ghiorgo attempted in this linguistic oriented work to identify the oldest most authentic Sanscrit text elements of the Buddihist canon.
Ghiorgo brought up in the French cultural tradition was by nature an intellectual, ill-suited to the rough environment of African farming. After seven years he and Bella gave up farming and returned to Europe, settling in the neighbourhood of Innsbruck, Austria. A place commensurate with their, by then, significantly reduced financial means.
It is in Austria that Ghiorgo's real artistic development began. His earlier attempts were by comparison amateurish. He began sculpting in clay although he continued to paint and draw sporadically for many years. Ghiorgo's son remembers one of his first works being a clay bust of his American friend Geoffrey Stone. Then came the important transition to sculpturing in wax and bronze casting.
He was a great admirer of Italian renaissance sculpture and studied the techniques of Giambologna and others assiduously. Like them he bagan learning the human anatomy in ever greater detail until that knowledge was, so to speak, embedded in his hands.
Ghiorgo was a perfectionist. After several weeks work a wax sculpture would look finished to the uninitiated eye. Yet it would take very much longer (weeks, months) till the critical eye of the artist was satisfied. Ballet became the primary subject of sculpture with Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn as inspirational highlights. During this period Ghiorgo developed an intensity in his work that far surpassed any of his previous artistic activity.
Ghiorgo became involved in several religious movements for whom he executed his religious works. He also taught aesthetics and the art of sculpting to a few select pupils. He was teaching and working on "Les Patineurs" when he died suddenly in Palis, France in the summer of 1993.
Pitro Zafiropulo, Summer 2013