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VRASSIDAS VLAHOPOULOS (Greece, Thessaloniki 1927-1993 / act: Athens)

Vrassidas Vlahopoulos Vrassidas Vlahopoulos - or simply Vrassidas, as he himself preferred to be known - was a deeply thinking man, well grounded in art and culture with a sparkling wit and of a restless and prolific nature. His mind, agile and probing, would promptly and simultaneously respond to a wide range of challenges. His emotional approach to things and events, which his analytical mind would almost immediately start processing, would temper with cool-minded incisiveness. He was exceptionally cultured, with a wide range of interests. A man of integrity, and an impartial and fair-minded man, strict with himself and uncompromising in his attitude to social issues. Also straightforward and outspoken in his judgment, which he expressed on occasion with a searing directness and with a genuineness and a complete freedom in self-expression, untrammeled by conventions or inhibitions. Proud and dignified, Vrassidas also displayed a politeness and a nobleness that characterizes a man of spiritual values. He detested all social conventions as well as pettiness, low cunning, lies and meanness of heart. Also a man with a genuine sense of humor and an optimistic outlook on life. A gifted writer and conversationalist. His radiant, almost explosive presence, would earn him sworn enemies and devoted friends. Between youth and Vrassidas there was a mutual understanding as he nurtured a special affection for them. He remained young and active to the day he passed away.

CHILDHOOD: Vrassidas was born in Thessaloniki on January 6th 1927. He spent the best part of his life, however, down to February 26th 1993, the day of his sudden death, in Athens. Menelaos and Vassiliki, his parents, came from Adrianoupolis and Partheni of Asia Minor respectively. He spent his childhood years as the only child of an uprooted family, whose memories from the Disaster in Asia Minor were still fresh and the wounds still open but which, despite the dire and adverse circumstances, they tried to heal. As a child, however, he was fortunate in having at his side an exceptionally enlightened man: his father - with a reputation in journalism and literature (his pen-name being Emilios Emos). A knowledgeable man in many fields, exceptionally cultured and whose influence was decisive in molding Vrassidas' character and helping him quite early on to define his goals. He was brought up in a rather secluded environment with very few social contacts. He took no part in the games of his age. His very few and carefully selected friends came only later but the links established remained infrangible. During this period of loneliness he would turn for company to books, listen to classical music for the first time and take up drawing. He was fortunate in that his family also boasted a well-stocked library, with a rare at the time collection of material, and also a selection of gramophone records, mainly of classical music. In these his restless mind would seek and find a shelter of an unparalleled atmosphere. He was an avid reader and a spellbound listener who succumbed to the fascination of music. During the same period he also took up instrumental music (piano and guitar), which immediately broadened his horizons and instilled him with a longing for music, a passion that in the years of maturity was to become a major influence both on his paintings and his theoretical explorations and paved the way for his own musical compositions. The path he had chosen would soon nurture the growth of a unique passion for spirituality and determine his subsequent course in life from which he would never stray despite the adversities in the years to come. It was quite early on, then, that he set about building up the spiritual values that would serve as foundations in his life.

STUDIES: He began his high school studies at 'Anatolia', the American College in Thessaloniki, but had to transfer to the Fifth All Boys' High School of the city because of the war. During adolescence, he studied popular music, became acquainted with its instrumental performers and later on was, for a short spell, a member of Papaioannou's group. During and after the bleak years of war and the German Occupation in Greece, events that were epoch-making, his family's as well as his own political and social sympathies, far from remaining on a purely academic level, turned into actual experiences of life. In 1946 he came to Athens, where he settled for good, and registered at the School of Fine Arts. The following year he began to attend courses for aspiring painters at Georgiadis' workshop. But there were harder living conditions in store. During those difficult and bleak years, full of privation and hardship, besides studying he also had to work in order to support his family, who had in the meantime settled somewhat hurriedly in a poor house in Tzitzifies. He would take on any odd job that came his way, like touching up old snapshots taken to commemorate an occasion, something that involved long journeys on foot to and from the various neighborhoods of the capital and which often yielded no tangible results. But also many night hours spent in making giant posters for the new films. The wage was hard to earn, work on a daily basis was not secure. The harder the demands made on him by the necessities of life, the greater his persistence in and passion for his studies, which were to be completed in 1955 after a three-year sabbatical when he was drafted. He was awarded his degree with two distinctions, one for his nude drawing and another for his nude painting. Meanwhile, while still a student of the Preliminary Course in the School of Fine Arts, he met the painter Panos Sarafianos, who was to become a major influence in his life. It was under this man's tutelage that he acquired the rudiments of drawing, like so many others at the time who are now fully-fledged artists. As of that time he was to maintain with the man a genuine and intimate friendship. The two men shared the same passion for Art and Art Education. They also shared the same goals. Shortly before the end of his studies, he met his future wife, the painter Machi Kanistra, with whom he was to share the rest of his life.

ART: Vrassidas looked on Art not as an easy and career-oriented task, but as a long and laborious journey in search of new forms of expression. The more he matured as a man and as an artist, the deeper his search went and the less often he exhibited. "There is the struggle for the profound on the one hand, and that for the superficial on the other", he wrote somewhere. He opted for the former and shunned the limelight of publicity. He would put method and consistency in his work, without recourse to desultory moves or rash solutions just for the effect. No coterie could claim him as its member. Inside this territory thus staked out, and in a near-ascetic atmosphere, he worked non-stop and with ardor at the most unlikely times of the day. He would often destroy what he could not recognize as his, and yet the bulk of work he has left is considerable. More often than not he would not sign his works. When he did, he used his first name, Vrassidas, and much less often his surname. For a signature was, to his mind, an integral part of the work, deserving special attention and appreciation. In any case, the identity of his works is signed by the idiosyncrasy of his art. § Initially, the works from the period of his studentship are influenced by impressionism. Very quickly, however, already in 1960 when he made his first public appearance, he expressed intensely abstract tendencies. He joined abstract expressionism and presented mature works of this period at his first personal exhibition as well as at very important exhibitions abroad (1965) successfully representing Greece. His subsequent work is purely personal style. He did not serve any particular art movement. He was a tenacious investigator trying to discover the essence of things, to penetrate deep in trying to exhaust the limits through processing the elements of painting. In his paintings are combined various formal elements with minimal anthropomorphic references, as in the 1965 - 1971 series of his second exhibition. In this one he uses an expressionistic forms to evoke the chaotic world that surrounds human existence, the female figure appears fragmented, deconstructed in a drab environment of general gloom and tragedy. Herewith begins to be apprehended his contribution of design researches to his painting, which becomes particularly apparent in the Huts and the Smoke and Houses series. His work is divided into large thematic series. Already in the next series, the Wildflowers of 1972-1986, the scholar of his work distinguishes a transformation of the image and the elevation of formal and plastic values to archetypes, where one notes that the descriptive representation of the flowers gradually recedes and gives way to an escalating abstraction. In the next series Dirt Roads and Huts, the liquid and gloomy atmosphere spreads as a substratum with a gray - violet blurriness on which the subject is integrated by perfectly simple means. Here, with this minimal rendering of the subject, we can discern the distillation of his investigations into design, the abstraction of volume and the protagonist role of line that replaces it. From the subsequent series Smokes and Houses, Variations on a Theme, In Memoriam and Birds, it is worth focusing on the most original and very personal investigation entitled Smokes and Houses, which is manifest in pictures transubstantiating in music, where he attempts to visualize music with visual symbols through rhythmic musical compositions - an investigation theoretically founded on his article, published alongside others in the album Vrassidas Vlahopoulos of the Municipal Gallery of Athens. In a vast and indeterminate space, the primary morphological elements, the line (straight, corrugated or bent line, continuous or intermittent) and the mark (like a circle large or small), occur and recur thick or diluted, varying in size, intensity, position and direction in the composition and attain a corresponding conceptual charge. § Apart from painting, his special concern was also focused on drawing, an area where he propounded a diversity of solutions in an attempt to exhaust the possible renderings of the human figure. He had great passion for research and the investigation of structure. His sustained study of the human form helped him to investigate the simplification, transformation and reconstruction of his morphological elements. His drawings and paintings have a lot in common. They are rid of descriptive representation, have open borders in their morphological inquiry, and create new design structures. "...The fundamental part of painting lies not in copying a model, but to those latent associations of shapes, colors and tones that through a series of processes lead to the expression, that is the structural clarity. This structural clarity is also the eternal everlasting and above all main content of painting and by extension of every art...", he writes in an article, and continues: "This is main structural part of painting, is possible to be invested with an image and then this image can be sourced either directly from physical reality and at other times indirectly from the world of imagination and the spirit. The very great painters always tried to combine in their works, these three possibilities. The abstract infrastructure, the picture from physical reality and the picture from fantasy. That is the abstract expression, the realism and fantasy in an ambitious effort to exhaust the limits of painting..." The ethos and style of his life imposed to distance himself early from the fascination with the media. He kept to a couple of personal exhibitions and chose to participate in large group exhibitions organized by official bodies.

EXHIBITIONS: He had his first personal exhibition at Nees Morfes Gallery in 1964, presenting works with abstract tendencies of a pioneering form. This exhibition was to launch him abroad securing his participation in very important foreign exhibitions. His second personal exhibition was launched at Astor Gallery in 1971. His participation in the international exhibitions mentioned below came as a result of an invitation from the Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Education, among whose members were Miliadis, director of the Acropolis Museum, Kalligas, director of the National Gallery and Tombros, Professor at the Athens School of Fine Arts: The International Exhibition of Brussels (1964); The International Exhibition of Buenos Aires (1965); and VII Biennale of Sao Paolo (1965). Vrassidas made his first appearance in the PanHellenic Exhibition of 1960 with a still life executed in an abstract vein and a composition in the abstract style. From then on he participated in the same exhibition of the years 1964, 1965, 1967, 1975 and 1987. He also took part in the following group exhibitions: Nees Morfes Gallery, Athens (1964, 1965, 1966,1967); Galerie Zygos, Athens (1965 and 1966); House of Arts and Letters, Athens (1965 and 1966); Graduates Show, Athens School of Fine Arts (1979); The Touring Exhibition entitled The Art in the Municipalities, organized by the Greek Chamber of Fine Arts (1985). Artworks by Vrassidas are kept at the following institutions: The American College of Greece; Hellenic Ministry of Education, Hellenic Ministry of Culture; Municipal Gallery of Athens, Athens; Municipal Gallery of Kalamata, Messinia; and Vafopoulio Cultural Center, Thessaloniki.

TEACHING: In Vrassidas the two capacities of artist and teacher were indistinguishable, for they wove into and nurtured each other. "Where is one to draw the line between teaching and creating...?", he wonders in one of his writings. Vrassidas, the teacher, laid the foundations in drawing for a great number of young Greek artists of the generations that followed and on whose artistic practices he was to be a decisive influence. He took up teaching only one year after his graduation from the Athens School of Fine Arts. More specifically, from 1956 to 1958, he was assigned the task of teaching drawing and painting at the then famous and prestigious Workshop of Fine Arts run by the painter Panos Sarafianos when the latter was away from Greece for two years. Since his return and until 1967 Vrassidas was to remain his collaborator in that school, whose preparatory courses for the Entrance exams of the State School of Fine Arts would soon attract in the years to come the greatest number of today's most renowned artists. In 1967 Vrassidas was to forge his own teaching career and establish his own Workshop of Liberal Studies in Painting, a move that was crowned with great success. The school, offering courses in Painting until 1990 and new ones in Architectural Drawing taught by Theodoros Niarchos, the well-known architect, as of 1971, made a name for itself and remained open until Vrassidas' last days. Meanwhile, in 1961, Vrassidas was appointed lecturer to the Chair of Painting of the Department of Architecture at the National Technical University of Athens and worked successively with the professors Takis Marthas, Yannis Liapis and Nikos Eggonopoulos until 1971, when he resigned. Vrassidas was a man well versed in theoretical issues and endowed with profound incisive thinking. His passion for the teaching of the arts and his firm belief that they constitute one of the most decisive factors in the shaping of a better future led him to a constant upgrading of the teaching standards. "I possess the psychology of a teacher who sees his task as an athletic endeavor and not as merely that of communicating certain knowledge and expertise passed on to him by previous teachers", he wrote. A characteristic feature of his philosophy as a teacher is summed up at the following excerpt from his writing: "Teaching means above all spiritual organization, knowledge of the subject, ability to analyze and infiltrate the mechanisms of construction. Teaching is essentially to borne the secrets of structure and to deliver these to students. It therefore requires the properties of anatomy...". He continues further down: "The teaching of art actually must develop two fields: the field of logic that is easier because it addresses the mind, and the field of the intuition that is also taught but requires attention, the high aesthetic sensibility of the teacher, special ability and knowledge. The teaching of art is therefore a delicate balance between organized order and intuition, between organized thinking and instinct." Believing that the knowledge of the arts can be deepened and enriched not only by practice, but also by a grasp of the theoretical issues, he constantly enhanced his courses with information of a broader kind. His courses, in which he taught appreciation of the works of art, complete with slides, were to make history. These courses in the theory of art would soon expand into other areas correlating and working out the correspondences between the arts, especially between music and painting.

WRITING: Vrassidas, a man with a probing and prolific mind, was always quick in his responses to the most diverse of challenges. And his responses were always opposite, concise and incisive. He has left behind him copious writings on Art, only a small part of which has been published. He would write at the most unlikely places, at the most unlikely time of day. For he would cut his sleep short in order to commit to paper whatever thoughts were haunting his mind. Only a while ago he had started working on two long essays on teaching now left incomplete. He was both a gifted writer and an eloquent speaker. He was exciting to listen to. A sample of his speaking is extant in the form it was recorded on tape by friends and disciples. And there was little to distinguish between his writing and his speaking, for he favored the immediate and graphic form of expression rather than the dry and syntactically correct language. Somewhere he wrote: "Elaborate phrasing, often devoid of meaning, can be confusing. What should not be overlooked in language is the power to fascinate..." Some of his already known and published texts are mentioned below. His article entitled The Plastic Space of Music circulated in 1964 for the first time inside the circle of the tutors of the National Technical University of Athens and was published in May 1968 in the 'Architecture' journal. With several examples correlating painting to music, this article suggests an original idea of transporting a piece of music to the substantial space. The Illustrated Literary Book in 'Diavazo' journal (#248, 1990); An Exhibition of Greco in Athens in 'Aerostato' Journal (#33, 1988). About Teaching Painting in Depth speech at the 1st Congress of Artistic Education of EETE (1983).

LEISURE: Whatever little spare time he had he would rather spend it reading (and he was a phenomenally fast reader), writing and listening to music. The time for these pursuits was too sacred for anything else that might prove distracting. At times he was seized with the desire for photographing. These were times of repose- but also of aesthetic experiences to be later reflected in his works-when on solitary walks in the derelict and deprived areas where abounded the smithies of human toil, he would take photographs. And the slides thereon are works of exceptional quality, veritable paintings in their own right, touching attempts to render the poetry emerging through the erosion wrought by time and desolation. This is an element that runs throughout his oeuvre: the poetry of the deprivation, as he called it.

INTERESTS: In 1979 he published a catalogue with a great variety of drawings made between 1946 and 1973. He took an active interest in the illustration of books Robinson of the Aegean and Flying Saucers written by his father, Menelaos Vlahopoulos, The Clouds are Leaving by Aris Kilitsis, Joconda by Nikos A. Kokantzis, etc. He was a registered member of the Chamber of Fine Arts of Greece and often sat on its placement and selection committees. He also took an active interest in music, involved not only in instrumental performances but also in compositions and theoretical explorations of his own.

[Machi Kanistra-Vlahopoulou / translated by Megakles Rogakos]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:
ANTHOLOGY Lexikon of Greek Artists: Painters, Sculptors, Engravers: 16th-20th Century 1997 Melissa, Athens [Greek]
KORNAROS, C.G. Modern Construction Techniques 1961
KOURTIKAKIS, ANTONIS Dictionary of Greek Artists 1977
ALBUM Le Livre d'Or de Collectioneurs et Amateurs d'Art 1992 Les Editions Arts et images du Monde, Paris
ARTICLE Education of the Pictorial Arts 1993 Magazine of the Association of High School Art Teachers [#9]
ANTHOLOGY Who's Who in International Art 1994 Lausanne
DARADIMOS / DIMITREAS / HATZINIKOLI / KANISTRA / KOKANTZIS / KYRIAZI / SORONGAS Vrassidas Vlahopoulos 1996 Municipal Gallery of Athens, Athens

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