|"A work designed with an investigation of colour is superior to a drawing made patiently with perfect chiaroscuro and proportions - that is, to some extent like a photograph."
"It took me a long time to realize how difficult it is to unite the two styles - that is, the one which revolves around drawing and takes chiaroscuro into consideration, and what we might call the Oriental style, which includes the quality of the colour planes.
[...] It was always my desire to unite the two modes of painting.
Hellenistic painting was a successin its way, and some of that concept passed into the Renaissance, which is more or less faithful to the Hellenistic tradition."
|Between East and West|
Director of the Greek National Museum of Contemporary Art
This multiplicity of references to and borrowings from different geographical and cultural spaces means that we cannot draw any one-to-one parallels between the terms East or West and tradition or contemporary art. In this sense, the suspension of Tsarouchis between the old and the new was signified in a different manner to the corresponding aesthetic dilemma facing the other members of his generation - a dilemma which he himself had helped to state in the late Thirties. While at that time the terms East and West were used as synonyms for tradition and modernity, respectively, our examination of the oeuvre of Tsarouchis reveals a reversal in their use. Paradoxically enough, the term 'East' is used as a metaphor for modernity and visual autonomy, while 'West' serves as a metaphorical condensation of the concept of pre-modernity, or otherwise of the mimetic function of painting. That is the conclusion to which we are led by the identification of two contrasting systems of representation on the basis of which the visual material is organised in the painting. Under the first system, which Tsarouchis called the 'chromatic' or 'Oriental' style, the painting develops as a self-contained organism of coloured forms which is the vehicle of its own significances. This was the style used exclusively by Tsarouchis in the Thirties, while later it alternated with the other system of representation, to which he applied the terms 'linear', 'perspective', 'Renaissance/classical' and 'naturalistic'; in accordance with it, the aim of the painting was to produce a natural and convincing rendering of reality, as whose analogue it presented itself. The 'linear' style, essentially identical to illusionist painting, made its first timid entry into Tsarouchis' painting as early as 1939 and was then used in alternation with the chromatic approach, establishing itself on a permanent basis (with the exception of some 'orientalising' interludes) around the mid-Sixties. The visual production of the period from 1936 to 1939 is typical of the way in which the paintings were structured around colour as an autonomous expressive value. In these important works, many of which belong to the collection of the Yannis Tsarouchis Foundation, the painter obeyed the aesthetic demand of his generation for a blend of modernism and regionalism by approaching modern art and, through the example of Matisse, discovering the similarities between it and the so-called 'oriental' traditions. One of these is the use of colour as the primary medium of expression, making it possible for the painting to liberate itself from the mandates of verisimilitude in representation. Although Tsarouchis did not follow Matisse's theory of colour equivalence to its absolute extremities, and although colour never completely denies its resemblance to the real object of reference, what he referred to as "the struggle among [the colours] to find their right places in the painting" inevitably leads to changes in the mass of the forms, to schematisation, to violation of the fidelity of the line to the model, and, ultimately, to the recreation of the form itself. It is precisely upon the rationale of colour relationships that the anti-mimetic concept of the chromatic or oriental style is founded.
In the so-called 'naturalistic' works of the later period (a characteristic example being the variations on the Four Seasons), produced in accordance with the 'linear' or 'classical' style, Tsarouchis subverted his previous practices and sought to reproduce his external model with the greatest possible fidelity. Now the correspondences of colour are juxtaposed against the descriptive value of colour, and the flat space of planes of colour is replaced by the three-dimensional geometrical space of the stage set. Tsarouchis calls on the tried and tested trompe l'oeil methods of pre-modern Western European painting: the perspective drawing with correct proportions, chiaroscuro to allow the modelling of figures in full relief, exact imitation of colour tones, and external lighting. It is true, nonetheless, that chiaroscuro was not achieved by adding white and black to the colour applied at any point, but using the Byzantine technique of the transition from dark to light colours. In other words, modelling of the forms began with their shadows (flesh underpainting) before moving on to the half-tones, the local colour (flesh) and lastly the highlights. Regardless, however, of the oriental origins of this technique, Tsarouchis retained the artistic intention of rendering the mass of the forms in absolute correspondence to the facts of nature. The rationale of chiaroscuro, whether conveyed in the Western manner or using the separate colour units of the Byzantine approach, lay at the foundations of the mimetic function of trompe l'oeil representation.