THE COURAGE OF CONFRONTATION
by CHARLES SPENCER
I have been witness to Theodoros's artistic odyssee for many years. I well recall seeing his sculpture for the first time in Athens in 1963, at a special exhibition of young Greek artists mounted for members of the International Association of Art Critics who were visiting the city. I had already heard of his talent from a mutual friend, the veteran Greek sculptor Christos Capralos, a man respected for his integrity as a human being and an artist, deeply rooted in the best elements of Hellenism. I readily concurred with his appraisal of his young colleague, and indeed, in Theodoros's work, at that time, recognized both similarities of heritage and unmistakable symptoms of unrest. I was then able to show his work in London for the first time in 1964, in a mixed exhibition at the Grosvenor Gallery, at which he not only won admirers, but even collectors.
There was something splendidly heroic in his early sculptures, echoes of helmets and armour, of the wings of some victory Nike, sculptural gestures which recalled the past, especially in an exhibition I remember when his work was framed by the distant Parthenon, yet avoiding the preposterous banality which so much «nationalistic» or folklorist art, in all parts of the world, represent. To be an artist in a country with a great past is one of the constant challenges of Greece or Italy; English artists face other problems, but not a competitive relationship with old glories. Theodoros, alone in my opinion among Greek sculptors of his generation, seemed to have solved the problem; not denying what is his birthright, yet avoiding romantic subterfuges or sentimental reconstructions. I followed his progress with interest and friendship, visiting his studios in Paris and Athens, welcoming him on occasions to London. What I have described as «symptoms of unrest* became more pronounced; there was expressionistic ruggedness in the heroic forms, the bronze or welded iron avoided smooth, polished surfaces. A strange motif, like an Umbilical cord, suggested both a creative and worrying element; at that time I wrote, «The relationship between Theodoros's strange, almost oppressive forms and the human figure is tenuous, at the most... the sheer weight and bulk of the metal contributes to the curiously menacing shapes, the jagged profiles and the hooked forms». I especially recall that splendid trapeze-like sculpture, with its reminder of Duchamp's bicycle, but transformed dramatically and poetically into a cross between a circus-performer in armour and a robot astronaut.
The disturbing elements in these fine early works, perhaps at that time instinctive, later gave way to doubts which were both spiritual and intellectual. With his sensitive integrity he found himself grappling, as so many other 20th century artists, with the central dilemma of the artist in a dying civilization. Modern artists have had to face up to the inevitable truth that they are no longer stars in a Renaissance «milky-way», glittering emblems in the firmament of Western society. The concept of enlightenment which, in the phrase of Sir Kenneth Clark, transformed the artist-craftsman into a «hero», almost a substitute for godly creativity — and which, indeed, produced a series of god-like creatures, from Leonardo to Picasso — must finally be assessed as a reflection of the very decadence which created it.
The maggot at the centre of the golden apple is all too evident now. No wonder artists refuse to go on making the golden apples as though content is unimportant if the form fakes a sensuous acceptance. In this century we have witnessed an unprecedented self-violence in artists and art, the true efforts at changing society turning into a love-hatred with their own creative instincts. There has been a constantly growing refusal to conform to iconographical or commercial stereotypes, anxious to regain the right to probe and comment, to re-assert in complex modern terms the old Hellenic belief that the artist is the mouthpiece of the Gods, an oracle who often transmits unpleasant truths, even presentiments of doom.
The making of images and idols, the prolongation of the vulgar materialism which has superceded the idealism of our civilization, the response to entrepreneurial dictates — these can no longer satisfy the true artist. Inevitably, like most revolutions, the results are often confused or even self-destructive. We have seen a growing alienation between the creative spirit and public acceptance, a chasm which perhaps will never be bridged until a new form of society is established.
Theodoros is one of those rare spirits who has listened to the oracle, even when it has seemed to undermine his most precious artistic qualifications. He has listened and he has thought and he has acted. It is this act of confrontation which, in the long run, for all of us, is the most important gesture the artist can make.
CHARLES SPENCER, London, January 1975