Pavlos Samios belongs to a species of artist now disappearing the ‘story artists’, as Leon Batista Alberti called those who serve an anthropocentric art which for centuries held first place on the ladder of the hierarchy. Myth and story provided an inexhaustible mine for the painters of tradition. Realism and the Modern Art movements inflicted successive blows on ‘story painting’, without, nevertheless, being able to eliminate it.
There has been no lack of ‘storytellers’ in the art of the twentieth century. And we shall not find them only among surrealist painters. One of the greatest myth-makers of the past century was Pablo Picasso, the most daring proponent of the avant-garde. Iconoclast and icon-worshipper at one and the some time and in an antinomian manner, depending upon his affective fluctuations and the historical circumstances, Picasso moulded his individual mythology from the demolition materials of the traditional repertoire.
Pavlos Samios draws his own narrative material from everyday life, which is often transformed into everyday insanity. Narration, of course, does not mean a simple depiction of a scene of the type of The card-players’ of Cezanne. Narration means action, dialogue, drama, sparring, exchange and transaction, eras, the interaction of gestures and glances. Narration also presupposes a stage set occupied by the appropriate apparatus and signs. The signs play a special role in Samios’s narrative codes. I think of those undisciplined red shoes, almost alive, rudely brought to earth in some corner of the picture, proclaiming the tempestuous invasion of the female, turning the painted surface into a field of erotic battle, in time which is both present and past.
Surrealism and particularly the post-Modem convention have opened up new horizons and have given rise to multiple alibis for transcendences of logic in narration. To the latest works of Samios, apart from the familiar figures and signs, subjects known to us from other works of art, such as Dali’s girl at the window, the classicising woman in thought of Picasso, the familiar Pegasus also from a Picasso painting, the broken hand from a statue of a dead warrior with the broken sword from Guernica, have migrated. Often the scenes are invaded by shadows, which form the pattern of enigmatic or legible action, like that erotic couple with the man with the horns of a satyr who sets fire to the head of a woman, enveloping her shadowy face in real flames. A picture with familiar objects may also be occupied by neon sculptures, while on the sea, which is illuminated by the light of a distant lighthouse, a house floats with its windows oblaze, exchanging roles with a ship which stands on the table.
In a recent series of pictures, a mythical beast, a dragon with the head of a horse, breathing fire from its mouth, engages in erotic effusions with a woman given over in ecstasy to its crushing embrace. The series culminates with the sexual encounter of the dragon and the woman on the bonnet of a car. Winged horses, sphinxes and other mythical monsters attend as silent witnesses to these surrealistic erotic scenes.
However, it is time to speak of the artistic codes which undertake to render concrete the involved narratives of Pavlos Samios. It was granted to the artist to have fine teachers, living and departed. Nikos Nikolaou and Yannis Moralis initiated him into the language of good painting. The anonymous icon-painters of the Byzantine tradition revealed to him the secrets of monumental art. The teachers of the Generation of the Thirties had opened up the road to a new understanding of the Greek tradition in the light of Modern Art. Pavlos Samios did not vacillate, did not ally himself with the controversialists. In any event, the generation of the 70s, the generation of the military dictatorship, encouraged by the trend of photo-realism, returned without inhibitions to representational painting, thus creating the indigenous version of critical realism which applied its criticism to the regime.
It was then that Samios shaped his artistic codes. Resorting to reverse perspective, to the inclination of the planes and to a polyhedral system of visualisation which combines the teaching of Cezanne and Cubism with the devices of the Byzantine painters, the artistic creates a space which does no violence to the pointed surface. His forms, ruggedly sketched, displace their vital space with their mass. They are vaguely reminiscent of figures by Baltus, Kontoglou or Engonopoulos, without ceasing to be absolutely identified with his own personal artistic idiom. The colors retain the memory of their origins in wall-painting. There is a light application of grey to them, as in o faded painting which allows the canvas to show beneath. In his latest works, the gold and porphyry flames of a fire or of a distant lighthouse warm the cold dominant shades. It is perhaps there that the virtues of the design and the daring simplification of the form are more strongly brought out.
Pavlos Samios presaged the post-Modern iconographic conventions which we see developed much later in their works by painters such as the Italians Cuchi and Chia and the Frenchman Garoust. The difference is that his own ‘post-Modernism’ is personal and shaped from indigenous raw materials.