Frenhofer, the archetypal painter in one of Balzac’s novels struggles persistently to create the (depicted) image of the most beautiful woman ever created.
This (fictional) painter will summarize and foresee at the same time the vain and tragic nature of the artistic deeds as well as the long-standing obsession of (male) painters for the (female) figure, usually the naked kind. From a certain point of view Pavlos Samios seems to be a modern Frenhofer as he has struggled to paint this female figure for the last thirty years. And his latest work looks like the most detailed outcome of his efforts.
Yet, she is not always present. However, even when she is not visible, her presence is strongly insinuated through uncontestable signs: tables covered with objects, cigarettes, letters, small radios, half-emptied bottles and glasses of wine, money and –repeatedly- purses and, mainly, shoes. “Traces of a resident but also traces of a love intercourse, a struggle or crime that needs to be looked into”. Oh, yes, there are also high-heeled shoes. A recollection from his father’s shoe workshop and unavoidably a love fetish as well. Under Samios approach, high-heeled shoes that are the most characteristic female (in inverted commas or without them) shoes are exposed in the form of an obsessed, almost frenzied, representation. In this way, the object becomes for the viewer something of a fetish and he develops an addictive bond with it. According to Freud, a fetish’ creation is based on a certain stage of action that the child sees but denies what he has experienced as non-existing, thus initiating a process of denial because the “mother figure” is not “castrated”. He also wrote that, whenever a fetish’ desire returns, it is due to an abruptly ended process of some kind. Whatever was left in mind as a possibility or a last impression before the traumatic experience, lives in our psyche as a fetish. This is the last phase during which the female figure could be seen as a phallic symbol.
In some paintings the female figure is present. Either alone or two women together, whereas, in some instances a man is present, usually lying down, a victim of some intense love intercourse.
He looks almost “castrated”. These women come out a winner in such a struggle between lovers. As in the case of Olympia by Manet, the female figure in Samios’ paintings has absolute control over men, who desire her just to end up exhausted following a night of love (faked perhaps on her behalf?) and, most probably, much poorer. That atmosphere typical to a brothel, to vulgar sex and post coitus melancholy permeates into Pavlos Samios’ painting as distinctively as it characterizes the street where his workshop is located in an ill-famed neighborhood of downtown Athens. The style in which he depicts (these) women seems to put close together all his thirty-year standing “wanderings” in the world of painting: Picasso and modernism, the classical style of depiction, the Byzantine resignation from the rule of logic. Does it come as a surprise? Pavlos Samios introduces an exclusively “oriental” approach (Byzantium) to a subject inherent to western painting tradition (portraits, nudes) whilst he successfully merges them. The 21st century and the prevalence of modernism in fine arts have brought about a radical re-examination of our concept about depicting reality, along with contradiction and confusion. Our interest in modernism is usually based on the fact that it boosted western art beyond the boundaries of a mere depiction of things. However, the demands for innovation and re-arrangement of artistic space coexist with a “re-discovery” and re-evaluation of non-Western, “primitive” and ultimately older artistic forms whereupon Picasso has played a significant role in the matter. Samios puts close together some of these demands in the form of perspective distortion and disproportion concerning the climax used for human figures and objects: The legs and pelvis of female figures are enlarged unnaturally (is it a fetishistic fixed idea or merely a geometrical experimentation?) whereas the high-heeled shoes, the artist’s leitmotiv, steadily acquire huge dimensions. This is proportionate to the dimensions the female presence (the female ego perhaps?) has in the artistic universe Pavlos Samios creates. Thus, since the demand for realistic representation and perspective depiction no longer exists, the way to a different understanding of past European arts –such as Romanic and, potentially, Byzantine art- opens up after many centuries. Yet, does Byzantine art belong to the body of works produced by western art? The legend regarding the continuity in western art, long before modernism, was created based on the successive appropriation of other, non-intrinsic artistic forms, the most notable example of which is the “re-discovery” of Greek and Roman art throughout Renaissance. It is indeed a perplexed situation about which Samios has offered some persuasive proposals and ideas for discussion in the last decades.
Another set of works. A woman who is almost recognizable as such this time, realistically depicted, lonely, vulnerable after all…
In one of the paintings, the indiscreet artist’s presence is revealed by his reflection on the mirror. Everything lies there to be seen. Like an indiscreet peeping-Tom, we creep into, we intrude on a person’s (or more) private life. The viewer can become a witness to this relationship but hasn’t got many other alternatives: we are compelled to admit that we are nothing more than intruders. It is hard for the viewer to believe that this particular woman gets undressed just for him. He cannot actually have her undress herself. We feel guilt. We are witnesses to moments of life and scenes that should not have been accessible to us. However, this is what art always used to do. The simplest and most obvious reason for enthusiasm for a peeping man, as Edward Lussie-Smith has written, is a naked woman and the female nude has always stood amongst the most beloved subjects for European art. The most ancient motif of all is Venus observed: the course of painting throughout history could be described on the basis of this element. “That is to say, the male artist is in the role of a peeping-Tom and the female model is the object of his indiscreet looks”. In these paintings, often at a non-finito level, Pavlos Samios satisfies the indiscreet male viewer of his paintings by unraveling all the devices female sensuality makes use of, without ever having his model naked. At the same time though, in these paintings as well as in the previous more triumphant sets of his work, the female figure remains the absolute ruler of the game.