Lefteris Olympios' Apokathilosi by Antonis Danos
The latest exhibition (Larnaca, April 2005) of works by Cypriot artist Lefteris Olympios consists mainly of six large canvases. These pictures, made between 1993 and 1994, and originally arranged as two triptychs, were part of the Apokathilosi (Deposition) series, but were not included in the original exhibition of the works in Athens, in 1995.
The six paintings (in oil) develop vertically (200 × 70 cm), and they constitute variations on the same theme – one of the several versions of the Deposition of Christ, which made up the original, larger unit of works.
The present version includes three figures: the central one of Christ, while He is being lowered from the cross, and two others, to His left and right, climbed on ladders [Fig. 1]. The three figures are rendered as extensions of the objects (the cross and the ladders), manifested as unified colour surfaces, in front of, or within, abstract, dark backgrounds-environments [Fig. 2, Fig. 3]. There are no descriptive details whatsoever, and only the outlines (rendered a bright ‘absences’ rather than linear presences) allude to subject matter [Fig. 4].
Formally, these works are characterised by an idiosyncratic expressionism, imbued with references to European Neo-Expressionism from the 1980s. The latter, in turn, contained elements from early twentieth-century modernist movements, channelled, however, through a post-modern eclectic idiom.
In the works of the Apokathilosi, the drawing is elementary, characterised by a naïf or ‘primitive’ quality. Colour is the main compositional element without, however, becoming autonomous. It is applied thinly, ‘insecurely’, filling in the ‘bodies’ within the outlines (the latter functioning mostly as borders between colour surfaces, than as autonomous formal elements). Traditional expressionistic emphasis on brushstroke and on the ‘physicality’ of paint is absent, and despite the flat rendering of the composition, the use of (minimal) colour tonality imbues the figures with plasticity [Fig. 5].
The simplified – generalising – rendering of the Apokathilosi subject lessens, to a degree, the religious dimension of the scene, yet it is far from turning the picture into a mere negotiation of form, colour and composition. The pictures, in spite of their vacillation between representation and abstraction, are immersed in a hauntingly mystical atmosphere, which is imbued simultaneously with existential anguish and spirituality [Fig. 6].
The six large works are accompanied by a series of recent sketches (2005), of linoprints and ink drawings on paper (55 × 77 cm). In these, Christ’s dead body dominates the scenes, either as a monumentally rendered figure on the foreground [Fig. 7], or as the thematic nucleus in multi-figured compositions [Fig. 8]. Instead of the mutely emotive ambience of the bigger works, largely due to the abstract environments within which the main scene is placed, here the dead body lies amidst rumbling crowds – made up of either human or heavenly figures [Fig. 9], or of natural ‘bodies’-motifs [Fig. 10]. From the mystical, few-figured act of the Deposition, we have moved on to Lamentation – but not the mute wailing of the few women in the religious narrative, but to a collective, universal mourning.