By PAUL LASTER, January 2022
When first approached about organizing “Figure and Form: George Petrides and Nassos Daphnis,” an exhibition at the Consulate of Greece in New York of works by sculptor George Petrides, my initial thought was to pair his statuettes with the abstract paintings of Nassos Daphnis. The quandary, however, was how do you make a comparison between a relatively unknown artist, alive and working, and a celebrated deceased one?
The answer to my question came through analyzing the works of the two artists and discovering their similarities and differences. Petrides mines the past through his raw reinterpretation of Classical Greek, Hellenistic and Roman statues while Daphnis looked to the future with his experimental geometric abstractions.
Petrides work was new to me, but I liked the way his figures looked, as though they had just been uncovered in an archeological dig—as though they had been buried beneath the layers of history, beneath everything that had been happening for the past 2000 years. Daphnis’ paintings were more familiar. I had seen his abstract canvases in multiple shows at Leo Castelli Gallery during the 1980s and ‘90s and had reviewed his 2015 Pixel Fields exhibition at Richard Taittinger Gallery for Time Out New York.
The Pixel Field paintings, which were made between 1987 and 1992, were the works that first came to mind for the pairing with Petrides. Employing computer generated graphics that the 71-year-old Daphnis created on his son’s Atari ST as the point of departure, the body of work was one of pioneering abstractionist’s most advanced series of paintings.
Created within the boundaries of his color-plane theory, which Daphnis developed as a means of making abstract paintings after a visit to Greece in the early 1950s, the digital landscapes used geometric blocks of primary color to construct a rhythmic realm of vibrant forms. According to his theory, primary colors create a buzzing energy when they collide. By reducing his palette to black, white, red, yellow and blue, he was able to make some of the most sublime yet radical artworks of his time—creating hard-edge abstractions and Op art and Minimalist masterpieces even before they became esteemed artistic styles.
Petrides, on the other hand, uses the primary element of clay—a material as old as time—as the point of departure for his figurative works. Mostly working from live models, he builds up the material to fashion a form that captures the likeness of his subject while referencing a history of sculptural figuration that goes back to ancient times. Depicting the figure in a primordial state, he presents us with an abstracted rendition of the human body—the body in a raw state, a being in the state of becoming. Often armless, legless and headless, his figures have their origins in the past yet are born in the current moment, through a lens in which the artist embraces the old to make it anew.
While their artworks are contrasted in “Figure and Form,” Daphnis and Petrides actually have more in common than being born in Greece and ending up in New York. Both are somewhat self-taught, in that they started out in one career and made the leap into art at a later point in life. Daphnis worked in his uncle’s flower shop until he met some friends that introduced him to art and, step-by-step, he began a journey that turned out to be a lifetime interest in painting, while Petrides successfully pursued a career in finance while studying and making art part-time for over twenty years, before more recently committing to creating art fulltime.
Another thing that they have in common is that they both began as realist artists. Although it’s not widely known, Daphnis initially made folksy, Outsiderish paintings before turning to surreal, biomorphic canvases of organic forms and then geometric abstractions. After exhibiting a painting, which is now in the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art, at the legendary Society of Independent Artists in 1938, the budding young artist was offered a solo show at New York’s Contemporary Arts Gallery, where three more museums added his work to their permanent collections. Petrides, too, was initially drawn to realistic drawing and painting in classes at the Art Students League in New York, the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris and the New York Studio School.
Over time, Petrides’ handling of the figure has become more abstract, with patches of color realized through the additions of epoxy clay, metals, acids and pigments. Creating a visual montage of materials on the figurative forms, they share a collage sensibility with Daphnis, who assembled his blocks of color and forms to construct abstract landscapes, which at times become almost figurative in their own right. Petrides’ pieces like Blue Girl (2020) and Middle-Aged Boxer at Rest (2021) take the figure into abstraction through the patchwork of applied materials, while Daphnis hinted at representation in his paintings 6-88 (1988) and 1-89 (1989), which take the historical Parthenon temple in Athens as the point of departure for the highly abstract, pixelated pictures.
After preparing a final proposal for the exhibition, I had to convince Richard Taittinger, whose gallery has represented the Estate of Nassos Daphnis since 2015, on the strengths of the show’s premise. Once the gallery and Estate were on board, we secured the Consulate of Greece in New York for the first stop on what we hope will be an exhibition that travels around the world—spreading cultural goodwill and showing that art from the heart can exist in many different forms. WM
Figure and Form: George Perides and Nassos Daphnis is on view at the Consulate of Greece in New York at 69 East 79th Street—from Monday to Friday, 9 am to 2:30 pm—through January 20, 2022.
Paul Laster is a writer, editor, curator, artist and lecturer. He’s a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and writer for Time Out New York, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Galerie Magazine, Sculpture, Art & Object, Cultured, Architectural Digest, Garage, Surface, Ocula, Observer, ArtPulse, Conceptual Fine Arts and Glasstire. He was the founding editor of Artkrush, started The Daily Beast’s art section, and was art editor of Russell Simmons’ OneWorld Magazine, as well as a curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.
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