Born in Athens in 1974, he studied at the Athens School of Fine Arts (1996-2001). In 2001, he received a scholarship from the Danish Institute in Athens to spend two months in Copenhagen creating artwork. Works by him belong to private collections in Greece and abroad. He lives and works in Athens.
On Art and His Art: Emmanouil Bitsakis
The painter Emmanouil Bitsakis looks at art for affinities to his own stance on painting. He explains that the basic object of his work is to express in painting the cancellation of logic by reality, and the neurosis that results, which justifies the accumulation of incongruous objects in his images. He describes the role of humour in his work as a hopeful way of dealing with this cancellation, and underlines that, through the detail in his compositions, he strives to convey his message to the viewer in the most direct way possible. He reveals the reasons for the small size of his works, identifying a bidirectional relationship between necessity and objective. Highlighting his common preferences with Sotiris Felios in the latter’s selection of his works for the collection, he points out the paradox of the ‘perfect’ image of his paintings and the painterliness that dominates the collection. In closing, he talks about his painting Prince, which also features that juxtaposition of mismatched elements and the hint of irony.
The Sotiris Felios Collection. Emmanouil Bitsakis: Persistent Minimum •
16 Fokionos Negri•
Elizabethan Collar •
Faces of the Uigur Through Song & Dance •
National Portrait Gallery •
(part of the BP Portrait Award 2009 as the winner of the BP Travel Award 2008)•
Nees Morfes Gallery•
Nees Morfes Gallery•
Drawings in a Notebook or Lines of the Self
Manolis Bitsakis sketches as he breathes, almost as he thinks. Incessantly, everwhere, in a natural mode, discreetly, silently. Unnoticed, he always keeps with him a small notebook in which, while others in a group of friends chat, he records the images which impress him, or, even better, excerpts of these images, his thoughts, phrases, telephone numbers, names, people. The pen and the notebook are extensions of his hand but also of his mind. Not only during his strolls or his voyages, but also in the closed space of his home, while travelling in his own world. He never does draws on loose leafs of paper, but always in bound little booklets which, moreover, he will never allow to be taken apart for any reason at all.
His paintings are born for the first time in his notebooks as precise drafts, often fully painted on a small scale, while whole parts and figures are transferred as such to the final painted composition. Colour – in this instance exclusively red – lards with its presence, as a small and precious surprise in minute areas, the monochrome sensation of blue or black ink on the pages of his notebooks.
Line is the foundation of his paintings. Clear and delicate contours, unbelievable details in buildings and vegetation underline his love for the drawing procedure no matter how bright and impressive the flat areas of colours he often uses are. It is in his drawings, however, that Bitsakis mainly lets himself be seduced by his very own ability to create compositions which are like microcosms; the nature of this medium enables him to deal at the same time with the precision of the line and the lush but nevertheless introvert recordings of his fantasy.
So, above all, the following questions emerge: Why notebooks? Why the minimum space of their small pages, and correspondingly, of the painting surfaces? Why the obsession with a miniaturist mode? Why today?
Bitsakis restricts the space in which he will draw or paint seemingly because he wants to be placed in self-confinement. This inevitably leads him to a closed format: in his case – that of an innate exceptional drawing skill – it leads him to miniature. Not, however, so that he can exhibit his sketching dexterity, which he undoubtedly possesses in abundance. Such a thing would be simplistic and by all means sterile and senseless in his quest towards a truly painterly way.
What Bitsakis seems to be striving for is to create works that are only deceptively conventional, in which compositions of great boldness, personal fantasies, overthrowing sarcasm and often unexpected tart humour lurk like magic images. Almost as if creating small illuminated manuscripts, like Books of Hours, he fills the pages of his notebooks with hundreds of minute animals, birds, objects and symbols everyone of which has a specific reason for existence and which has been rendered in its slightest detail. He thus borrows an utterly realistic form of depiction of the external world – a form which he clearly adores – in order to play an ostensibly comforting game with over-hasty viewers. Deluding them to believe they have before them an academic kind of painting, in essence he offers them works so disquieting and otherworldly precisely because he places them on the verge between the objective and the oneiric, even the nightmarish, almost in the manner of De Chirico or Hieronymus Bosch. His works demand intensive attention in order to see and comprehend what they suggest; they court at the same time both the Masters of the grand painting of the past and an almost photographic depiction of a contemporary regard of the present common everyday reality, managing to transcend realism towards a personal surrealism.
Bitsakis’s Piraeus and Athens are indeed the towns we know, but when strange ancient gods, exquisitely drawn, fly over equally exquisitely drawn blocks of flats, then past and present are united here magically. When women in two-piece suits and stockings lie like statues next to ancient statues equally alive, then a painted mystery has been born. When the bust of an aged housewife is placed in front of her town’s background, the details of which defy the laws of aerial perspective, then the Renaissance portraits of noble landowners are not very far. When birds and his beloved cats take up as much painted surface as a whole building, then the balance is overturned and with it all consequent hierarchy. And when the god Hermes has Bitsakis’s head, then the positioning of his work into the present time is owed to his painterly obsession with his very own figure.
Through his drawings Bitsakis assumes roles, disguises himself, takes up different personas. His utterly recognisable figure becomes Pope Innocent, winged Victory on the prow of a ship, Medusa, Saint Anthony, an eagle on flames, a catholic priest, even the double of himself… It seems as if his anchor to the world is the monumentalisation of his own person, often in megalomaniac tendencies of a particularly fine humour which paradoxically touches upon melancholy.
In his notebooks Bitsakis also learns foreign languages, and puts together long glossaries and entries. In the end he constitutes each new language he gets hold of as one more of his personas, which he naturally then involves in the universe of his art.
With images within images and portraits within portraits, with skinless bodies, transparent concoctions of organs, intestines and tendons, with bizarre serpents and insects, dragons and winged creatures, Bitsakis observes and identifies the elements of the world around him and inside him in an almost Renaissance-like manner. In drawing, he attempts to bring about a reconciliation with his own demons.