Christos Bokoros

Bokoros Christos
© Giorgos Zachariou

Born in Agrinio in 1956, he studied Law at the Democritus University of Thrace (1975-1979) as well as Painting at the Athens School of Fine Arts (1983-1989). In 1992 he was awarded the Grand Prix at the 24th Festival International de la Peinture at Cagnes-sur-Mer and in 1993 he received the Prix de la Ville de Saint-Paul-de-Vence at the Biennale Mediterranéenne in Nice. He has been working on scenography since 1995, his most recent settings being those for Thodoris Gkonis’s “Xepesmenos Dervisis” (fallen dervish) in 2007. In 2016 he was named an honorary member of the Russian Academy of Arts in Moscow. As of 2017 he is a regular member of the Board of Trustees of the National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum. Works by him are held in Greek and international private and public collections. He lives and works in Piraeus.

Works

On Art and His Art: Christos Bokoros

The painter Christos Bokoros talks about the loss of criteria and true meaning in the art of today, and describes art as a call for immortality. He analyses the issues of time and effort of a painted image, and questions the separation between old and new, the outdated and the innovative in artistic creation. He describes painting as resistance against time and as a vehicle of truth, centred on light and its relationship to shadow, as well as aesthetics as a moral stance in the world. Defining the gaze of Sotiris Felios through the works of representational painting that he collects, he refers to his triptych painting The Dark Shadow of Man Illuminated as an emblem of the fundamental pursuit of his painting, which he states is the quest for light.

Solo Exhibitions

2018

Eastern Municipal Hall of Megisti Kastelorizo

2018

Paralogue Viannos Art Gallery "Savvas Petrakis" Keratokambos, Crete

2018

Illuminated Apothiki Art Space

2018

Heroic Resurrectional Ellinogermaniki Agogi Pallini (curated by Athena Schina)

2017

Common Signs National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum, Nafplion Annex Nafplion

2017

Nostos Retrospective exhibition Benaki Museum – Pireos Str. Building (138 Pireos St.) Athens

2016

Glimpses of the Obscure Retrospective exhibition Benaki Museum – Pireos Str. Building (138 Pireos St.) Athens

2016

Painting Anti Art Gallery Antiparos

2015

For the Exodus Vasso Katraki Museum Aitoliko

2013

The Bare Essentials Benaki Museum – Pireos Str. Building (138 Pireos St.), Athens / Fundação Dom Luís I, Cascais 2014 / Cultural Centre of the Municipality of Hermoupolis, Syros 2014 / Municipal Market of Agrinio, Agrinio 2015 / Municipal Theater of Pireaus, Pireaus 2015 / Moscow Museum of Modern Art (MMOMA), Moscow 2016

2012

Sign of Freedom / Veria 1912-2012 Byzantine Museum of Veria Veria

2012

Freedom Street Gallery The Office Nicosia

2004

Impenetrable Forest Zoumboulakis Galleries Athens

2003

Passage from Darkness to Light Tzamia-Krystalla Art Gallery Chania

2002

Patmos / Passage to Light and Darkness Museum of Cycladic Art Athens

2001

Transformation – From Darkness to Light City Hall Exhibition Hall Hong Kong (curated by Nigel Cameron)

2000

Ploes VI: The Landscape of Hinterland Retrospective exhibition Petros and Marika Kydoniefs Foundation Andros (curated by Athena Schina)

2000

Exhibition in Agrinio Retrospective exhibition Papastratos Brothers Tobacco Storehouses Agrinio

1998

Resque Raft Tzamia-Krystalla Art Gallery Chania

1997

Offering Zoumboulakis Galleries Athens

1996

Light Rotunda Hong Kong (curated by Nigel Cameron)

1993

Parable for a History of the Olive Tree Zoumboulakis Galleries Athens

1991

Eggs Ekfrasi – Yianna Grammatopoulou Gallery Glyfada

1990

Painting 1987-1990 Ora Art and Cultural Centre Athens

1987

Painting 1984-1987 Contemporary Art Gallery Athens

Press

Two Painters

From the Sotiris Felios Collection
at the Hellenic Institute in Venice

“Freedom calls for virtue and daring”. This saying of Andreas Kalvos retains its validity in every form of crucial decision, even in the world of art. The artists who are housed together in the collection of Sotiris Felios, disregarding the siren voices of fashion, the market, the critics, even of success, have chosen to express their ‘passions’ and the ‘plagues’ of their times by the traditional method: by painting with brush and paints on a bearing surface. But virtue and daring were also needed by the few collectors who decided, going against the current, to support this group of artists at the cost of many personal sacrifices. Among them, Sotiris Felios stands out. The consistency of his taste and of his choices has endowed his collection with a rare cohesion – a collection which he has never ceased to enrich, to make use of, and to promote.

We should be under no illusions: without this horizon of acceptance, artists would not only be faced with problems of survival, but, above all, they would perhaps have lost the moral strength which underpins and fires any form of creativity. And so can method, the traditional language of art, prevent an artist from giving expression to the ‘plagues’ of his time – to use an expression of the patriarch of this group, the late lamented Master Yannis Moralis? Of course not; just as the Greek language, which has been spoken in this country for more than 3,000 years, has not prevented poets, from the time of Archilochus, Sappho, and Pindar to the age of Cavafy, Seferis, Elytis, and Ritsos, from fashioning the hymn of life and lamenting the tribulations of their times.

The two painters from the Sotiris Felios Collection who are being presented at the Hellenic Institute of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies in Venice, the elder Chronis Botsoglou (born 1941) and the younger Christos Bokoros (born 1956), share the same dedication to time and memory – only these two concepts have a completely different meaning in the philosophy and the poetics of the two artists. For the elder of the two, in the words of the allusive line of Odysseas Elytis, time is the “passionate sculptor of men”, which leads teleologically to decay and death. Memory represents for Botsoglou an invincible power of recall of beloved individuals and things, a mnemonic, existential reversion to a lost paradise. His art, elegiac and confessional, is tantamount to a personal testimony, devastating in its honesty.

By way of contrast, the painting of Christos Bokoros is glorificatory, optimistic. Time purifies, sanctifies things, endowing them with a secular immortality. Bokoros’s memory is not of a personal, confessional nature. He extricates familiar things from oblivion and exalts them to the eminence of the memorable, the archetypal. The archetype stems from the collective unconscious and is addressed to it. A catalyst in the poetic metamorphoses of Bokoros is the undying light which illumines the majority of his works, contrasting with the cold nocturnal tones which predominate in the “Nekyia” of Chronis Botsoglou.

[…]

Christos Bokoros
Time, Memory and Secular Eternity

Time as a poetic cause of decay, ageing, and death has played a catalytic role in the very creation of art and its development. Art – to speak schematically – has dealt with time in two ways: religious art has aimed to incarnate eternity, to capture and make perceptible the supersensory. Secular art has used the image as an invincible mechanism of memory in order to conquer time, to take prisoner beloved people and things in a cross-section of its flow, “to make the absent present”, as Alberti maintained.

Consciousness of time, which leads irrevocably to decay, not only of mortals but also of the things which have been associated with their life, is at the root of the creativity of Christos Bokoros. The artist attempts to extricate from oblivion – which is tantamount to a living death – things and utensils which have been sanctified by long use, by movements, gestures, touches, and which have now become victims of the disdain of disuse. The artist has given back to these forgotten wrecks, pieces of old wood, sheets, bags, a second chance of life. He has cared for them, without extinguishing the traces of their ‘fatigue’, the testimony to their other life; in any event, this is why he has taken notice of them and collected them – and has appointed them to a new role: that of conveying the message of his art, for them to become ‘tables of offerings’ on which their creator will place the ‘vessels of his election’, the images of the things which he wished to preserve.

The old decayed pieces of wood, which retain in their veins the memory of the hands which have worked on them, changing them into palimpsests, predominate in the artist’s preferences. We shall encounter them in most of the works of his maturity. ‘Wood from the sea’, remains of shipwrecks, planks from bridges which have been demolished, but also humbler agricultural or domestic utensils of the same material have been prepared by the artist to receive his images. With an almost religious humility and devotion and with the perfect technique of the old Flemish masters, Bokoros depicts with hallucinatory precision certain emblematic objects resting on these wearied surfaces: a bronze cup, a glass with an olive branch in it, a glass which serves as a lamp with an undying flame, a burnt out match, symbols of silent consuming away, but also of resistance to time. The act of art itself, the perfect technique, acquired by ascetic zeal, embody time, duration. The objects are detached from their everyday character, are elevated into symbols, are sanctified. Does this mean that the artist wanted to charge them with a metaphysical dimension? He himself precludes any such ambition: “What interests me is the disposition of men to approach the spirit by incarnating whatever is most sublime and best in matter”.

The old pieces of wood are to be identified with the surface of the picture, which functions as a ‘table of offerings’. What rests on it to be painted, what is depicted in an illusory way on the wooden bearing material, is seen “εξ απόπτου” – from above, from on high – as we would see some utensils resting on the low wooden tables used in the traditional Greek village house. In this way, the surface is not impinged upon, the objects are ‘compressed’ in a shallow space, which permits them just to ‘breathe’, to exist. The transition from the fatigued wood to the painted objects, the passage from the world of the real to the world of illusions causes the beholder a stimulating vertigo. A shadow cast upon these things attempts to bridge this abyss which separates the two worlds.

The colours which this artist prefers are mnemonic rather than natural: burnt, earthy, ochres, umbers, sienas, white and black. The strong colours – red, black, yellow often have a symbolic or metonymic use: they are identified with or reminiscent of blood, mourning, or the candlelight which floods a whole series of his works. Lamps, candles, or flames constitute rituals of commemoration of ‘the living and the departed’.

Christos Bokoros has dedicated each of his exhibitions to one dominant theme: to the egg, which symbolises and represents the beginning of creation, but also the perfection of form before the invasion of time which is marked by birth; to the olive, the tree which has given nourishment and sacred light for thousands of years to the peoples of the Mediterranean. With the parable of the olive, a conceptual group which included the topography of cultivation, the tree, the oil, the cult, the undying light of the lamp, iconostases, and the sculptured composition of man and his home, Bokoros won in 1992 the Grand Prix at the 24th Festival International de la Peinture at Cagnes-sur-Mer in France and the prize at the XIII Nice Biennale at Saint-Paul-de Vence.

The allegory of the bed is an imposing group of pictures and constructions which symbolises the cycle of birth, love, and death. Another group of the artist’s work pays tribute to bread, to our daily bread, to bread inscribed with a cross, a symbol stressing its holiness, and the bread of oblation of the Orthodox Church, with the impression of divine symbols made with a wooden stamp. The bread of oblation – the prosphoron – devoutly baked with flour from a special type of grain, wrapped in a white linen napkin, is an accompaniment in the Orthodox rite to the names of the departed commemorated by the priest. This ritual has inspired the artist in the triptych of “the Living and the Dead”. The light which has left its imprint on the white linen napkin on the last panel of the triptych symbolises the sanctity of this folk ritual in the Orthodox tradition. In speaking of this, the artist has said: “I am impressed by the way in which they have been able to invest so much reverence in matter so as to approach something unseen”.

The spiritual element, the sublime, the archetypal, the eternal, the concepts which adorn Bokoros’s texts and interviews, provide us with the key to penetrating the world of his painting – a world which displays indissoluble unity of thought and meanings which are condensed into symbols which are easily legible, because they stem from shared experience: the prosphoron, the sacred bread, and the fingers which rest on the wooden surface, the linen napkin which unfolds to reveal the unseen light to us, an imprint of a devout gesture, the flames which seem to spring up on the rugged boards.

The familiar archetypal subject matter of the artist is complemented in the exhibition at the Hellenic Institute in Venice by a series of works which recall dark pages from the history of modern Greece. The triptych “The Dark Shadow of Man Illuminated” is inspired by the painful experience of the Civil War. The artist came into experiential contact with the still fresh memories of the tragic historic moments in the modern history of Greece when he acquired a studio in the ruined village of Viniani up in the mountains of Evrytania, where the guerrillas had their lairs. Bokoros devoted an entire exhibition – an expiatory ex voto – to the memory of the dead in the Civil War (“Impenetrable Forest”, Viniani 2004). The triptych which is exhibited in Venice is painted on old tobacco sacking, a reference to the artist’s birthplace, Agrinio.

In the first painting, a black shadow covers a mutilated trunk; in the second, the image of the young male trunk rises up in relief from the canvas, designed with the skill of the old masters; on the third panel of the triptych, the trunk has been brightly lit by a purifying, glorifying light. Memory, propitiation, divination. The red of blood, which dyes the boards of another work, is cleansed by the artist’s familiar flames. The bloody uprising of youth in December 2008 inspired in the artist the piety of another tribute: on a folded white sheet or shroud, a few flowers – roses, jasmine, and acacia – have been placed.

A faded Greek flag, stippled, like a starry sky, with flames of memory, is surrounded by an inscription which links it with the heroic Exodus of Missolonghi. It is worth bearing in mind that Agrinio, the artist’s place of origin, is close to Missolonghi. It was with these moving words on the sacrifice of Missolonghi that Georgios Tertsetis defended Theodoros  Kolokotronis at his famous trial: “Six thousand Greeks spread all together in one night outside the walls of Missolonghi. A light rain sprinkled the earth as they made their sortie, and many of them cried: even the Almighty weeps for us tonight”.

The works of Bokoros are in search of the sacred, the spiritual, the archetypal in the everyday and the familiar. They entrench effulgence of eternity by intersecting moments in the brief duration of human life. They exalt into ritual happenings gestures and everyday customs, which thus acquire an enduring and recognisable Greek identity, mapping out a higher homeland. Bokoros’s painting teaches us to live our mortal existence differently, as a sequence of momentary secular eternities which occur in a specific place – Greece – but in transcendental time, in the longue durée.

 

Marina Lambraki-Plaka
Professor of Art History
Director of the National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum
* From the catalogue of the exhibition “Illuminated Shadows: Christos Bokoros – Chronis Botsoglou. Paintings from the Sotiris Felios Collection”, Hellenic Institute for Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies, Venice, 2011.