With no prior knowledge of Greek artist Yorgos Papageorgiou or his work, this was one of the few times I attend an opening with no preconceptions. But what I found at the Mashrabiya Gallery was a truly pleasant surprise.
It’s been some time since I came across an exhibition that does not attempt to be controversial. Lately paintings, and artwork in general, have been loaded with concepts, almost always running the risk of falling short of representing them. In the midst of all the contemporary work being churned out by artists all over the world, and particularly in our uncertain times in Egypt, artwork has been riddled with profound meanings meant to jar the viewer into a sense of reality numbed by the media, hearsay and general indifference. However, we forget a very simple truth that this collection of paintings at Mashrabiya so plainly presents: that art can be just beautiful.
A general misconception nowadays is that if a painting is simply pretty, it’s irrelevant. This cannot be further from the truth. Art is essentially, in its most Platonic description, meant to elevate the spirits and inspire a meditation of sorts. It is artwork that can be simply seen for what it is without the need of a lengthy statement to explain the ideas, reasons and processes of its existence. The paintings by Papageorgiou were just that.
Abstract compositions of mixed media on paper, the paintings boast a skilled approach to composition and a beautiful mixing of pencil and paint. The graphite swirls in a sketch-like movement, as though the artist starts off with a quick vague idea of what he wants to portray, only for it to be cemented through the use of paint. The compositions vary from grid-like breakdown of the support to more organic lines across it.
The colors are almost always warm, with ochre, oranges, reds and yellows, accented with deep blues, purple and transparent black. The overall palette reminds me of a bruise — either the minute it happens or its hues as it fades away. The work seems to be coming from a sentimental place, with lines that no matter how harsh they are in their application appear delicate in their final resting place.
Personal favorites include a piece that was rightfully placed at the entrance of the gallery. Depicting a chaotic line of what appear to be roses in a whirlwind, blown horizontally across the composition, this piece is simply beautiful. It presents what looks like a destroyed floral arrangement floating in still air, with pencil scratching, blotches of paint and pastel smudges across the composition. Despite the violent description, it appears quite serene, and is easily one of the loveliest artworks I’ve seen this year.
Another is a piece that is covered by vertical lines, emerging from the top and bottom of the composition and fitting into each other in the middle like two combs. Again, despite the harsh blackish-blue lines that are used, the piece looks meditative. Handwriting in pencil is barely seen across some of the lines, from which deep reds and purples seep through. The result of each effort looks like a simple painting, but to those who have ever tried to paint, the way the colors are ultimately presented on paper is the fruit of skilled labor.
The 58-year-old Greek artist, who has been living in Cairo since 2010, had studied physics and material science, and previously worked as a researcher in France. He only started studying Fine Arts in 1994 at the Atelier Toma Roata in Brussels, Belgium, and his first exhibition was there in 1998. He then later moved to Beijing, China from 2005 to 2010.
Papageorgiou has been living in cities that are undergoing major transformations in their social and artistic expression, and it seems that his late blooming in the arts has greatly benefited from this. It is perhaps due to this mature approach to the arts that his work lacks a lot of the pretentiousness that can be seen in the younger, artistically trained contemporary artists. These artists, and viewers alike, will surely enjoy this show.