Perception of colour in the art of Jannis Spyropoulos

Perception of colour in the art of Jannis Spyropoulos

When referring to the work of Spyropoulos, I’m not satisfied in merely underlining its importance and the major role the artist played in introducing and establishing abstract art in Greece, almost single-handed. I need also ponder on the way he manipulated his painting surface (or more aptly, his painting materials) which, even beyond abstraction, is conducive to the understanding of his art in general.

  Spyropoulos began his career with Cézanesque models, as taught at the School of Fine Arts where he studied. What boded perhaps the later physiognomy of his oeuvre was his usage of colours. Although his drawing was Cézanesque in manner, his preferences for neutral composite colours insinuated material interiority.

I believe that Spyropoulos arrived at abstraction in wards – in other words, by following a trend, which was only becoming known in Greece.

In his early abstract paintings the Cézanesque analysis of form is quite apparent. Spyropoulos extends in throughout his visual theme. The latter is sectioned and interrelatedly developed on the canvas, considering that for him space was supplementary to form and not a back ground. Thus, landscape, which engaged him at the time, does not constitute representation. His presents an orderly composition of parts, subject to the painting’s ‘walking pace’, so to speak.

When Spyropoulos went to Paris, Informel was in its heyday. The artist was not only duly impressed by its preachings of amorphousness. He was satisfied that space and form constitute a unity, which depends on rhythm and the way colour is wrought. The impetuosity of the Informels left him cold. I would say that with the Informels colour is wrought outwards, with aggressive gestural touches. On the contrary, Spyropoulos began working inwards, with steadfast techniques, in lieu of the rapid, unrefined and spontaneous ones of the Informels. He made usage of newspapers, magazines, posters; burnt objects and coated collages in a way that colour became the corporal substance of his painting, the compound ingredients forming the (strictly pictorial) space and theme of it.

In his respect, on a previous occasion I had referred to Spyropoulos as a ¨classic¨. He introduced a concept in abstract practice, which revitalised by other means (constructional) the time-honoured European art tradition. Colour, not as surface but a deviated of wrought materials. Penetration into the latter constitutes the plastic and expressive idiom of Spyropoulos´ oeuvre. Here again I need stress his importance for the younger generation, regardless of whether they have gone beyond the stage of abstraction. Allow me to expand on this.

I notice that expressionism with all the violence that it entails is now re-emerging with a marked feeling for interiorised expression. Space is no longer an outward manifestation of its former aggressiveness, but rather, a stepping-stone towards a more dramatic composition of form.  In such an event, the art of Spyropoulos has much to offer.

The honour bestowed on Spyropoulos at the Biennale in Venice and his subsequent universal recognition as a leading figure in contemporary art, in my opinion rest upon this characteristic quality of his work.


I recall when I first laid eyes on the paintings he was to show at the Biennale, and I told him that he’d surely win a first prize. It wasn’t just a prediction on my part: the quality of a work of enduring value is what prompted me to say so.

Starting with a given technical and painterly method, Spyropoulos advanced to a fundamentally dramatic expression. I mean by this that the dramatics of his paintings could not be conveyed in descriptive terms. Indeed, he never went in for dramatic effects.  He applied himself assiduously to probing into his materials, where in he discovered the drama of birth and destruction inherent in all living organisms. The chromatic corpus of Spyropoulos´ paintings is such a living organism, with layer after layer of vying transfigurations. Thick – coated surfaces and bright apertures attest to this. In its developmental process various settings are absorbed therein, there are signs of scorching, and decay becomes its quality. It rises to the surfaces rather than falls against it. In its final ascent of vividly coloured signs and symbols, it becomes the very cry of his material. This latter material conceals in its palimpsest form the muteness of language, which suddenly resurfaces in explosive symbols is-à- is the onlooker. They derive from a contracted mass of colours, which the neutral ingredients of his material have formed into a pregnant silence, and there they burst. It wouldn’t be correct to say that they ‘illuminate’: ‘burn’ is more apropos.

I think that such a concept transcends the bounds of abstraction. We cannot subject Spyropoulos´ oeuvre to such limitations. It involves an aspect of art having its roots in the grand European tradition, with ample possibilities for implementation. Spyropoulos gave us its pure form. By adhering to the tenets of abstraction, he discovered it in his own artistic endeavour. He endorsed it as a basic component of art; and it is in this spirit that he endows it to the younger generations.


Eleni Vakalo (Jannis Spyropoulos Museum Opening Event, November 1992).