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Dead Bird in Green



Christoforos Savva (1924-1968)
Dead Bird in Green
oil on canvas
AGLC 710 @ A.G Leventis Gallery

André Lhote taught Christoforos Savva many technical and intellectual faculties. Yet Lhote’s obsessive fixation on what he himself defined as ‘the plastic invariables’, which led him to a stylised and sterile application of Cubism, also led Savva to his own impasses. After ascertaining that Lhote’s self-discipline was proving barren and aimless, and that his teacher’s Cubism had lost its refreshing drive, Savva began to seek other, more fruitful artistic paths.

Gradually, starting as early as 1958, Savva distanced himself from Lhote’s rigid teaching and renewed his artistic style, progressively adopting more abstract and freer forms. While still in Paris, in 1958 he painted a series of works under the general title Les Massacres à Gönyeli, which he exhibited in July 1958 in the French capital at the Galerie Mariac. This particular series of works is linked to the pursuits of post-war American art and the establishment of abstract trends, especially Abstract Expressionism. Savva’s effort to retain the positive aspects of Lhote’s teaching, while going on at the same time to attain his personal artistic style, can be seen in a letter he wrote to a friend in September 1958, in which he mentioned that, while travelling in the south of France during the summer, he met a woman painter, also a student of his teacher, who ‘[…] had not been able to rid herself of Lhote’s influence’.1

An important moment for Savva came in May 1959, when he moved back to Cyprus for good. This marked the beginning of a period of intense reflection and the carving of a new path. The artist turned his subject matter towards local material, which, however, he processed through a new spirit and aesthetic approach. During the transitional period of 1959 to 1961, he produced a series of bird paintings, progressing gradually from the figurative rendering of the subject using Cubist and Post-Cubist forms to the total abolishment of any recognisable image. Dead Bird in Green, in the A. G. Leventis Gallery Collection, belongs to this period and was painted in 1959. It shows a bird lying on the ground with its large wings spread out. In rendering its feathers, Savva reintroduced elements from his earlier landscape work. Splitting his subject matter into free geometrical shapes, he then reconstructed it, seeking to underscore the harmonies between the rectilinear and curved shapes, between the geometrical and freer themes, between the brighter and darker surfaces. Savva’s free style, which does not observe the precision of geometry, and his gestural brushstroke lend the painting a distinctive character.

Note:

1 Letter from Savva to his friend, the painter and actor Roddy Maude-Roxby (5 September 1958), Roddy Maude-Roxby private archive.

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About the artist

Christoforos Savva was born in 1924 in Marathovounos village, where he remained until 1947. He studied at the Heatherley School of Fine Art in London and at Andre Lhote’s workshop in Paris.

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