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Roof, Houses and Trees



Costas Stathis (1913-1987)
Roof, Houses and Trees
Oil on plywood
AGLC 725 @ A.G Leventis Gallery

Costas Stathis is considered a singular case in the history of contemporary Cypriot art. He distinguished himself for his talent in painting while still at school. Indeed, he held his first solo exhibition in 1936, immediately following his graduation from the Pancyprian Gymnasium in Nicosia. He attended the Athens School of Fine Arts, but did not complete his studies. While still a student there, he held his second solo exhibition in Nicosia in 1938. After his return to Cyprus in 1940, according to an account by Adamantios Diamantis,1 he presented his work in two solo exhibitions. Such artistic activity was particularly important at a time when few exhibitions were organised.

Sadly, in the late 1940s, a mental illness, which isolated Stathis in his mountain village, dramatically changed his artistic course. However, he never stopped painting, leaving a remarkable number of works which remained unknown to the public until 2010, when a large part of his output was presented for the first time in a posthumous retrospective. This exhibition marked the beginning of the evaluation of his entire oeuvre and brought about his inclusion in the history of 20th-century Cypriot art.

A scholar researching Stathis’ oeuvre encounters several inherent difficulties, mainly because of the works’ lack of dating, a fact which makes it extremely difficult to classify them chronologically with any certainty and, consequently, to study Stathis’ artistic path. He followed a disciplined painting method, paying particular attention to the drawing and the descriptive elements. His first landscapes belong to the genre of plein air painting, while soon after we can discern in his works elements evoking Post-Impressionist influences, especially Cézanne.

It is precisely amongst these works that the oil painting Roof, Houses and Trees belongs, a donation from the Ioannis Stathis family. It bears no date, but based on the style and the testimonial of his brother, Ioannis Stathis, it is one of the paintings of his youth, made before he withdrew to his birthplace, the village of Askas. His dissociation, quite early on, from the restrictions of the School of Fine Arts is clear. His style was no longer reined in, as it was in earlier paintings. His brushstroke became freer, gestural and bold. He applied colour in broad layers, shaping forms on the basis of chromoplastic perception. In several parts of this work he applied no colour, thus activating the white underlying the painting. A prominent role is played by the contrast of two complementary colours, green and red, enlivening and intensifying all the other colours, which radiate a diffuse light, covering the entire surface of the painting.

 

Note:

1 See Adaantios Diamantis, 'Η τέχνη στην Κύπρο' [Art in Cyprus], Κυπριακά Γράμματα [ Cypriot letters periodical], year XXI, nos 247-252       (January-July 1956).

 

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About the artist

He studied at the Athens School of Fine Arts from 1936 to 1940, but he never completed his studies. He returned to Cyprus in 1940. Around 1943 he opened a textile factory in Nicosia, which he ran for about four years. In the late 1940s he fell ill and withdrew to his village, where he continued to paint until the end of his life, without ever organising further solo exhibitions. He drew inspiration from his immediate visual environment, especially nature and scenes from daily life. His early work falls within the framework of the teaching he received at the School of Fine Arts. In terms of style, he moved away from plein air painting to explore the Post-Impressionist currents. After the onset of his illness, his style of painting cast off academic rules and became freer, as much in its use of colour as in the faithfulness of the drawing and the structure of the composition, emulating movements such as Expressionism, Fauvism and Symbolism. He showed his work in solo exhibitions in 1936 and 1938 and, according to a testimonial by Adamantios Diamantis, in two solo exhibitions in the 1940s. He also took part in three group shows, the first in 1947 and the other two in the 1960s.

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