IN THE LATEST WORK presented by Denny Theocharakis, one might discern two chronologically different, and yet interconnected, thematic entities; two different kinds of representational expression. The first topic is about the age of “innocence”, about the time in which body and mind did not agonise about the recent lethal menace that has afflicted the entire mankind. Amidst this threat, the painter reproduces memories from travels of quest and exploration into far-off lands (mostly in Asia), where life has a different pace and is governed by different cultural norms.
While wandering, she records in photos whatever attracts her eye, and when, at last, she is back and her soul is filled with images, she processes her subject-matter by painting landscapes, people and daily-life scenes that narrate their own stories. The materials she uses originate from the countries she visits: handmade paper from Vietnam, Bhutan, Laos, India; pigments from monasteries of Tibet and Nepal.
The second thematic entity pertains to the next period of time, in which the painter, overwhelmed by the unprecedented pandemic and confinement, channels her emotion into new, original works, applying also handcraft practices, into which she imparts new aesthetic content. The fear for the virus takes the form of a crown, an empty seat, a thunderbolt, a vortex sucking life away.
The eye, sometimes compellingly present and sometimes deafeningly absent, is the connecting link of the two thematic entities, following the trail of images and forms from our eyes all the way deep down into the soul.
Throughout the history of art, the depiction of human form prevails in a ritualistic, religious, metaphysical or magical way. The evolution of portraiture, while from symbol assumed the identity of a model, is of particular sociological and political interest, and, more so than other kinds of art, it bears the seal of place, of chronological period and of cultural level. The Renaissance, as well as subsequent periods, has given us miraculous paintings, leaving each time a different mark upon the human model.
The dissemination of photography did not obliterate the representational rendering of the forms; on the contrary, it became a challenge. Artists, until today, have not ceased experimenting and struggling with rendering “this wondrous poem; of the human body”, as Delacroix used to say.
Each of the three most famous contemporary painters presented their own version while painting the human body. Francis Bacon reached an extreme point of disfigurement; Lucien Freud followed the realistic representation and Chuck Close imparted to his huge portraits surrealistic features.
After wandering in various parts of the world, from the East across the West, the painter’s soul and luggage are brimful with numerous images and experiences.
Photographic images are not being transferred upon the canvas in their actual form. The size of the forms, the tension of the brushstroke, the sharp juxtaposition of colors, the typical postures of people and the abstract backdrop, out of which figures seem to come forward, render a monumental element to those depicted. They are presented along with the tools of their trade, while resting, while ruminating, while moving. The facial features, the unique garments, the postures of the body manifest the origins of these individuals and the customs of their lands.
The hopeless loneliness of people of various ages, whose faces betray anger, pain or the love of life, is being depicted with particular sensitivity: a child stares bewildered at the lens; a mother is carrying with pride her little daughter on her back; a woman, whose figure is rendered plainly in terms of color and lines, begging for a nickel or two in the bustling streets of Boston; another woman from the city of Drama in northern Greece whose tragic life is highlighted by the fiery tints and the sharp features of her face.
The solitary aged woman wearing a mask and holding a walking cane, standing indecisive on the intricate cobblestone pavement refers eloquently to the upsetting circumstances faced by vulnerable people nowadays, and brings together the painter’s representation whose theme is the human figure with the theme of the abstract representation of the virus’s threat. The empty bench, the tentative posture of the woman with her back turned against the viewer, the absence of countenance, but mostly the lack of horizon and the woman’s entrapment in the never-ending repetition of austere, intense-colored patterns, disturbed only by the sewer cover plate, intensify the silent, irreversible sense of fate.
In other paintings, we see a different, whimsical and ambiguous mood. In the composition depicting the men next to the inflatable dinghy, the painter watches the figures from above (bird’s-eye view) who, along with their multicolor equipment, look like children’s toys.
In the painter’s memory, people are being identified with the geographical space they belong to, and each painting brings into surface and rephrases in a singular manner many levels of emotions, rendering the mystery of the entrapped simulacra of those who are depicted. The depicted figures are frozen in time, and the sensibility and resourcefulness of the painter lies on the fact that she captures, in one and only pose, the energy emanating from the body and the movements, the piercing eyes, the glance that becomes the soul’s mirror.
The mystery of the image lies on the eyes of those involved: on the eyes of the painter who captures the image; on the eyes of those depicted who invite the viewer into a direct discourse; on the eyes of the viewer who partakes into the story of the depicted hero. Theocharakis comments: “How weird, but still wonderful, is the sense of being able to enter even for a little while into the soul of another being through one and only glance, and to see, as if it were a film, a part of their soul, a part of their life by staring at them straight into their eyes or just by looking at their movement!”
Into the depicted eyes, rendered with a singular technique, the artist isolates and praises the main body organ of perceiving images, both her own, that process the images as a painter, and the viewers’, that watch them. The representation of the eyes is far from realistic or abstract. Various elements, such as snakes, words, signs, crowns, sometimes black and white, and sometimes in oil colors upon handmade paper, form the iris and the area around it, and convey different and ambiguous messages, reminding us vividly of the painter’s older compositions of macro-micro-cosmos collection of paintings. Through the deconstruction and the poetic construction of the image of the eye, the various mystifying and micrographic symbols of representation achieve “an inspired equivalent of visual emotion”, as Jannis Psychopedis wrote for the catalogue of her exhibition in 2013.
VORTEXES AND CROWNS
Facing the new circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent confinement, Theocharakis illustrates unprecedented emotions emerging from the shattering circumstance, and moves on to another theme, introducing a new way of expression through a diverse technique.
From the closed, circular shape of the eye she passes on to the expanding form of the vortex that combines the shape of the circle with dynamic motion. The vortex is an archetypal symbol bearing a dense content. It denotes the time that elapses, as well as the rhythm, the development and evolution of life itself that now is menaced by the virus. The established order is overturned either by the creation of new spirals or the interruption of existing ones. The painter turns her attention to different ways of expression, to a particular form of handicraft and she toils over stitching with her needle handmade sheets of paper, embroidering shapes and letters conferring a mystical meaning upon the image, and then she paints over them, giving them a new form.
In some of her works, painted with oils or even with rare color powders (of typically earthy hues) procured from monasteries, the stitching emphasizes the outline of the spiral. In the form of a maze, the spiral suggests the inner wandering of the soul in the quest for its identity. It is also connected with the mandala of the religious and philosophical tradition of the East; a means for meditation. Karl Jung, the main exponent of analytical psychology, believed that the mandala represented the sense of wholeness, of unity and the desirable harmony of a personality.
During the second period, Theocharakis draws inspiration from the currently infamous Coronavirus-19 that threatens and terrorises us. The virus’s name originates from the arrangement of some of its proteins forming the shape of a crown!1 The painter, in the mood to exorcise(?) the evil, draws various motifs, already existing in the compositions depicting the eyes. She forms patterns of intense colors, reminding vaguely of a crown, and she embroiders with threads of diverse colors small decorative geometric shapes, words and question marks upon paper, articulating her puzzlement and awkwardness while facing the threat of the virus. Bit by bit, the outline of the red thread, as red as a blaze, becomes the dominant one, contrary to the black outline that usually delineate the volumes of works of many painters.
The silence of the glance is a landmark in the life and the artistic course of Theocharakis; yet, the sequel of the journey appears to be expected and challenging.