“… and Forever the world the small the great!”
Soon as our first glance, what is strikingly evident about the work of Denny Theocharakis is the decidedly vertical structure of her compositions. The image advances almost always from the bottom upwards, so that the gaze both of the artist and the viewer loses all sense of latitude.
At a second glance, however, we realize that the theme, recurring in every technical and formal variation, becomes the deep “imprint” of Denny Theocharakis and her universe. Thus, we are not dealing with a mere linguistic formula or an invented style – which, itself alone, would have been enough- but with some sort of message addressed to the beholder; or rather, with a statement of poetics, in this case of the image, a system of signs that through references and hermeneutical hypotheses will allow us to penetrate into the artist’s creative sphere, inside her aesthetic and conceptual idiom.
At this point, it should be mentioned that the task and, at the same time, the “vice” of the critic is to recognize in the work – especially whilst is still unknown – the historical and stylistic references, as well as the cultural allusions that will provide an interpretative key: he or she, then, will have to contextualize the work within the current, past or even future timeframe, that is, to place it in a specific exegetic field. In short, the critic will have to legitimize the work, grant in the “right” to exist among the works of others.
Accordingly, Denny Theocharakis’ work evokes, as far as its dominant iconography and choice of materials are concerned – I refer mainly to the paper and ink – the Chinese and Japanese painting that, much like the script of their origin through graphic and symbolic resonance, need to be read “vertically”.
One feels the overwhelming temptation to continue to this direction. The black color leaving its traces on the white paper surface may in fact lead us to the mode of pictographic and ideographic script. Upon first impression it seems that Denny Theocharakis assimilates an “allogenic” creative-spiritual dimension tht is inextricably linked to ritual and contemplative practices, whereby the imagery reaches its calligraphic version, attaining the highest level of abstraction.
There are no electric affinities here, as Goethe would say. The oeuvre of Denny Theocharakis is not about a mimetic intervention. The exotic code fascinates her superficially. Different symptoms and signs direct us to an artistic endeavour that wishes to experiment exclusively on a first-person basis, in absolute autonomy, perhaps even in complete solitude, through a creative reflection that is obliged to proceed towards one and only direction: to the self-knowing as an artist.
In other words, Denny Theocharakis pays off her debt to the sirens of culture so as to be set free. She “uses” zen stylistic elements in order to create a vocabulary so unique that challenges the conventions and esthetic idiom fundamentally strange to the Western Weltanschauung in order to deconstruct and rebuild it – in terms of Saussurean linguistics – on a different level of signifier and signified.
The originality, the most authentic expression, the “trade mark” of Denny Theocharakis’s work lies precisely on this conceptual maneuvering distinguishing it as a particular language. Furthermore, however, it is also demonstrated the interdependence, in time and space, of the most diverse – even of the most discrepant and contrasting – art idioms and, hence, their essential, unified identity. Ultimately, we recognize that the real course of art is not set towards one and only direction, for art knows how to be reborn within every artist, each time fresh and singular.
Anselm Kiefer wrote: “All stories of heaven begin on earth. The “stories” of Denny Theocharakis seem to manifest themselves and unfold in a similar way. One sees the image soaring giddily from the bottom upwards – often recurring in parallel and asymmetrical compositions – as if it is propelled by its invisible roots, being transformed into a cathedral’s spire, a giant stalagmite, a prodigious cactus or even into an ethereal monastery, a Bablel ziggurat or perhaps into none of this, for one should not be surprised by the paradox.
So far, it is clear that we are talking in terms of arbitrary analogies and purely conventional references, when in fact behind the image lie different and more complex symbolic overtones. Soon, we realize that the metaphor in the work of Denny Theocharakis tends towards the universal, calling into question the major categories of existence.
Is is furthermore revealed that Man, Nature and Time are the real poetic “ingredients” upon which the artist reflects; indicating that the research is spurred by an essentially mnemonic reasoning, either individual or collective: some sort of an endless journal she writes about herself addressed to herself, conveying her experience about the world.
Behind this thematic impetus, the form unveils itself as a constellation of micrographic signs, with features of a northern European harshness that require to be appreciated at a close-up. We are dealing with fragments of images that are reassembled without and logic narrative, automatically, as in the surrealistic process of free association, creating dream-like accumulations of magma exuding from the unconscious.
Hence, the deciphering process challenges the gaze: as soon as a piece of this complex puzzle becomes recognizable – or at least we believe so – the next one comes to disprove it, undermining our sense of vision. Therefore, it is noticeable that the orderly chaos we are facing is nothing more than a continuous sequence of visual perception gives way to other forms of knowledge.
Eventually, what we see is the representation of a process of growth: dense sediments that could very well be geological, architectural, organic or even zoomorphic and phytomorphic.
Everything throbs and vibrates within these totems of memory, insomuch as to suggest, as far as the linguistic criterion of the artist is concerned, a metonymic process where the container stands for the content, the macroscopic for the microscopic and where the opposites converge and enter in a symbiosis of absolute visual equivalence.
The artist depicts the “physiology” of the creation; she represents the formative process of the image in a way similar to the formative process of life. She proceeds, as Cezanne would say, en parallele a la nature, namely, in parallel with nature.
On the other hand, it is also true that these tower-shaped landscapes featuring a triumphant horror vacui refer to oneiric levels of consciousness and reveal a mainly psychoanalytic “function”, in the sense that the artist expels from the id the ghosts of the abyss and through her work departs from reality. This is certainly an exercise of monasticism, but also of transference of desire, of aspiration and of returning to the unreachable shelter that stands right between heaven and earth, a place of asceticism and total detachment.
Making art, after all, is always an escape. Freud says so in formulating the “ability of sublimation” the artist must be endowed with in order to be able to transform his or her unreal pretentions to attainable, at least in terms of intention, objectives. This undoubtedly entails the placement of the artist in a fictitious world bordering with neurosis.
Risk or pleasure? Denny Theocharakis is certainly aware that the creative act requires sacrifices either in terms of relinquishment or in terms of transcendence. This is demonstrated in an exemplary manner by her work which the painter creates patiently and devotedly. As this point we are entering a dimension that is more than aesthetic: we are trespassing on the artist’s moral motives, acknowledging the responsibility she assumes towards her work and those who enter into its orbit. And there is more than this; if Denny Theocharakis is in fact used to literally walking on her works- as she also used to painting with her painting surface lying on the floor – we are realize this is a new sign that this time round first reveals itself on the level of the instinct of the creative gesture and then on the level of the painter’s aspirations regarding plasticity and expression.
The physical contact and the “takeover” of the work, taking place while the artist ritually walks on it, suggest her need to infuse tangible and objective consistency to an action – namely the art process – that by nature, to return to Freud, tends to escape from reality, from the existence and the mundane.
This tension, this passion that Denny Theocharakis acknowledges as permanent is the origin of her need to put into test both her creativeness in the field of drawing and plastic properties of the material; namely, to enter a domain where she would be able to control the tactile practice, the craftsmanship, in other words, the age-old act of making, which, beyond art itself, has accompanied the evolution and the survival instinct of humankind. This necessarily involves the rejection of the canonical principles of two-dimensional painting.
Irregular scraps of cloth and leather, plexiglas, even gossamer fabrics are the “spurious” means the artist uses in order to expand her own mnemonic horizon. Along with the color – oil and pastel – with the predominant earthly and blue-green shades, the work is hybrid that, while maintains its essentially vertical structure, also heralds further research inquiries and directions of the painter.
Bridges, aerial ladders, cranes, unfinished architectural edifices, everyday objects, evoking a plain and domestic universe, drawn with a thin, “innocent” line and floating weightlessly around the fragments of those materials as if they have rejected their dense surface. Even in this case Denny Theocharakis inclines to an antinomy: from the macroscopic that is reflected in the microscopic, now she comes to set the sense of fullness against the sense of void and by extension, the matter against the spirit, the physical against the metaphysical.
And even though the artist knows well that in painting the use of the “object”, of the three-dimensional element – from Dada to Surrealism and then to Nouveau Realisme – belongs to the prehistory of modern art, she doesn’t cease to play with dissonance, with confusion, even with the paradox. She doesn’t cease to negotiate everything anew. Because art, to quote Andre Malraux, remains an “excessive enigma”.
 Excerpt from the poem “The Axion Esti”, translated by Jeffrey Carson & Nikos Sarris. Our warmest thanks to Mrs I. Iliopoulou for providing us with the translation of the poem.