Opening: 05.05.2023, Duration: 30.06.2023

‘O dark shivering in the roots and the leaves

if it were but you who would bring the forgotten dawn!’

  1. Seferis

[transl.E. Keeley & Ph. Sherrard]

Beyond the land of dreams*

Transformations in the art of Alexis Avlamis

The sea; the feast of colours in a sunset; sunflowers; fish; fir-trees; mount Ainos; the botanical garden; the fruits and flowers of the goddess Demeter; the light on a mountaintop; marvellous cloud formations against the broad sky; fruit trees; the heart of an artichoke and blue potatoes; water lilies; wild fauna and flora; the white owl; the treasures of the earth’s bosom; the deeds of nature and the deeds of humans.

All these are the subject matter of a reflective art that seeks to connect imaginary and realistic landscapes and forms through the multivalence of images; to bring together the inner, idealist life of things with their tangible and earthly substance; to unite a cosmic dreamworld of symbols with the wonder of the solid, primal force of the tangible world. This is the deeper essence of the art of Alexis Avlamis. An art in which the freedom that comes with idealising our surrounding world meets romanticism, the tenderness and humaneness of a lived place and time; an art expressed through the deep and real senses of smell, taste, and touch – senses that have their own true homeland, and this is the homeland of their creator’s soul. A homeland that suggests to us the moral importance of art through a longing for a life that is real, full of imagination and dreams, and for a cosmic dreamworld full of the natural sap of earthly nectar.

Through a rich visual conversation with the real world, through ‘counsel and dream’, Avlamis’ art unfolds sometimes as a whisper, sometimes with reverence, sometimes with grandeur and opulence of colour, sometimes with elegant poetic sensibility, sometimes with refined decorative qualities, crystallising those rare sensations around us and within us, and uniting man and nature into an indivisible whole. Through visual immediacy with regard to the natural environment, through exact documentation of its detailed hues, through meticulous and faithful rendering of the natural landscape, through a gentle and mysterious flickering between light and shadow, through stark contrasts and sensitive tonal gradations—here, a world of reality in transformation is visually captured, a truth under the sway of an ‘other’ life, outside conventional time.

This is a world of an exotic subconscious, of poetic fantasies defined by a relation of wonder and worship towards human existence within the universe, by a relation between the here-and-now and what lies beyond, in which human presence and life on earth explode into cosmic infinity, into the dimension between now and forever. Through their continual renewal in expressivity and through the wealth of their artistic idiom, the transformation and the fluidity of visual material allow the emergence and manifestation of a natural habitat in which we find the convergence and flourishing of controlled gesture and of the arbitrariness of artistic material, the conscious and the unconscious, the fleeting and the permanent, the cold and the warm, the fluid and the solid, the immaterial and the concrete, the two-dimensional and the textured, tangible clarity and lyrical vagueness, rationality and venturing beyond it.

The art of Alexis Avlamis is rich in allusivity, with deep roots in the past while also conversing at the same time with a present and future that is technocratic, undefinable, and disquietingly dazzling. What will come out of this lyrical, dark musicality of time? The female figures—elvish and pixie-like creatures, nostalgic utopias, mythological memories, sensual depictions of mother earth—are dominant and contemplate ‘today, as tomorrow and as yesterday’, gazing at the hues of infinity with the dignity of their own moral and aesthetic presence. The sense of time that is implied here, that frames these figures and imbues these forms, is time in motion yet unmoving, an atemporal sense of time, in opposition to but also in coexistence with private and historical time, the personal and communal experience.

Through these thin and multiple layers of memory, through successive stratifications of creativity in colour, through visual and conceptual free associations, we set out for a journey to a visual place resonant with the memory and nostalgia of the future. This is an ideal visual place located on the border betwixt and between the material and immaterial world, betwixt and between ceaseless motion and stable, immobile monumentality.

Wax painting—the art of encaustic that Alexis Avlamis serves with humility and knowledge, this ancient technique and artistic method—is the hidden refuge of immortality, the inextinguishable hope for eternal living presence, beyond death. Encaustic strives ceaselessly, in optimistic desperation, to preserve living remnants, to retrieve and foreground the sense of life through the corporeality of wax, to preserve in time, through the persistent endurance of wax, the precious sense of the continuity of human life and the world. It is an art form that—through this rare, malleable, long-lived material that is wax—seeks to inscribe, to mould, to build our common denominator, our common need to occupy together the same space, our need to preserve memory from oblivion, our need to keep returning always to the core. To the core. To our home. And what is our home? Art itself. And its creator is a naturalist, a cultivator, a labourer who strives to raise seedlings in the ground—he knows their time.

‘A time to sow and a time to reap.’

And alongside the creator also the creative spectator: an immigrant in a new continent, in the kingdom of a fairy-tale story, in the domain of a genuinely earthly and hence also dreamlike world.

‘Beyond the land of dreams.’

Jannis Psychopedis

Professor Emeritus of Painting, Athens School of Fine Arts

*Homer, Odyssey 24.12


Thoughts on Alexis Avlamis’ Painting

Until recently Alexis Avlamis was known for the “landscapes of the mind”, large, dense, abstract compositions, influenced by the hyperrealistic automatism. He now turns his gaze towards the past, which he discovered by studying the exhibits of the Corgialenios Historical and Cultural Museum of Cephalonia. This is how the Echoes of the Past (Argostoli, June 29th – October 21st 2022) solo exhibition was born, for which he created small, realistic and delicate compositions showcased next to the source of his inspiration: the museum’s exhibits.

The current Transitions show is the natural evolution of the previous one. He continues his research on a higher level and traces back to ancient myths, which describe metamorphoses, of course not to illustrate them, but instead to study and capture the transition from one situation to another, to intrigue the viewer and at the same time to express emotional states and internal representations. Needless to say, he is a thoughtful artist researcher who enriches the myths with his own images and is inspired by species that transform also through his intellectual/psychological legacy. In other words, his compositions combine mythological, natural and spiritual elements, sometimes even through dialogue with artworks made by great masters of art. The fact that he paints outdoors in direct contact with the unique and biodiverse nature of Cephalonia,  charges his perception and directs him to imaginative solutions, free from common sense, to a developed foresight connecting the past with the present while unveiling a restless conscience for today’s problems. The outcome is a sum of original paintings made by a gifted painter, who knows how to ravish the eye with his visual, poetic part of the painting to intrigue, to arouse the mind but also to subtly suggest that it is worth delving into the picture, that painting doesn’t constrain itself within its visible borders.  For this reason if the viewer exfoliates and strips away the materials he may even reach the spiritual core of the painting.

His endeavor is aided by the ancient encaustic technique, which suggests the metamorphosis of matter: upon heating, the solid beeswax melts at approximately 63°C, it mixes with powder pigment and dammar resin and then its liquid state solidifies. The end result reveals a low relief surface, in Alexis Avlamis’ case a visual comment on the stages of psychological evolution of man. Encaustic is usually applied on a rigid substrate such as wood, the melted colored wax penetrates the heated surface while the mastic or dammar resin imparts luster and durability for centuries to come. Beeswax which is secreted by worker honey bees is a 100% raw material which coincides with the painter’s nature loving temperament and curiosity to paint with a pure material.

Alexis Avlamis has experimented with encaustic since 2005. His start point was theoretical research, trial and error, painting on various surfaces and experimenting different approaches. So he concluded that the demanding encaustic technique “offers an extraordinary versatility, a broad range of optical effects and new painterly possibilities”, such that it totally fulfills his expressive needs.

Encaustic was perfected by ancient Greeks, exactly when and who invented it is still unknown. However by the end of the 6th century B.C it was already in use. Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D) describes it in the 22nd chapter of his 35th Natural History book and gained widespread attention by the discovery of the lifelike Fayum funerary portraits (1st-3rd c. A.D). In modern times the technique comes to light again and already since 1750 it was used by known artists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792). In the Greek area, the leading researcher of the encaustic method was the painter Konstantinos Iatras (1811-1888) from Zante island. He was an active member of a small avant-garde group in Europe, which regarded the technique in art as science. He passionately devoted himself in searching how to apply the encaustic technique in modern art.

In the hands of Alexis Avlamis, whose inspiration is deeply rooted in the past’s heritage and in nature’s wisdom, the ancient encaustic technique produces excellent results and it may even serve pursuits of a highly intellectual level. In a few cases he combines encaustic with oil on the waxy surface. In this short text it is not possible to mention specific examples. However, I ought to highlight that most of his painting’s titles carry abstract concepts, which require from the painter’s side a spiritual and emotional maturity as well as technical expertise and confidence, a fact which points to great goals, which I believe he manages to achieve. The meticulous, enigmatic and imaginative compositions, the depiction of  two phases of time before and after the transition/transformation, the combination of seemingly unmatching elements, the color’s harmony and luster, in some cases the evocative atmosphere which reaches the Sublime, the intricate texture of the wax color, the low relief of a vibrating background , all these capture the viewer’s gaze, make him to think, bring into play free associations of ideas and finally contribute to a communion (methexis).

Dora F. Markatou

Former Associate Professor of Ioannina University