Homage to Dimitris Condos
CAN CHRISTINA ANDROULIDAKI | SEPTEMBER 16 – OCTOBER 27, 2017
On a steep street snuggled below Mount Lycabettus in Athens, exuberant scribbles gleam through the window of CAN Christina Androulidaki, a small gallery whose first show of the fall is atypical of their regular program of emerging artists. Twelve pieces on view in the main room are the work of Dimitris Condos, an artist who saw his heyday in the 1960s and ‘70s, but has mostly faded from public knowledge within Greece and is little-known beyond its borders. Through painting, drawing, and sculpture that approaches functional design, Homage to Dimitris Condos leads the viewer along Condos’s breakthroughs with his “spiral writing” style as he grappled with paradoxes of representation and the desire to radically join art and life.
The earliest work on view is the moody In the Glow of Lightning (1959). It bears a thick, gluey impasto on the canvas’s surface that has been washed and scrubbed down with black ink. Crusty yet lush swirls summon up a temporal energy with the title keeping a toehold in world of representational painting, which characterizes the artist’s earliest work. His Rain (1961) series depicts bursting storm clouds with angular strokes of graphite. These investigations of stylized movement and weather patterns are Condos’s crossing point into abstraction.
From here, Condos became interested in transforming the plastic space of the work itself into a medium. An untitled painting from 1963 shows a continuation of this procedural experimentation with mark making that moves away from symbolic reference. Squeezing paint directly from the tube, Condo formed loose curlicues that begin to look like writing tumbling freely around in space, speaking but intentionally failing to signify.
Condos’s desire to bust out of the picture plane led him first to Homogenesis (1963), a jaunty cube of assembled canvases painted brightly on all sides. This didactic fusion of painting and sculpture leans awkwardly, only a foot in height, bringing to mind the hastily crafted and just-as-hastily abandoned work of a junior art student. Like the 1963 series of quick sketches also on view, not every work is a masterpiece, but the charm of the exhibition is to follow the artist as he figures it out.
Three years later, Condo finds a playful yet rigorous way to challenge the preciousness of painting and turn the work into a dynamic zone. Dice (1966) breaks and spreads a spiral drawing across the surfaces of 27 four-inch wooden cubes, meant to be handled and rearranged by viewers. This approach represents a precocious, proto-digital understanding of composition as segmentable and infinitely randomizable. The thrill of bringing artwork into the hands of the public also aligned with then-radical political aspirations to reject individual authorship in favor of collective forms.
After being asked to participate in a painting show, Condos produced and distributed Roman Pictural (1968), a pocket-sized book of 124 drawings that are exhibited at CAN as both a wall of original drawings and a copy of the publication. Condos’s marks are light and billowy, yet still dense with a mysterious internal order. The poet Lewis Freedman once told me, “To write or to draw is to etch a groove in time, to read is to pass through those tunnels.” The reader can never truly read a text to the extent of replaying the experience of the writer, and Roman Pictural exemplifies this ineffable dilemma of representation. As a stubborn chronicle, it can’t be read, but its rhythmic secrets can be danced through.
Looking back at Condos’s practice today, his optimistic plans for democratizing art have a bittersweet tone as we reckon with the failures of those revolutionary dreams of the late-1960s. Yet breaking down hierarchies of value and bringing art as close as possible to the viewer are still worthwhile goals, and Condos’s works are stirring because, regardless of their style, they describe an artist who constantly challenges his own conceptions to seek more honest forms.
VANESSA THILL is an artist, writer, and curator.