Apostolos Georgiou

Galerie Xippas | Paris

It seems inevitable that the resurgence of interest in figurative painting by young artists will stimulate a drive to identify senior figures as a source of historical context. While this will probably entail a second look at some of the neo-expressionist stars of the early ’80s, one can only hope that the trend will also generate interest in some of the less modish but more substantial painters who have been working under the radar since then. If so, Greek painter Apostolos Georgiou, whose career stretches back more than two decades but who has not until now had a solo show outside his home country, would be a worthy candidate for belated success.

The six large, untitled recent paintings shown at Galerie Xippas could only be the work of someone who’s been wielding a paintbrush long enough to have grown seriously confident in its use: Georgiou adumbrates a face or figure and delineates a space with the seemingly effortless concision and clarity attained by only a few colleagues—one thinks, at moments, of Marlene Dumas. It is this knack for pictorial condensation, for endowing the image with a certain lapidary quality that gives Georgiou’s paintings emotional heft even as they traffic in oblique humor finely tinged with irony.

Taken together, the paintings seem to chronicle the vicissitudes of a contemporary everyman amid the banality or vexation of daily life. Or is the figure the same from painting to painting? His face is indicated so tersely, or sometimes not at all, that it’s hard to be sure. In any case, these are not narrative paintings any more than they are didactic in tenor; their being untitled seems to indicate that their maker’s attitude might be summed up by a terse “No comment.” Whether Georgiou’s John Doe leaning precipitously over a balcony, his arms hanging down, is expressing some sort of inner despair, practicing the latest exercise fad, or simply trying to reach something he’s dropped is not really the point, just as in another painting it is pointless to wonder whether he’s preparing for sex, prayer, or something else as he kneels with his arms on a bed, naked but for his shoes and socks. When we see him lying atop a table, peering down at the figure crouched underneath, it could be situation comedy or something altogether more sinister. But the paintings’ gravity is located elsewhere: in the geometrical sobriety of their composition, and in the tender application of their beautifully nuanced whites, grays, and ochers.

Perhaps surprisingly for an artist whose international emergence has been so long in coming, there is nothing specifically Greek about the style, references, or subject matter of Georgiou’s paintings. Indeed, specificity of any kind is at a minimum, yet everything, no matter how odd or enigmatic, feels like it might have been observed, not invented. If one had to pick a likely influence it might be Max Beckmann, though Georgiou eschews the latter’s grandiose mythography; Georgiou, too, aspires to a sort of universality, but his is one articulated through the humble gestures and objects of everyday life—a bed, a table—and pictorial gestures sufficiently discreet as to let them emerge with unwonted emphasis and luminosity.

Barry Schwabsky