Dimitris Condos

Thirty five years ago Dimitris Condos had been creating the plethora of drafts of his new and unique asemic writing style, the “Old drafts, introduced for the first time today, in 1995, in Athens, accumulated in one of his few personal exhibitions. Some samples of these creations had been presented four years ago in Thessaloniki. These are works done on paper, in the period 1958-1963; they are unknown illustrations of the total adaptation of the basic principles of abstract painting done by a Greek painter at quite an early time. These works certify Dimitris Condos' special sensitivity towards the international calling and prove the shift of his perspective from the outer world observation towards the introspection and individualization of artistic language.

Dimitris Condos presents his work at rare occasions, causing a sensation as he constantly reminds and reveals unknown and significant aspects resulting from the evolution of the postwar Greek art. Confronted with the meanings of Condos’ special asemic writing, gestating in those old drafts and foretelling the uniqueness of his work, we realize the lack of evidence necessary for the correct appreciation of the powers contributing to the rebirth of the Modern Greek art. Once more we realize that in order to get to the historical truth it is imperative to start a thorough analysis of how each artist offers their special contribution to the designing of a modern artistic perspective. In particular, it becomes quite vivid to the art researcher and careful observer how enormous are the differences of approach characterizing the work of Greek artists, even though they share common inspirations. During the ’50s, among the multiple, common, a lot of times, exhibitions of Greek artists and international figures of artistic expression, numerous singularities, unsorted until now, which - quite casually - are impromptu considered as expressing the ’60s and the various dialects of abstract painting. And yet it is mandatory that the different approaches and diverse assimilation degrees of the intimate meaning characterizing the neo-innovative tendencies should be distinguished. Such a work will contribute to the recognition of those who bring about the pure revolutionary transformation of the artistic idea, altering it from a creation to a research process, aiming at pursuing the essence of creative work, through their original artistic writing and personal standpoint towards art.

The guiding principles of abstract art were set by particular leading personalities, who operated in diverse intellectual spheres of the Western society. These principles had not occurred in a vacuum and never did they hinder the path towards the development of their perspective. A chain of transformations and diversifications from originally common ground has written and continues to write the course of advancement of the artistic language. Which Greek artists, hence, have realized this transformational procedure that diverse aesthetic and philosophical tendencies impose? To what degree had each artist used their own insight, conversing with the modern artistic fermentations, or otherwise to what degree had each artist shown an easy adjustment (or else “skill”) to common aesthetic models, which they reproduced with small variations? In what way had they recognized their own self in the multiple theories of modern art, and how had they processed, through their own linear painting, the extensions of this common ground, that render each unique artistic work, not just a typical heir of specific expressive forms, but also a more or less shareholder of the spiritual capital of their era? To these essential questions - which should be of interest not alone for the historical appreciation of the Greek artistic production, but mostly regarding the artists themselves at every instant of their artistic development since their initiation - Dimitris Condos’ early work indicates his awareness plainly. He confronted the sense of abstraction in a critical and analytic way. The abstract painting language is not considered simply as an alternative form of expression, but as a new tool of asemic writing a new world conscience: 1958-1963, ten, fifteen years after the terrifying experience of a World War in the twentieth century chronicles. Only a few years had gone by since the dissidence and the violent conflict inside the Greek nation. At the same time, being for years away from his country, the Greek artist gradually assimilates the structures – perceptions of modern art, which had been sharply defined by the senses of conflict and discord, shared as common experiences by the globe. Modern Art had already, since the first half of the 20th c, formulated its reflections in manifestos, odes, exclamations, and doctrines which – ever since Cesanne and Picasso, Marinetti and Tzara, Kandinsky and Klee, Munch and Ensor, Otto Dix and Emilio Cruz, Malevich and Mondrian, De Chirico and Morandi…..- had not stopped to either pungently comment and analyze or transcend the political autocracy and the mass social planning of modernism. Kadinsky’s insight that “the future art would be proceeding between two poles: the “Great Abstraction” and the “Great Realism” had been unmistakably confirmed during the post war era. Parallel, the abstract art principles which induced the artist to seek inner expression venues in a non-dogmatic spirit, were at the core of the surrealists and the surrealist automatism, and they were among the concerns of the “psychic improvisation”, with which abstract painting dealt, in its European versions and the corresponding common search which took place on the other side of the Atlantic.

In this spiritual climate, the western artist became a free author of personal vistas, recognizing as a main life and language axis the pure existential human entity. This was an ideological stance chosen in full conscience. The linguistic idioms of abstract painting multiplied during the 50s, so as a great variety of abstract painting models were offered in plain view for the younger artists whose initiation would be realized much later. The plethora of disciples of this new trend was making difficult the avoidance of a uniformity of language, which would not cancel the distinctiveness of personal “idiosyncrasy”. Once more in this century, the artist’s reaction and resistance, when turned into a mass movement, against the massive character of modern society, is equated with its rival, the culture of mass production and sensitivity. Abstract art, in all its versions, had so many occasional and superficial disciples, that the principle of “psychic improvisation” turned into an expression program and code. Today, as time has gone by, we can gather that there are few works which spread the principles of abstraction in their entirety, by using the image as a fundamental means of discovering the essence of “artistic writing”. Apart from a simplified presentation surge of specific gestures, chromatic differences and material conflicts upon the canvas, abstract painting presumes a strict practice of transcendence of the humanistic rational structure, aiming at approaching an authentic esoteric source of life, from where the first seeds of discourse originate unprompted as first writing. Dimitris Condos is one of those who understood the need for this practice and managed to bring on the surface an authentic, genuine first artistic writing.

By looking at Condos’ first drafts, we have realized that Condos’ crossing with the modern painting experience had been a fecund circumstance, like rain falling on fertile ground. Condos had detected the search for truth even in the first discourse, in the steady, constant movement that nature yields. In his first works, the sheet of paper or canvass did not constitute a frame that enclosed the composition, but an action field that was potentially endless. His drafts, for example, that simulated ethereal scenes (clouds, rain, wind, light) had been created by minimum shapes, a circle, one –or – two lines and the least possible tone gradations, that float in a vacuum. This was an impression using infinitesimal fragments of the incessant movement which carried the flow of an esoteric beat, behaving on paper like nature itself. And for that matter, it is interesting to stress that from the start of his quest, Condos sought an expression venue of his personal world, related to the archaic philosophical thought: where the protagonist was nature, possessing everything, the great World, wherein the human soul was also comprehended.

At that time Condos attempted a transcendence route of the rational separation between inside and outside; this was done on a trial and research basis, and it was likewise promoted by a great number of European and American artists. Yet, at that meeting point, Condos suggested also the unusual management of the common ground.

In abstract painting the tracing of the esoteric rhythm and its impression upon the canvass as improvised asemic writing constitutes the deposition of an absolute truth. The motive of this method is to succeed a harmony between the inside and outside world. The American and European artists succeeded by fleeing towards other examples, especially those set by Eastern philosophy and alienating themselves from the western system of thought – where rules moderation - aiming at reaching the opposite pole, an immoderate and extreme “psychic improvisation”. Mark Tobey lived in a monastery in Japan, studying Chinese calligraphy and converted to the Zen philosophy doctrines before performing his white asemic writing in the “White Writings” in 1935, and Pollock had also received similar stimuli. Since the 20s the Europeans, having like the Americans a common harbinger – Andre Masson’s automatism – they had re-approached this abstract artistic language, once this work became widely known in Europe, especially at the end of the 50s and later on, when along with the exhibition of «White Writings», at the Venice Festival in 1958 where Mark Tobey won the first prize, and at the same time great exhibitions, such as “New American Painting” and Pollock’s personal exhibition, travel around the European cities.

Already, following World War II, Wols’ stains or Hartung’s oversized gigantic gestures and the Frenchmen’s George Mathieu or Fautrier’s linear paintings, had inspired a great wave of similar projects. At the same time, the mysterious poetic fluttering of Henri Michaux’s restless writing appears among them. And while the tools for this discourse delivery were either meditation or the artificial heavens of mescaline for Michaux, for Dimitris Condos was the harmonious fusion of ego and nature, which led him in an entirely personal writing. In the core of Condos’ language and the foundation of his work is the observation of the constant distortions occurring outside and inside us; all these fleeting situations, elusive but perceived only as a notional image that carries a sense of flow. This approach is obvious even in Condos’ first drafts for a series of works, from “Transformations” (1963) to “Cubes” (1965) and the unique linguistic saga, “Roman Pictural (1968).

According to Condos, the rhythm of incessant becoming (γίγνεσθαι) cannot be reproduced in some kind of writing, constructed by the byproducts of the One, but through the constant repetition of the One as an alliteration of the Whole.

A spherical first element left its stigma on the structure of his first writing, appearing already in his early works. This circular sign persisted, replicated itself through a spiral movement, without beginning and end. Each specific fragment of its “images” could be the next step of the movement or even the previous one. “ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω μία καὶ ωὑτή» (The way up and the way down are one and the same - Heraclitus, Fragment 102).

Condos’ “cellular” writing evolved in spiral movements and did not refer to some kind of logical World structure nor did it represent the psyche chaotic behavior, disconnected from its natural shell. It is yet contained inside, as if it were the secret core of Reason, like Parmenides’ sphere or like what Jaspers mentioned that the “being” is circular. Condos touched by feeling the “being” before it had intersected with “ego”, with the person’s temperament. In front of Dimitris Condos’ “images” of Reason, the project is not trapped in theoretical dogmatism or the rhetoric of gesture, but extended, pushed to infinity. This principle had been already conceived and presented in his drafts since the end of 50s; it differentiated his perspective towards the methods of abstract painting and had led to his latest projects. In “Transformations”, presented in 1963, the spiral writing was being extended from frame to frame, from canvass to canvass. The byproducts of the One were once again referred to the One, as the structure of their composition was not what signified them, but the advancement of the first writing, its movement, multiplying and throwing them towards every direction. From this point on history is made. The artistic work became then a text about writing, a text without a protagonist, without focal point, since it narrated neither an internal nor an external situation, but it transformed the logic of the painting space to a clearly u- (no)topian, non-space, situation. Since this point in his artistic career Condos had represented among his fellow Greek artists the earliest formulation of a purely conceptual artistic approach. Concurrently, Condos denoted one of the most stimulating visual discourses in the international plane of research of that time. The fruition of this quest culminated in 1967, when Condos was working the Roman Pictural, which he exhibited in 1968.

In Roman Pictural, Dimitris Condos completely shifted the passive relationship between artistic work and spectator and founded a new type of methexis with the visual discourse, the artistic work, the one emerging from the relationship between text and reader. Since the delivery of the visual discourse started referring to the artistic concept, the artistic work succumbed to a procedure of transformation of its objective quality.

Condos transformed the object into text, which has activated an alternative time when the eye perceives the activity of discourse. The artistic work claimed reading time. Among the multiple analyses of the artistic work delivered either theoretically or through artistic writing, Roman Pictural has managed to create once again a unique blending of analysis and synthesis. The analytic manipulation of the language was not restricted only regarding its logical delivery. The concept of language sought its author and in Roman Pictural was embodied in writing, without skewing the original doctrine of the conceptual approach. Writing narrated the history of language. The reader of this language adventure traverses a text, rich in action, where no episode is decisive for what follows, since what comes next attends neither logical time nor a logical sequence in space. The continuity is also groundless; it is rediscovered in each page, in each isolated episode in the page, in its initial protagonist, the circular being, while time is maybe this last random white page, where the end reunites with the beginning.

Dimitris Condos, without losing his direction towards the initial quest, which is meeting each time with the first, original stimulus of writing, was capable of increasing and decreasing the distance of either the boundaries of reason or the place of psyche. He was equilibrating lightly and magically on the thread of balance, offered to us by the laws of Nature, where there is no split between body and soul.

Looking once again at the “Old Drafts” by Dimitris Condos and displaying them, today, alongside the history of their development until 1968 more or less, one realizes the importance of the procedure of self-knowledge for the artist, at each moment of contact, meeting or crossing with the thought transformations occurring around him. Since meeting with a movement of thinking, the original axis of which was the transcendence of the objective world, Condos’ spirit managed to extend in reality their own existential and cultural space. In his work the transcendence of western logic didn’t invalidate the importance of reason, but counterbalanced it with the “psychosynthesis”. The mental psychical “improvisation”, in other words, transformed itself, using as sole element the surpassing of self, the one that pre-exists the “ego”.

Condos used the repetition of the primary cell, indefinitely replicated, and narrated the adventure of a transition through diverse structures of development, reduction, among dramatic crescendos, fugues and variations, where nothing transforms the being itself, but only its way of perception.

This philosophical dimension of the theme of writing, dealing with the procedure of creation, places Condos’ work beyond the models of abstract expressionism and its versions. Condos’ work stands among the earliest analyses of the structures of thought, investigating the human “transformations” with regard to the different historical perceptions of the World opposite the unspoiled being. One could also make the comment, sort of fleetingly, that this standpoint later on enabled Condos to try another kind of transformation of writing, in his series of works under the name “Votive offerings”. In those works as well, a common element, the ex-voto, was used repeatedly, adorned a surface massively, without being able to touch or spoil through its cultural property the concept of the sacred.

The pattern of the unspoiled One penetrates Condos’ whole work, like the reading of the Heraclitus quotes – of uncertain origin most of the time – or the repetition of the utopian place in the byzantine hagiography, all suggest or presage the perception of a hyper-national, hyper-historical, hyper-materialistic world; likewise these repetitive Condos’ transformations did not obscure the primary essence, but they transformed the value of a system of thought and social structure, whose main axis is not the importance of the essence, but the idea of the Center. Against the idea of the Center, Condos’ work is written like a poem using secret codes, dealing with the language revolution. Quite wisely Condos avoided exhausting this revolution through reproduction. He always knew when to stop before becoming wasted himself along with his vision. At this point one could mention Rolland Barthes’ bitter quote, contained in his article, “The Death of the Author”, written in 1968: “We know that in order for the writing to have a future, we must reverse its legend: the birth of a reader comes at the cost of the Author’s death”. We dare to add that if this is an excessive and inhuman cost for the Author, the loss of the reader could be equally excessive. Since, fortunately, authors around essence constitute an inexhaustible wealth for the intellectual reflections of each time. They exist.

Apart from historical codes, according which each contemporary or not review of the artistic work is being evaluated, time expunges passions and destroys banners of any dogmatic behavior inside the artistic space, saving only the products of those artists who knew and know to reveal and at the same time conceal the truth. Somehow, like for example the way in which the light hides mysteriously in Rembrandt or, centuries later, here comes Duchamp and reveals and afterwards hides his thought quite enigmatically; or like Henri Michaux’s elusively fleeting writing, thus Dimitris Condos by carrying the beat of a rhythm that annuls the beginning and end, he revealed and hid time, recalling its unperceivable quality. Condos’ genuine artistic writing reminds the falsehood of language which validates only its historical time.

By reading the poetic texts of Condos’ artistic language we learn that each writing attempting to allude to the truth, existing inside and outside the human, can help but destroy in some unique way and form the knowledge. The real artist has always ways of getting to this disaster, because he is capable of transforming and being transformed. Dimitris Condos, as an artist and person, in his own round way, has taught us just that.

Efi Strouza
Art Historian.
February-January 1995

• Kostas Axelos, «Heraclitus and Philosophy», 1962, Εξάντας, Athens, 1974.
• Rolland Barthes, «Image- Music- Text», Πλέθρον, Athens, 1988.

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