From here to eternity
His home, the microcosm, travel, the accidental, the inevitable, the persons, life
Back in the early days of the 80s, in the basement of the Zoumboulaki Gallery in Kolonaki Square, a new sculptor spreads his microcosm on the floor. First was his work “Abacus” (1983) and later “Mappemonde” (1987). It was such an overwhelming experience that I could hardly explain it rationally. The fascination that a work of art holds for us at first sight is what constitutes the clearest and most unmistakable critique. Gradually to this first impression is added a large number of sculptures of the particular work, their relation to the personal geography or biography of the artist, his study of space resulting in that exquisite geometrical disposition of the figures.
This led to a conversation we had had several times since then with George Lappas as, for example, what it is that charms us from the very first moment, how its energy is released, to what extent the breadth of the artist’s maturity has to do with the truth of his work, how is created the alchemy of the basic elements, which you may not even control.
Let me start, however, with a position that concerns us all and has to do with the inexorability of time but also of place in relation to Lappas’s work.
He starts here, from this place and is the successor of the artists Giannoulis Halepas, Gerassimos Sklavos and Takis. This is what we call modern Greek sculpture in its essence, inventiveness, without artifice but also in its wider, beyond local borders, dynamics that can break new ground in sculpture.
Lappas himself worshipped Halepas, followed him and taught him at the school of fine Arts, as he also did with Takis. The poor shepherd’s clay from the island of Tinos and the innumerable clay casts our artist created may have an additional mystical affinity.
George Lappas seems to be coming from everywhere and not just because from an early age he was a traveler, from Egypt to Thessaloniki, then Athens and later to USA. He carried with him, as if in heavy “luggage”, the pictures of the Egyptian sculptures so closely related to the heads of animals, and the feeling “of delirium and justice” that he as a child experienced with the art of Sotiris Spatharis.
The almost three thousand figures of “Mappemonde” of the 80’s, that is the many-faced features that make up a full and huge world; with their interdependence, their complementary side, and their inter-relations in the space they occupy, they create a world that will continue to exist in the wake of inter-related social and historical events, and define an art which surely is not the sculpture of the form but the sculpture of the concept and the multitude.
Thousands of figures assembled at the Perissos workshop in 2013. George was overwhelmed by the “hustle” and the “buzz” [the mystical sounds from the centre of Africa, returning through America to Europe] which travelling over the watery trench, distinguish the ecstasy from the everyday experience and the collective memory from the personal experience. As a result the artist is preparing to set up a powerful political work. And here too his guide was General Makriyannis as he arranged his soldiers in the battlefield. A multitude composed as a single body. This work encapsulates the memory and the terror of those 9000 Greek Jews of Thessaloniki who had been arrested by the Nazis in 1942 and brought to Liberty Square. This is his “Documenta and Sculptured Landscapes” which he exhibited at the Jewish Museum in Thessaloniki in 2013. It is a work that blends his knowledge from his studies in clinical psychology at Reed College and his participation in hard psychological experiments in San Francisco, San Diego, Oregon at the end of the 60s until the beginning of the 70s. His interest in psychiatry had a permanent involvement in his oeuvre. His outstanding work of 2013 includes his part in the Stanley Milgram experiment on the topic of obedience to authority. It is about that destructive obedience which depends less on the personality’s moral strength and more on the current circumstances, on the pressure being imposed that makes a rational being reject any moral restraint and by order commit atrocities.
Psychology remains a powerful element in Lappas’s work, equally powerful, often approaching matters that have come down from ancient tragedy, with catharsis of the dissolution of the soul. In this respect Lappas’s work encompasses Sophocles but also Hannah Arendt or Lauven Stater and with them Juan de Valdes Leal and his work of 1670 “in ictu oculi” (in the blink of an eye). Of course the artist has no connection whatsoever with the baroque, though he has a strong affinity with the meaning of the pictures of the history of art, whose quintessence reaches beyond painting, beyond visual and tangible things, whose ulterior purpose is humanity’s purely ontological condition.
George Lappas, a myriad-minded* personality draws knowledge and generates knowledge. The history of art is for him equally interesting as philosophy, poetry, folk music, the “rebetico”, the ways of birds, the way a dog can recognize a real artist. All archives of knowledge as well as of the senses and delusions are there owing to that percentage of surrealism found in his work as well as in his temperament. While he is making the sculpture “Clairvoyance with Liver”, he leaves it in the sea for 40 days after which he spreads it under the trees in the Pavlides property; when he goes on a ride with his van at daybreak, when working on the machine of “Elbo”, when making prophecies throwing the dice, he exchanges phantasies with the viewer in deciphering the world.
Between the two unities “Mappemonde” and “Documenta” which mark the starting point of this work and maturity respectively, come the inspired moments of the large red figures which we first saw in 1991 in the Bernier gallery in Athens and the Martin Gropins Bau in Berlin. They then travelled all over the world, shown in international exhibitions and museums. Here the artist introduces three new elements: the red color, the cast in natural size, and repetition, and finally the iron mechanism that will determine the movement of the figure. But these are only features that describe the artist. George Lappas was obsessed with finding the particular manner that would blend the features with the craftsmanship, with the soul. “Ever since the word soul has been banished from the world of philosophy, it has become a taboo in art. But I’m interested in it.” (his own words).
The “Red Burghers”, the references to historic-marginal moments of the past, from the Burghers of Calais and Rodin in Laocoon, Pierro della Francesca, Seurat, Van Gogh, works of art, poetry, religions and music preoccupy the artist. In this way his work and research raise matters that concern both the active viewer and the active artist. And every time he re-invents his relation to history, psychoanalysis, his origins, his place against world civilization, which includes the world we see and the world we are not aware of.
In these works the figures and their limbs are conditioned by the principle that a human being may move outside any object and in order to enter it, they have to break it. The breaking of the figure-object, the mirror and the contraposto position, in which the head and the shoulders are in different direction from the pelvis and the legs, suggests, apart from other things, that a person can exist in several and various positions. It is a dialogue between a figure and the one next to it. Each one’s position depends on that of its neighbor, as well as on the shade that is provided every time. In his preparation of the “Burghers” as one sees the half-naked figures in movement, one is reminded of the Theatre of Shadows which must have moved Lappas in his childhood.
Looking at the terrific output of this prolific artist and its endless refutations, one can’t help thinking of Degas’ saying “I spend my life experimenting”.
“Human beings are seminal for sculpture but so is the sea-urchin or the pine cone. The golden mean does not apply to humans only but also to the artichoke. We should therefore study the forms and not insist on the ground plan“ G.L.’s words corroborate the dynamics of form as he probes into it in animals and various forms on which he himself bestowes features and names such as gardener, hypnotist, cook, soothsayer, stretcher-bearer, ghosts in this never-ending cosmogonic universe.
The titles of his works comprise a wide range and are so direct and ingenious that they enhance the already commented on and surrealistic nature of his works.
An installation of G.L’s, beyond the intensity of an endless ritual in motion, with memory’s backward-forward march, history, and the present time, can create a “narrative” of strange fragments, which nevertheless, constitute a semantically unified body for the “open” viewer. It is like epic poetry, something worth eulogizing, where the myths are there to criticize their own presence, and breathe with time’s motion, while at the same time they seek to share eternity.
From here to Eternity then; from a workshop towards the great world and the even greater, as the work of this great man and artist deserves.
*“Ανήρ μυριόνους”, a phrase used by a greek monk for the Patriarch of Constantinople.
P.S. The title is borrowed from the American writer James Jone’s book (1951) and Fred Ziunermanns’ eponymous film (1953). And this could only be said about George Lappas.
Historian and Art Critic, Art Director at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Crete
The Mayor of Chania
It is with great joy that our Municipality hosts at the Municipal Art Gallery the work of the distinguished and imaginative artistic personality of sculptor Giorgos Lappas. This greek-egyptian artist, though no longer among us, gives a dynamic presence through his pluralistic work. Malleable figures, though sculpted into rigid materials, spring up compellingly, and recount their own stores, but similarly stories of the artist’s own life.
Sometimes microscopic, other times gigantic, the forms of Giorgos Lappas are characterized by an oxymoron, that of the restless stability; the imposing red figure with the suitcase is ready to start his journey or has just returned to stay put? Perhaps a direct reference to the artist’s constant traveling during his lifetime. A play with propensity emerges from every form, giving his work a dramatic dimension along with an allegory or sometimes with irony.
These and many other elements which are analyzed and presented in this considerable publication you hold in your hands, make the exhibition “From here to Eternity” exceptionally noteworthy. It is a cultural event that the Municipality of Chania is proud and honored to host during the high attendance of visitors in the midst of the summer season. I sincerely hope you enjoy it!
Mayor of Chania
The President of Municipal Art Gallery of Chania
From the beginnings of human civilization, sculpture and the message it conveys, there has been that art that consistently follows human civilization throughout all its stages, up until today. Throughout time, the principles of sculpture have gone through changes which relate to the origins of expression. Indicatively, the basic principle that allowed for the transition from archaic (6th century B.C.) to classical sculpture was such that the harmonious composition of its components need not follow rigid laws but contrarily, could transform analogous with the deeper meaning of the artwork and its corresponding visual image, that which the artist wanted to convey to its viewer – recipient.
Value, analogically and contrapuntally, transmitted, is, in my opinion, what emanates from the spectacular work of George Lapas, an acclaimed teacher, where – as a physical presence only – is no longer with us. An Egyptian Greek with international recognition, a lifelong citizen of the world (Egypt, U.S.A., India, England, France, Greece), whose work has as an initial and main «tool», the transgression of specific limits.
“I am interested in the image of mankind, never the image of man”
“The true talent of a good sculptor is the ability to control the psychic material of vertigo”
His own words, become a legacy, accompanying his great work, but also perhaps new innovative principles, for the future of sculpture.
Figures and rucksack with ears
Excerpt from the text of the exhibition
Figures and rucksack with ears, Citronne Gallery, Poros, 2017
Α small, elongated showcase attached to the wall, full of tricks, on Akademias Street across the Church of the Life-Giving Fountain of the Virgin, inflamed my fantasy for years, on a daily basis when I went and returned from school.
Parti-coloured, small, modest, assorted objects just big enough to fit across a flat, slender glass surface, it contained the wisdom of centuries and whole worlds of conjuring tricks, sculpture, and entertainment.
When the high door of the entrance of the building opened there sat, always on the right, an imposing, polite, silent gentleman, with a profound gaze and a black top hat.
This was the entire business from the end of the ‘60s to the early ’80s.
Giorgis and I met in the School in ’77, and we were united by our great passion for drawing life class models. These people were family to us; through them we delved into the depths of our work, which amounted to knowledge of a person and his history.
Among these, Solon, a Greek aristocrat from Egypt, and stout Mr. Giorgos caught Giorgis’ attention.
When resting from his pose, Solon used to strip from the waist up and stand upright, his arms akimbo, so as to take the sun in the corridors of the School, in the Polytechneio. “Perhaps he misses the plentiful amounts of Egyptian sun!”
Mr. Giorgos was tall and thickset, but his movements were unrelated to his appearance; he was agile and ethereal, one might even have said he was a dancer, even a balancer, since he was able to make his bulk vanish by his movements.
Giorgis’ studies for drawing and clay had impressed me, mainly the way he searched behind his subjects.
At some point, having taken stock of all these factors, I invited Giorgis to my place of refuge on Akademias Street.
After successive visits Giorgis managed to charm the man with the top hat, who proved to be a professional magician and conjuror. So began his studies, in this entrance, after he arranged the time for posing and the performance of the tricks. I remember birds, hares, eggs, card decks, handkerchiefs, and everything imaginable springing out in every direction, but also simultaneously vanishing as if by magic, and then only the simple wooden armchair and the magician named Chris remaining in this nondescript entrance.
He was handsome with alabaster skin, white, without wrinkles, since he did not grimace, did not express any sentiment, and fixed his gaze on you so as to subdue you. The magnificence of his art lay there, under the brim of his top hat, in his eyes. I believe that Chris was in his entirety a part of our cultural legacy.
These three persons had characteristics in common, they were educated, spoke foreign languages, and had travelled much in their life, managing to carry all these elements over to their way of life.
After finishing the School Giorgis collaborated with Solon and Mr. Giorgos for his drawing studies in the workshop, while Chris worked in the same space until the closing of the business.
Continuing his work on figures for certain types of his work, he replaced his models by his own figure, chiefly in his work on acrobats and balancers.
On my visit to the foundry I spotted a number of works that Giorgis attempted to transfer to material. It was a unit he had been working on throughout the course of his artistic life.
These were figures of Solon, Chris, and Mr. Giorgos, and the knapsack with ears […]
Sculptor, Sculpture Teacher at the ASFA