Michalis: Beauty, Darkness, Vehemence

Nocturnal, 2015.
Oil on linen,
Mounted on Marine plywood.
120×100 cm.
Collection of the fetal medicine Foundation,
London, U.K.

In an age when it is increasingly important for us to develop and attitude of respect and concern for our environment, rather than the greedy exploitation that has hitherto prevailed, Michalis’ paintings offer a blueprint for benignity. He paints figures in interiors or in landscapes, some still-lifes, and a number of landscapes (some of them depicted by night) with habitations but no people. His pictures explore the relationship between man and nature gently and with no preconceptions. The landscape he paints has a formalized rusticity; it is more park than wilderness. The buildings evince no urban squalor. There is a refreshing simplicity and clarity to his images. It is perhaps an idealized existence, but it offers more hope for the future than so many contemporary and bitterly nihilistic creeds.

A number of the landscape paintings are constructed from blocks of colour arranged like sliding panels or screens, which, if moved, would one feels reveal great depths and subtleties of space. As it is, they build up the verticality of the picture plane and suggest at once a shallow space as well as a proper perspectival recession. Michalis thus emphasizes the pattern-making element of his design, as well as suggesting a ground-plan or map by the disposition of his forms. The allusions are as much to aerial photography as the are to cartography, and this serves to deepen the references contained in what first appears to be a straightforward landscape painting. The paintings are therefore also about different ways of looking at the world from the same level, from above or by consulting a cartographic chart. We continually perceive things on more than one level in our daily lives; Michalis’ painting acknowledges this and seeks to confirm it.

His palette has become more vibrant since his last exhibition, the colours more saturated, and their application more authoritative. In the figure paintings, red and dark yellow feature to vivid effect. In the landscapes a powerful range of blue greens and orange red predominate. This new group of work is perhaps less abraded and worn, more painterly than previously. Michalis has gained assurance in his vision and feels less need to distress his surfaces.

Michalis paints a Romantic landscape, soaked not with blood but with the bright insights of emotion recollected in tranquillity. The mood of his paintings, though erring towards melancholy, never tips over into despair. There is an underlying energy of hope which permeates these images. That is their ultimate strength. As Lawrence Durell wrote in Bitter lemons, his moving farewell poem to Cyprus, ‘Better leave the rest unsaid / Beauty, darkness, vehemence‚Ķ’ Unsaid, perhaps, but not unpainted. Michalis dares to paint some of that magic.

Andrew Lambirth

Writer and Curator,

Contributing Editor Royal Academy Magazine,

London, September 2002