Landscapes of absence and reminiscence
by EVRIDIKI TRICHON-MILSANI
Landscapes have claimed their own place in painting and became an area for experimentation, abstraction and meditation. The incredible variety of nature and natural phenomena, the seasonal transformations and changes of light offered to artists the ability to free themselves from the academic treatment of the human form and from realistic representation. However, either because it was overused in photography, or because after pop art the interest of artists focused on urban landscapes, or because we are living in increasingly larger, suffocating cities, the depiction of nature has been removed from the novelty list. Landscape artists - we once called them outdoor artists - are rare nowadays; that is why the work of Helene Taptas, which comprises landscape paintings exclusively, is arresting and startling.
Usually, when we talk about landscapes, we automatically think of nature. A glance at the artist’s landscapes is enough to make us understand that what characterizes her work is not so much nature as a disposition to go beyond naturalness. Neither imaginary nor particularly bizarre, her work is sufficiently vague and does not oblige the spectator to recognize something real.
On the verge of abstraction, bare, without anecdote or other narrative element on which to build a story, these empty landscapes, densely painted, are images between the conscious and subconscious. Their inner movement is not related to impressionism or to instantaneous snapshot imagery. On the contrary, each has a metaphysical duration and symbolism.
Within, always predominant is the line of the horizon with its nuanced symbolism. It cuts the painting into two components, earth and the sky. The strip corresponding to earth is often thinner than the one that corresponds to the sky. The earth element is worked with motion, thin decisive interventions that create forms on the brink of abstraction. In the upper part the eye does not stop on the slopes and mountain peaks but enjoys the spaciousness of the horizon, at times clear and translucent, at others scattered with clouds. The sky element is the core of the painting. Clear skies, cloudy skies, threatening, wet, dry or on fire, they lend themselves to a reading of the omens and cultivate the need to escape. Through the silence ensured by the absence of any living being, the discreet vibration of color introduces a restrained lyricism.
Sometimes a grey or ochre smoke brings to mind the horizons of Yves Tanguy, which capture the eye and immobilize the thought with their magical, extraterrestrial allure. Here, on the contrary, there is a reserve of truth and calm, while thinking remains alert. Viewers abandon themselves to the journey of horizons and reminiscence.
It is obvious that what interests the artist is to compose her own landscape: through a personal environment, under a light that is somewhere between dusk and dawn, she wishes to reveal an inviolate land, ideally solitary that no vulgar tourism could ambush.
In such a spare context, the presence of even the smallest tree or building is dramatized and assumes a symbolic character. Taptas does not place any emphasis on such dramatization. She does not wish to impress. However, her reserved intensity moves us. It is like the explosion of a scream in its soft musicality.
These landscapes accompany and absorb our thoughts with their silent harmony. They act like the pages of a very personal diary, which we are called on to read. Their indeterminate melancholy, the awareness of an absence, don’t depress us so much as free us.
Helene Taptas told me:
by EVRIDIKI TRICHON-MILSANI
“My landscapes are internal landscapes. I have approached them in various ways: collage, drawings, oil. They are always the same. When I was a graphic artist in Paris, when I decorated walls and screens, the same images would come to me always. A nature that expresses my feelings. Perhaps, they are a personal defense for me.
I was born in Istanbul, lived in France and then in Greece. The journey was always experienced as a constant detachment. Countries with their impressions and emotions seemed like landscapes viewed from behind the window of a train or a porthole. Perhaps that is why my stance in relation to the landscape is distant: I deal with it from a distance.
When I returned to Greece from Paris, I decided to study under Thanasis Stefopoulos. He is a serious, solemn person who matches my inner backdrop.
Since then, getting on for twenty years now, I have been exclusively dedicated to painting.
When I start a painting, I am motivated by a need for color that is determined by my frame of mind.
I am never close to my landscapes. They are dictated through nostalgia, solitude and dream.
I like skies a lot for their vivacity, sudden light, silence, subtlety.
I like rocky places. I like dusk, twilight, shadows. However, I have never used a real landscape as a model. When confronted with nature I browse, suck it in. Sometimes I make a quick sketch to hold on to an atmosphere. Still, I always work locked up in my studio recalling the feeling that the natural landscape has left in me.
I am influenced by Skiathos where I spend my summer holidays. It has tremendous skies and its spectacular storms change the landscape constantly. I like the grey of the island: the petrified sea.
The subject is another important element. That determines the size and form of the image. There are subjects that I envision in a specific size immediately. A small painting may be easier to create but does not express less than a large one.
I work with oil, sometimes with charcoal - media that have the transparency I need. I also like pencil.
Even though my landscapes are extremely abstractive, they remain landscapes: I need representation. I need a specific structure, a construction, so that I can control it.
I remain somewhere between dream and reality: a mixture of these two with the elation which color gives me. Color that is as sensitive and harmonious as possible.
I do not always sign my paintings because I often do not consider them finished. Since they do not reflect a specific reality, something definite, they do not exclude constant labor to reach an indisputable balance. It is like the dancers who seem to float onto the stage, and seem rested; you can’t tell how much work has gone into it.”.
Landscapes of the soul signed by a woman
Years ago, in the fall of 98, on the occasion of Helene Taptas’ first solo exhibition, I had wondered in my notes about the criterion that convinces us to characterize her painting as being good. Beyond any trends, fashion or gimmicks. In the end, I concluded it was the magnitude of honesty that was hidden behind this artwork. Even though at some points it betrayed the awkwardness of exploration.
Today, six years later, watching the progress of her new work, one can see more clearly this additional dose of honesty included in the artist’s dealing with her object. Meaning a dedication that does not leave any margin for deception of the viewer. Taptas' landscapes, oil on canvas, small or large have brought us once again close to the authentic feel of the elements of good heartfelt painting which follows the dictates of art but also listens to the soul.
The difference is that in her recent work, her script is recognizable, it has acquired an identity. Her compositions are typically divided in two units, the earth and the sky. Or otherwise, a strong, almost expressionistic gesture in contrast with the elusive grey-blue hues. And among them, tiny lonely forms/buildings bring balance to this antithesis by dramatically suggesting a human presence which is for the rest completely absent.
The exquisite landscapes of Taptas (I liked the correlation with the outdoor artists in the catalogue article), lead her steadily and effortlessly to conquering her art.
Citizen Painters - Helene Taptas (excerpt)
by ELDER METROPOLITAN OF CHALCEDON ATHANASIOS
H. Taptas impresses us with her unadorned, fine, Doric, dreamy and moonlike landscapes from which man is exiled as from the cities of B. Buffet, but nevertheless so palpable and expressive, like her fruits and flowers, with some remnants of nature - trees, plants or traces of man, rudimentary houses. Inner landscapes where the cloudy sky and the calm of the ‘petrified’ sea (per H. Taptas) are contrasted; where light plays an important apollonian role but the Faustian roar of the North is not missing; where at times an asceptism of color prevails, while at others it is a sweet, discreet polychromy, a velvety softness of the brush and also a pasty, free, palette.
Her work has received excellent critical acclaims in the Parisian magazines Point and Crée. Thus, E. Trichon-Milsani notes: “bare, without anecdote or other narrative element on which to build a story, these empty landscapes, densely painted, are images between the conscious and subconscious... Sometimes a grey or ochre smoke brings to mind the horizons of Yves Tanguy, which capture the eye and immobilize the thought with their magical, extraterrestrial allure. Their indeterminate melancholy, the awareness of an absence, don’t depress us so much as free us”.
This is not a landscape
by EVRIDIKI TRICHON-MILSANI
We discover the same image in all Helene Taptas’ paintings: a huge expanse divided horizontally, two elements at once independent and contradictory, complementary one could say, that are dealt with in the same manner: large brushstrokes, velvety hues in soft tones stemming from two or three colors softly intermingled, the quality of a matt material that covers without being opaque, spread sparingly. “This is who I am” says the artist. “It is the only thing I can do, it is like a signature, a seal”. This signature is a landscape or rather the scenery where a heart is revealed and blooms. An inner landscape with a few words, a landscape of the soul where the trapped word of the artist is hiding.
Observing these images, we are surprised to discover that one can make do with seemingly simple principles. The endless variations on line, the richness of color shadings, the delicate treatment of color which, without imposing itself, changes and emits soft, light feeling. A melancholic anticipation emerges from the always distant horizon, which over time becomes familiar and encourages our own reverie.
“For many years I have only been painting landscapes but do not consider myself a landscape artist” says the artist.
“They are not real landscapes. I am not interested in nature itself or in what we find in it. A rock, a tree and other natural elements that one can see in my paintings acquire a symbolic importance immediately. I can only use them as metaphors. The reason why I always make this type of paintings is because they allow me to project my own frame of mind through them, to bury my feelings. This situation remained static for a long time. But there came a moment when I felt very lonely in my landscape and felt the need for a presence. Surprised, I started introducing things that I could not even imagine before: a house for example. A house in a landscape is like a story...
“And thus, the human element came timidly into my painting: a small person dragging a cloud that runs along the line of the horizon. This could have a surrealistic overtone, but I cannot insist on this fact. It is like a dream, like the smallest vision. At other times a person holds a balloon, perhaps alluding to a childhood age forever gone. I was always charmed by these characters who with a dreamy look pull balloons along as if they are big, colorful bouquets...
“The first thing I do when I start a painting is make the line of the horizon; this is of utmost importance, it reassures me. This is where the dialogue begins between earth and sky. Sometimes the one prevails, sometimes the other. A landscape that I had originally made flat and distant has now acquired a dynamic perspective that penetrates space. Is it the reality of the house that necessitated this change?
“Frequently, it is color that guides me and it is impossible to predict where it will take me. I begin in bluish tones and everything points to a seascape, and yet I end up painting a wheat field. In order to avoid the cacophony of contrasts I only use three colors each time: blue, sepia, black/white, ochre, Naples yellow, red: color ranges that fit my mood, colors suited to the particularity of my landscape...” this metaphysical landscape of Helene Taptas that never ceases to repeat itself and returns to us in renewed, fine and arresting transformations; that steady horizon with the setting sun reminding us of the fleeting time close to dusk, before or after a storm; which, despite a style which is so discreet, asserts itself and marks a pause in the chaos of our daily routine. Simple and mysterious it reveals the hidden temperament of its creator, whose moods come to us as variations of a soft but persistent music that is ready to accompany our loneliness.
JEAN - MARIE DEDEYAN
-HOW DID YOU COME TO PAINTING?
Since early childhood I had a tendency toward painting both at home and at school. This was a cause for concern for my teachers as I would pass the time drawing and doodling in the margins of my school notebooks. But my art teacher in Athens, Mrs. Linda Antoniadou helped me a lot and first taught me the art of collage.
I was a good student but was more attracted to artistic activities. And so after I graduated from high school, my independent character and wish to earn a living led me very quickly to the graphic arts. At that time, I did not yet have the strength of mind or maturity to try for Art School.
I decided to go to Paris from where I got my graphic arts degree. Naturally, as part of my studies I took a number of jobs as intern and finally I was hired by an advertising company where I learned a lot...
-ART CRITICS TODAY REFER TO THE SENSITIVE AND INTUITIVE MANNER WITH WHICH YOU SEE SHAPES, SPACE AND TIME. YOU EXPRESS THIS INSPIRATION WITH SPECIAL COLORS, A UNIQUE LIGHT, A STYLE THAT REPRESENTS YOU IN A SPECIAL WAY. HOW DO YOU SEE THIS CREATIVE APPROACH?
Dreamy! Abstract, imaginary, musical ....what I paint contains rhythm, music, nostalgia, romanticism, a world not associated with reality, an abstract landscape that is different from a simple narration...
-YOU HAVE MENTIONED VARIOUS MUSEUMS AND CERTAIN GREAT PAINTERS. BUT WHAT HAS REALLY INFLUENCED YOU IN RELATION TO TECHNIQUE?
Certainly my teacher, Thanasis Stefopoulos. And also what I learned in graphics when I worked in advertising. Even today my line is very much influenced by the graphic arts. However, I believe over time I have gradually progressed and acquired a personal technique.
Now I work with color to acquire thickness and liquidity, to balance the structure or the light of a painting. Sometimes I incorporate the technique of collage in a painting using paper that I have previously painted. But I always have the same tendency towards hues and do not hesitate to thin my color down in order to achieve a feeling of transparency.
-HOW IS YOUR WORK CREATED TODAY? DO YOU SELECT A THEME? DO YOU FIRST MAKE A SKETCH?
Most times I have in mind a composition of various elements, which are already the result of other compositions: a composition of shadows, colors, clouds, shapes...
-BUT DO YOU KEEP NOTES, TAKE PICTURES IN ORDER TO RECORD AND REMEMBER THE VARIOUS COMPOSITIONS?
Usually something clicks in my mind. A shape, a shadow, a light that makes an impression and some weeks or months later that memory comes back. But also, especially when I’m on a trip, I take a paper and pencil and make a sketch of a rock or a cloud that touched me. Back in my studio, I pin the sketch on the wall. Therefore, I do have some ‘visual recollection’ before me to remind me more precisely of these ‘small visual treasures’. Sometimes I use my camera, but this is very rare.
-HOW DO YOU START A NEW PAINTING? DO YOU START PAINTING A PART OF IT OR DO YOU FIRST PLACE SOME REFERENCE POINTS?
I always have an initial idea. First, I sketch some reference points with a pencil in order to determine the balance of dimensions between the sky and the ground. I start from the horizon. This is important for the balance of the painting.
-WHEN YOUR PAINTING IS PRETTY WELL PROGRESSED, DO YOU FINISH IT OR DO YOU PREFER TO CORRECT IT?
This question usually makes me smile; when people call me at my studio and ask “Are you working? I answer “No, I am correcting!”
-YOU HAVE ALSO PAINTED POTTERY AND FUNCTIONAL ARTWORK...
Yes, it was initially to get away from the loneliness of my studio after an exhibition in Athens, and in order to experiment with a means of expression other than the paintings to which I had just devoted one year of work.
Three new themes in the work of Helene Taptas
Thanks to her homogeneity, the exhibition that Helene Taptas presents to us today consists of a single set, one environment: approximately forty paintings that incorporate the underlying ambiance and familiar mood to which the artist has accustomed us over the last many years. An ambiance that is discreet, low key, and sensual, with delicate color variations, vibrating with imperceptible innuendos, subtle silent feelings and hidden thoughts. However, we will not persist on the harmony of style - a shallow and soothing element transferred at first glance, but on the depth, spirituality and apprehensiveness of this art that we discover in the second glance. Melancholy permeates the artist’s body of work and transforms it into a land the identity of which attracts us and puzzles us.
The painting is always a window, a showcase, a theater stage where the artist directs her reactions to the evolution of life, the game of the world. It is fascinating to follow its fluctuations and compare them with your own. Thus, when you gaze at the recent work of an artist you learn a multitude of new things, new not only to the artist but also to yourself and all the people around you who do not have the gift of art.
The current work of Helene Taptas is distinguished in three units; the mountaintops, foliage the plant element - and the people or human element. In a liberal interpretation I would call these units: Three ways to express anguish. Perhaps the word “anguish” is somewhat of an overstatement since there is nothing vociferous in the artist’s work. The meaning comes subtly, on its toes and is not perceived right away. However, if we take a closer look at the images that Helene Taptas has painted with such honesty, though her stylish, reserved dialect we will discover clear, dramatic elements that are similar to those that engage our contemporary experiences.
In their entirety, the mountaintops are low mountains that usually leave a wide sky, often covered with clouds. There are clustered houses, villages or perhaps castles on their tops, while the surrounding landscape is deserted, rocky and harsh. There is nothing more closed, more inhospitable than the slopes that the artist paints with her fine brush strokes. No opening, no crack, no welcome invitation to come closer. Houses/rock, impenetrable forts. When the sky becomes heavy with the approaching storm, this feeling becomes extremely dramatic.
On the contrary, Helene’s foliage and flowers invite contact, the stroke of a glance, they seek to be touched as they overflow exuberantly from the tight spots in which the tall, flat walls have cornered them. “Walls interest me” she says, “everything around them gets grounded, stabilized. A wall separates, hides, protects...”. Traps perhaps? Imprisons? Standing next to the bubbling flowers the white walls of Helene Taptas seem to want to hold them back from their need to escape, to be free from the hard stability of a wall/barrier. It is perhaps for this reason that the flowers are somewhat rebellious, almost violent. They are not harmless, decorative flowers adorning the pretty moments of life but human symbols that make us remember how much our oppressed life wants to bloom in the absence of any hardship.
The human elements in the paintings of Taptas are perhaps more demonstrative. That is why we ask the tiny silhouettes that inhabit some of her paintings to open up to us, to avow something more than the inanimate elements do. Despite their limited action, they function as catalysts for the melancholy. Their size is minuscule in relation to the landscape. For Taptas man is minimal, weak before the weight and grandeur of nature, exactly as we see man in the work of romantic painters.
These figures are often stationary observers, seemingly destined to remain barred from what is about to happen, as if they are not allowed to participate. When in motion they always drag something behind them: a ribbon, a plant, a balloon, as if to give them greater material weight, greater psychological standing. Often they run aimlessly, literally traversing the painting and attaching a strange vitality to it. And then as if from nowhere, between the sky and earth appears the mysterious silhouette of the balloon seller, a figure from a fair with his balloons of many colors, sometimes small near the edge of the painting and other times more obvious, more to the forefront, acquiring a size proportionate to the park he is crossing.
What nostalgic process, what dazzled child’s eyes, which dream did this unfamiliar figure bring to the empty painting and filled it with a strange music? Is it perhaps the need for hope that invited this apparition to give life to the deserted landscape? Should we distinguish a promise in the sunburst of the balloons he is holding? Is the balloon seller the foreboder of happiness?
We must believe it because the indications are many. They are rooted in the process of painting, in the material that like the flowers tries to free itself, to make a body. Over and above the subject, the material bubbles over and becomes independent, demanding the light that will bring it to life. An internal, constant light that is born to chase all anguish away.
Art Books / Newspapers / Magazines / Websites
ART BOOKS / GLOSSARIES
- KINSTERNA / LITERATURE & ART MAGAZINE / ISSUE 16 / 2009
- CITIZEN PAINTERS AND RELIGIOUS PAINTERS / ATHANASIOS PAPAS / 2012
- GREEK PAINTERS OF ISTANBUL / 2010
NEWSPAPERS / MAGAZINES
- POINT 1974
- CREΕ 1974
- Estia 1998
- Rizospastis 1998
- Adesmeftos Τypos 1998
- Avgi 1998
- Νiki 1998
- Νaftemporiki 1998
- Expres 1998
- Αpogevmatini 1998
- Εlefterotipia 1998
- Το Vima 1998
- Ta Nea 1998
- Athinorama 1998
- 7 meres TV 1998
- Telerama 1998
- HARPER’S Bazaar 1998
- Idees & Liseis gia to Spiti 1998
- Estia 2005
- Αpogevmatini 2005
- Τeletheatis 2005
- Μirror 2005
- Ηmerisia 2005
- Εinai 2005
- Foni Kalamatas 2006
- Eleftheria Kalamatas 2006
- Tharros Kalamatas 2006
- Simea Kalamatas 2006
- Tachydromos Deco 2006
- VIΜagazzino 2006
- Metro 2006
- Domino 2006
- Inside 2006
- Spiti & Diakosmisi 2006
- Athens News 2006
- Estia 2008
- Ηmerisia 2008
- Αthinorama 2008
- KATHIMERINI 2014
- ESTIA 2014
- NEWSPAPER OF KIFISIA 2014