From Athens to Paris and back: Pavlos Samios

This week a great Greek painter left us all behind to marvel at his work. It was Pavlos Samios. Professor at the Athens School of Fine Arts with over seventy exhibitions in his CV, he was a prolific artist. Samios was born in 1948 in Athens, Greece. His father wanted him to follow his own profession and become a shoemaker. It was what sons tended to do in Greece at the time. So when Samios was about 12, he sent him out to the shops to draw shoe designs from the shop windows and bring them back to him to manufacture the shoe. Young Pavlos was drawn to hagiography and he studied at Dionisis Karousos’ workshop just before he was admitted at the Athens School of Fine Arts. His big influence was agiography and econography; this is what he taught at the Athens School of Fine Arts when given the chance and this is what he drew in small temples, frescos impeccable in their technique.

As a student at the school, Samios had the chance to study alongside very important figures in the art world, Yannis Moralis and Nikos Nikolaou. He spent about fourteen years of his life in Paris, where he lived and worked and eventually got his very own atelier. However a fire destroyed his atelier and five whole years worth of work which he didn’t exactly take ass a bad thing in the end. He saw it as a chance to reinvent his painting style. As he said in an interview “We all need something catastrophic to happen in order to move forward”.

His paintings are for the most part realistic; they often remind us of photographs in the best possible way. His symbol was shoes; and especially the red pumps that you very often see in his paintings as a sign of the female presence even if a woman isn’t around. These pumps are what connects his paintings to each other. They are a clue that the painter left for us in order to be able to know his identity without ever looking at the signature of a painting. He even has a whole series about it; like a poem; a woman buying shoes in various poses which includes an ode to the shoemaker himself. Women, dressed or nude, were a big theme in his paintings as a love interest or alone, reading, relaxing, smoking. It is visible that he had a special type of love for the female sex.

Samios did not limit himself to one type of painting whether that was a portrait of a landscape, even though he might have a preference for the former. The places that you will often see in his work are coffeeshops in Paris and Greece, Greek beaches and ports and life in the islands. He even drew mount Athos and its monasteries with an almost impressionistic view and feel. What you can also see sometimes in his work is the olive tree, the tree that makes often appearances in works of mediterranean artists. It’s astonishing how he has succedded in removing any sign of human presence in his paintings of greek islands. Yet there it is, implied through clothes hanging to dry, empty boats and churches. It is only a man in a coffeeshop and a typical figure of a greek grandma strolling in the street that make their way in his works.

Figures with twisting bodies, three hands and snakes or dragons attacking them. These are some Byzantine influences right there. Bodies fat almost like Botero’s ones but even more whimsical and unique. You will also see a table with the same assortment of things. Cigarettes; lots of them; a tranzistor; and of course a purse and the red pumps. a small airplane usually in the hands of a child and a human tree doing a handstand; this is the universe that Pavlos Samios painted between 1986 and 1989. His work has surrealist undertones. You can also pinpoint the remnants of genre painting but in his own unique way. The card players, inspired by Cezanne, inside a bar, them playing, fighting and the bystanders watching all of the action take place. A whole world within a picture. Samios did it al; and he did it well.

Slowly but surely Samios returns to his signature realistic painting but he doesn’t forget the elements that he used to incorporate in his Surrealist era. He uses the snake from time to time and the gigantic human bodies and tiny tables or the other way around. Tiny people and gigantic tables. What makes a small but interesting appearance in his later paintings is the teddy bear as a remnant of a woman’s innocence which is now long gone. In 2009 Samios has a big still-life moment, this time a little different from his other ones. It’s a series of still-life drawings of lemons and a carafe which slowly gives way to the artists’ tools. And these are the very few paintings where Samios incorporates something of his very own personal reality in his paintings. Another series that stands out is his series of flowers in beautiful watercolors from 2012. Each one of them taking its own page. The colours are rich and the flowers seem full of life. There is nothing Samios didn’t do exceptionally well when painting. The nude, the still-life, the landscape, the portrait. All in his own unique style, in vibrant colors and distinct figures he was one of the best contemporary painters in Greece.