Athens and Stefanos Rokos Made My Heart Beat.
About a month or so, I came across a publication for an upcoming exhibition by a Greek Artist named Stefanos Rokos, opening on April 3rd in Athens, and will show a series of paintings that Rokos has been working on for the past 4 years as an interpretation for the songs by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds on the album, ‘And No More Shall We Part’, one of the bands' most appreciated and iconic albums.
Immediately I went on checking if I could get myself to the opening event, for I am not only a Nick Cave fan, but as a painter myself I find this sort of collaborations to be the most interesting ones, for their fusion between two, or in this case three, forms of arts: Music, Lyrics/Writing/ and Visual Arts.
I knew I wanted it to be a quick visit, so I booked myself a flight that leaves TLV at 7am to be back the following morning at 6:30. That way I will be able to travel around the city, but it won’t turn into a vacation mode, as I can’t really afford that right now.
My original plan was to make it a low-budget adventure, meaning I won’t even get a hotel room, but quickly I remembered I ain’t 20yo anymore, and sleeping on an airport bench is nice and all but you know… not really.
So when looking for accommodation I came to find that we actually have a family member from France, but who is of a Greek origin who welcomed to her apartment in Athens, taking that she would actually be there when I arrive and will be able to show me around the city.
Plus, the fact that I’m very fond of her. She’s a Photographer herself, always working on some interesting project, we always share the nicest conversations together.
It all turned out perfectly!
The day had arrived to get on the plane to Athens.
After landing, I got to Maria’s apartment at the Patissia area. We had coffee and went on to the city together.
Walking the streets, it confirmed what I already felt on the ride from the airport to the apartment: It’s a busy, hectic city, with busy streets and traffic, loads of people walking the sidewalks that are too narrow so you often need to get off to the road and walk near the passing cars, what seems like the drivers are well used to.
In many ways it reminded me of TLV, in its eclectic architecture, people and their way of being. Energy wise, there’s some of the familiar but with an intensity that is much stronger than what I am used to, a sort of harshness that I could only tie to the financial crisis Greece has been suffering for the past few years.
Maybe that’s what tourists feel when they come to Israel too, I wondered.
This is all my personal point of view from my personal experience of walking through the city’s old meat market, the old city where you find most of the tourists, and of course some the historical monuments. I couldn’t help but notice the homeless people, and also, the amount of stray dogs, abandoned by their owners to be left on the streets sad and dirty.
I felt this sort of harshness throughout the day, not for the lack of politeness, which I’m used to, even though it was in a different tone and volume. Most of the Greeks I encountered spoke English, so communication was easy, and when it came to a one on one communication, most were very nice and open, always willing to open up a conversation. I guess what I felt most of the time is the struggle and nerves that came in complete contrast, yet somehow merged, with the lightness and vacation atmosphere of the many tourists overflowing the city and its sunny weather.
Evening went down, and I got all dressed out up to go to the exhibition. Walking down the street to find a cab (which by the way are very cheap in Athens) I couldn’t help but feeling uncomfortably starred at by the local men. I wasn’t provocative in any way, but I was well dressed, having my high heels on, which is something regular when going out to an evening event in TLV.
Israelis are known for not hiding their starring looks, but this was a all other level. Later on, Maria explained to me that that’s how it is here. It’s a mostly orthodox country. Nothing bad will happen, but it’s just uncomfortable. Good thing I didn’t wear my shorts as I originally planned;)
Getting inside to the Benaki Museum, where the exhibition took place and is a high class museum, holding many contemporary exhibitions and private events, I could hear Jim’s voice (Drummer, Vocalist and Keyboards in the Bad Seeds) talking into the microphone in the main entrance hall, making exactly the point on how in the past ( During the 70’s-90’s) Musicians and Visual Artists used to hangout together, making collaborations and how visual art influenced music, and then going into how this project with Stefanos began, announcing the gigs that will take place at the closing of the exhibition on May 19th, with the participation of Jim himself that will do a take on some of the album’s songs.
The open area outside and the entrance hall were packed with people, mostly locals, art lovers and people from Athens art scene, Nick Cave lovers and more… We began climbing upstairs to the 3rd floor to the exhibition hall. Stepping into the exhibition space the walls were painted dark grey, and the space was divided into three sections. Surrounding the walls, about 2 meters from them, were posted oblong screens painted same as the walls on the side facing the walls where the paintings were hanged. On each screen written a selected part from a song that refers to the painting it is fronting. The outer side of the screen is painted in cream-white, same as the floor, what creates a bright passage between the two sections. At the end of it hangs an embroidered version for the painting that is the name of the exhibition, “And No More Shall We Part”. The space is designed so that whichever side of the path you choose to begin your path from, you'll be walking an open oblong path that ends up on the other side.
The lyrics accompanies the paintings and vice-versa, just like the music does, and by working in mixed media technique, Rokos is playing his instruments, having each one performs its natural abilities, leading to a variety of textures, from the spreading of water color spots, to the density of oil sticks put on the paper to the lightness of a simple line drawn with a pen or a pencil. All paintings are crowded with details, all has parts in them that seems they were erased by the painter with a brush of color to be painted or drawn on back again, leaving us to imagine what’s beneath. Most of the paintings are colorful, but never in a popish way.
I have to admit that it was a bit too crowded for me at the opening, and the path to see the paintings was too narrow for this kind of event, so I wasn’t able to actually read each of the lyrics on the screens to figure out why those exact sections were chosen, but having knowing the songs, I knew what each deals with and could defiantly say the paintings were not literal at all, which is always the risk taken in this kind of projects, and even with the lyrics I felt that I could easily fall into the music that the paintings are playing.
What I got from the paintings was the same richness I get from Cave’s lyrics, with the sense of movement I get from the music, but also, after getting back home thinking of the exhibition and the full experience of the past 24 hours, the kind of hectic atmosphere I got from Rokos works, came together almost synchronized with the essence of Athens as I experienced it. History, wether it was history of art, of music, or a personal one… vibrance, sadness, the struggle and toughness, the sun and the air, mountains and trees, vacation vibes and Mediterranean way of life, all are layered together in the brilliant works of Stefanos Rokos.
The exhibition was the cause of my journey to Athens, and it was also the perfect way to end it.
Of course, not before I was to visit “Spyros and Antonios” iconic Tavern, where we drank cold wine and ate till we couldn’t move.
Satiated with confusion and tired, I got back home to sit and write this post and share with you all this wonderful experience.
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