Collage a la grecque: Platon- Alexis Hadjimichalis – magic S.O.C.O.S(Structured Obsessive Compulsive Organic Surfaces)
Think of Greece.
Think of Athens.
Think of islands.
Think of beaches.
Think of the sea.
And when you are bored with the mere enjoyment of sun, sea and sand, go for a walk along the shore, follow and reach down to feel the subtle, yet never quite repetitive, patterns that water has left on the sand, idly examine the flotsam and jetsam, kick the seaweed and pick up a pebble and a shell or two.
Dabble your fingers in the rock-pot , catch crabs.
Go for a swim with a snorkel or make a scuba dive.
Once you really start to look and feel, a whole new dimension of nature’s wondrous creations opens up.
An urge comes to examine,
to gather up
- a basic urge of the human sensory system and demanding intellect to sort out, to bring order and coherence to our surroundings and experiences, so as to make sense of them.
With the death of creatures and plants nature descends temporarily into chaos – the elephant will dolefully examine with its trunk the skull of another elephant that has died and then, unreflecting, pass on.
But the human being needs to rationalise the sadness felt at the deterioration that inevitably accompanies old age, death and destruction. Furthermore, the human being loves to impose a new order, to make intelligible, new patterns where death and chaos has reigned – to fashion a seemly marker for the grave of a loved person or animal, or – today – to leave a bunch of flowers in its transparent plastic wrapping at a spot where tragedy has occurred. All such markers have to be carefully labelled with names, dates and other matter, that man the maker feels essential, to allay his own feelings by conveying them by this means to his sentient fellow beings.
Platon H., a brilliant civil servant but a warm and involved family man too, has felt the need to find escape and relaxation in art, like many people in the over-busy twenty first century. But his solution is unusual and remarkable, for he finds his solace by imposing an alternative stress on his highly-charged brain and by doing careful, creative, artistic work with his hands, like his father, a qualified architect, or his grandmother, a pioneer collector and recorder of Greek-folk art. Exorcising ghosts perhaps, from his own family’s and his country’s complex pasts.
His is an engaging, a magnetic, a Greek personality, and with it go a pair of eyes and a pair of hands that can observe and make: we are reminded of his forebears, of Daedalus, the craftsman par excellence of myth, who fashioned wings of wax so that his son Icarus could fly. His is the Greek psyche at its best and most fruitful, open and expressive. We are instantly reminded too of that peculiarly significant Greek word, τεχνη - art and craft combined – whence we derive our own word, technique. The τεχνη of Platon H. is sensitive, subtle, and allusive and its products are entrancing.
His imagination bears in it the fruits of centuries-old Greek experience: the chaste fluting of the Doric columns of the Parthenon; their subtly welling entasis, that contrives to make their sides look exactly parallel, rather than diminished by the blinding Mediterranean sun; the curly rams’ horns of an Ionic capital, the gorgeous acanthus fronds of a Corinthian one; the honey-suckle blossom that is stylized into the terracotta acroterion of a temple roof or as a frieze on a chaste Black Figure pot.
In the 20th Century tradition, Platon H. is true to his materials, but they are not the standard ones of formal art, wood, stone, paint, canvas, let alone plastics. Thereby, he escapes the self-conscious, puerile urge to seek novelty by shock or outrage – Sensational – that is for cultivated eyes and brains the banc of art today. Instead he plays gentle, loving games with our senses, evoking our responses to tactile values, persuading us to respond as he reaches out to our inmate, ‘innocent eye’. His surfaces (S.O.C.O.S.)whisper to us with nostalgia for calmer moments spent close to nature, to our childhood perhaps, when we were alert, inquisitive and longing for surprise – when we had time to stop, to stare, to muse, to wonder – to play.
Platon H. likes to impose order on chaos, to select with a peculiar visual acumen and tactile sensitivity the detritus of the natural world, sea-weed, shells, urchins, cuttle-fish, fish skins, fruit-peel, partridge feathers, plants **, all with astonishing, god-given, natural patterns, textures and hues. In them he finds his inspiration and his challenge: how to evoke their essence, how to re-create them so as to give a serene, fresh meaning.
Selecting, cleaning, sterelizing, re-shaping cutting and filing into diverse shapes – suggested by the things themselves – and often assembling the fragments like the tesserae of an ancient Greek mosaic into new, suggestive patterns and arrangements. Platon H. beguiles us, fascinates us, challenges us to recognise the exquisite forms and colours of nature that so often clothe curious, sometimes seemingly loathsome creatures, even after the inhabitants have passed from life into death, their cells being rapidly re-cycled by the integrated foodchain of the continuum that is the natural world.
The grey-green iridescent skin of the humble mackerel, purchased, prosaically, at Sainsbury’s in London, cunningly cut and re-arranged persuades us that we are looking at an early cubist painting by Braque. Smoked trout skin from Borough Market has undergone the same, magical transmogrification. Darkened sea-wrack is lovingly coiffed and attached to a backboard, or glided to emphasize its crisp, curling forms. Sea razors are packed in to a tight mesh of partly parallel and partly conflicting directions on a bed of sand.
The strident orange-red of a lobster bell,
the pink-failing-to white of a crab’s leg,
the muffled browns of a bird’s wing
provide the rainbow palette with which Platon H. works.
The everyday mushroom, the crumpled chilli, the melon rind, the skeletal forms of a hideous monkfish, are apotheosized. Skins of apricots, apples and oranges – bananas even – are pounced on, dried and flattened, out to shape with a scalped and laboriously glued down to form repetitive patterns, almost like a crocodile skin. Our eye is often deceived by the sleight hand, as the mundane and vaguely familiar is carefully re-cycled in the guise of something else quite unexpected.
The painstaking craftsmanship and exploratory, self taught, technique recalls the unsurpassed efforts of Athenian craftsmen in the classic fifth century B.C. who could clothe a monumental statue in sheer gold, using the exposed flesh parts of precious ivory, softened by boiling (in a technique that has never been rediscovered since and pre-shaped to conform with the human image of an Athena Parthenos or an Olympian Zeus in their respective shrines. Appelles is said to have added a fly to the surface of a painting as a trompe l’oeil device and Zeuxis to have painted grapes so real that the very birds were deceived and swooped down to peck at them. Such games Platon H. also plays with our perceptions of reality.
Beware not of this Greek bearing gifts but honour and thank him for spreading before you a rich and wholesome banquet, for re-opening your eye, mind and soul to the intricacies and marvels of nature as well as to the exquisite sensibility with which another human can be endowed.
Historian of Sculpture