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The 20th century was an extremely vivid scenario, in which the art world fought to emancipate itself from its dogmatic past, a historical setting where the rise of the avant-gardes brought unprecedented freedom in artistic experimentation. Within this stage filled with revolutionary individuals, Yannis Tsarouchis was one of those painters whom engaged into the challenge towards the discovery of innovative aesthetics, using past greatness to describe his contemporary surrounding. 

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Born in Athens in 1910, Yannis Tsarouchis grew up within the beauty of neoclassical Greece, surrounded by a stage made of ruins, fine houses, statues and pediments. In Piraeus, “where the light is silver and gold”, Tsarouchis developed a strong connection with his Greek origins, a descendance that the artist kept researching and enhancing throughout the years, during his studies at the Athens School of Fine Arts, a kinship that the artist will never disavow, but instead elevate as a key influence to his process. 


 Yannis Tsarouchis, Eros and Death, 1949. Gouache on paper.


In the late 1930s, while most of the artistic experimentations had already developed a sense of attraction towards the fresh and innovative panorama opened up by the avant-gardes, and many of the best painters had dived deep down into all of the “isms”, such as cubism, surrealism and the highly conceptualised Dadaism, Tsarouchis had just started developing his own imagery. During his walk into a world made of ancient love, the artist began his attempt to translate the beauty of the past for his contemporaries to understand, engage-into and, eventually, fall in love with. 

In his paintings we find both classical contemplation and revolutionary impulse, ancient myth and everyday life settings, a dialectical counter position between past and present, which allowed the artist to express his feeling of unsuitableness towards a society that did not embrace yet the emancipation of homosexuality. Tsarouchis felt a strong connection to the allegories and metaphors that characterised his Greek upbringing, such as the myths of Hermes and the Gods of the Olympus, but was also keen to searching and discovering these stories and these characters within his everyday life experience. 


Yannis Tsarouchis, The Offering and Two Winged Men, 1965. Watercolour and body colour on paper.


As Odysseus Elytis once said: “A revolutionary can’t be classical at the same time. But Tsarouchis is. The day this painter dared to look for Hermes not on mount Olympus, but in the Olympus Coffee-House, a myth left the pages of books and came to life, and the artist’s eye was obligated to see the world differently”.

His ability to see how ancient myths still survived in contemporary times under the forms of subtle metamorphoses, and the beauty that lied in his way of translating these metaphors into his own present’s vocabulary, made Tsarouchis both a revolutionary and a classical, both a respectful lover of the past and an emotional messenger to the present. 


Yannis Tsarouchis, Soldier Dancing Zeibeikiko, 1965. Mixed media on canvas.


As Paul Valery cleverly explained: “the Past has, on the Future being, the same influence as the Present”. And by all means Yannis Tsarouchis understood the importance both of his own past experience, and of his society’s ancient origins, in the idealisation of future beauty and greatness. In contemporary times, it has become more and more important to learn from the pureness that can be found within distant and forgotten myths, in order to understand more clearly the direction towards which future aesthetics are heading. 


Yannis Tsarouchis, The Young Butcher, 1968. Gouache on paper.



Cover image: Yannis Tsarouchis, To Teleion, 1965. Watercolor and glue on canvas.

Written by Mario Rodolfo Silva

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