Greek painter Alekos Fassianos passed away Jan. 26, leaving behind the legacy of his oeuvre. Lifelong friends and fellow artists referred to him in their final goodbyes as an “exemplary painter-philosopher,” an artist whose vision and worldview characterized both his work and his life. His art created a distinctive mythology of contemporary Greece and established his name in the international cultural scene. At the same time, his personal philosophy as depicted in his artistic creations transcends time and place, for they touch upon universal sentiments—yearnings, hopes and roots.
The final goodbye, the wreath of olive adorning Alekos Fassianos’s resting place, the note written by his mother-in-law.
Floating clouds, doves in flight, ethereal human figures, olive branches and sheaves of wheat are the characteristic motifs of Fassianos’ universe. These elements are rendered with lightness and joie de vivre that were appreciated, valued and admired in Greece and beyond. From his first solo exhibitions in Athens and Paris, and throughout his entire career, he received recognition from the international public at large as well as fromby his contemporary cultural and social luminaries.
In several interviews during his lifetime, Fassianos referred to “waiting” as a national symbol of the spirit of HOPE in contemporary Greek history, a sentiment Fassianos strived to convey in his work throughout the various periods.
He gave a very concrete symbol of this HOPE
The starter bars, pairs or fours of reinforced iron rods jutting from the rooftops of HOMEs and apartment buildings. They are referred to as “anamoni,” an awaiting, pending further additional construction atop the current roof, characteristic of post-war construction in modern Greece.
The iron bars, despite being architectural eyesores, represented for Fassianos the Greeks’ HOPEful temperament, the eternal aspiration for a more auspicious and prosperous future, a time when further construction would house the next generation.
This waiting, the “national hope,” is emblematic of Fassianos’ artistic vision, an outlook rendered through bold primary colors, emphasis on motion rather than stasis, and the ever-present symbols of his personal mythology.
In our conversation with Mariza Fassianou, the artist’s wife, she mentions another form of waiting the difficult period of the last two years during which the late artist’s fragile health prevented him from painting or partaking in social life, a contrast to his prolific output throughout his career. His passing at age 86, Mariza proposes, should not be a time to mourn, but an opportunity to reclaim that spirit of eternal HOPE that marked Fassianos as an individual and as an artist.
With Mariza, Fassianos shared a family. Together, they raised two children. They also complemented each other professionally. Since 1989, Mariza Fassianou manages Iris Gallery in the Pagrati neighborhood of Athens. Her involvement in the Athens art scene was encouraged by her late husband, promoting young artists as well as featuring the works of already established Greek and international visual artists. She credits Fassianos for his support, always being present at gallery openings, as well as influencing her work with his unconventional philosophy and artistic vision.
“Never follow the current, Revmata,” he said. “Never follow the crowd.”
With him, she lived an epic life. She recalls many adventures. A time in Paris, where Fassianos lived and exhibited much of his work, whenre he transformed a routine stay in a hotel into an impromptu re-enactment of a scene from Swan Lake with costumes, live music and extravagant amusement. He wasn’t just a painter, poet, sculptor, philosopher and “philosofimenos,”, but an actor as well. Mariza’s energy and enthusiasm while talking about Fassianos as an artistic creator and as a partner in life is indicative of the centrality of the human experience in Fassianos’s oeuvre. His constant themes are life, and the human experience, made possible through motifs and symbols representing human aspirations.
With him, she lived an epic life. She recalls many adventures. A time in Paris, where Fassianos lived and exhibited much of his work, whenre he transformed a routine stay in a hotel into an impromptu re-enactment of a scene from Swan Lake with costumes, live music and extravagant amusement. He wasn’t just a painter, poet, sculptor, philosopher and “philosofimenos,”, but an actor as well. Mariza’s energy and enthusiasm while talking about Fassianos as an artistic creator and as a partner in life is indicative of the centrality of the human experience in Fassianos’s oeuvre.
In Fassianos’ paintings and prints of Fassianos, the human form dominates the frame, a mass of monochrome paint with just enough outline and detail to provide definition. Mythological heroes or gods, biblical figures, saints or countryfolk and city dwellers are depicted in stylized minimalism, making them virtually indistinguishable from each other. Sometimes they are juxtaposed in the same work. In one example, a suited man on an Athenian street, rest on a motorcycle next to the naked Adam and Eve. The quotidian is elevated to the level of the spiritual, a composition utilizing freedom of expression on all levels: material and allegorical.
Although he started painting when he was five years of age, 1960’s when Fassianos relocated from Athens to Paris for a second time. His first sojourn in France to study lithography, courtesy of a French government scholarship, was followed by a brief yet productive interval in his native Athens when he first formulated his distinctive freehand technique and developed the figures of the “bicycle riders” that became his trademark.
In his second Parisian residency, Fassianos exhibited in galleries and developed close collaborations with writers and poets, both Greek and French, quickly establishing his standing in the contemporary art scene. That positive reception in France led to solo exhibitions in other countries, where his work proved that the international appeal of Fassianos’s vision transcended locality.
In 1982, Galerie Samy Kinge hosted a solo exhibition by Fassianos. It was, one of several Parisian art spaces where Fassianos exhibited his work in the French capital. Kinge represented important French and international artists, as well as promoting Lebanese artists abroad.
See the Galerie Samy Kinge Facebook page here.
and an archive of the “About” page of its website archived here.
Comité professionnel des galeries d’art describes the Galerie Samy Kinge here.
Prior to that exhibition, Alekos Fassianos also exhibited, at the Gallery Le Point in Beirut in 1974. The exhibition was , managed by the late Willy Aractingi (d. 2003) a cousin of Samy Kinge. Fassianos liked his visits to Lebanon. The hospitality and the women are beautiful, he would say.
Aractingi moved to France when the civil war broke out, and turned to painting, creating his own identifiable style of vibrant colors and mythical symbols. Aractingi’s project to illustrate the over 200 fables of Jean de La Fontaine lasted seven years and was completed in 1995. It is worth noting the similarities between Fassianos and Aractingi: both – used bold colors, prefer representational depictions, and referencing myths and fables as their subject matter.
Aractingi’s works, like those of Fassianos, can be found in museums as well as private collections. The Wonderful World of Willy Aractingi (1930-2003) is on exhibit at the Sursock Museum. See Aractingi’s work at these links:
France acknowledged Fassianos’ contribution to culture, bestow numerous state honors on him acknowledging his contribution to culture. He was named a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters in 1985, and, more recently, the Commander of the Order Arts and Letters in 2020, the most distinguished cultural award of France.
From the mid-1960s to today, Fassianos’ paintings and prints, although characteristically identifiable, are influenced by friendships and collaborations with influential contemporaries—visual artists, musicians, theater directors, gallery owners, writers and poets—both in France and in his native Greece. At the same time, Fassianos adamantly refused to align with any particular artistic movement, theoretical school or stylistic technique. His refusal to espouse political or aesthetic ideologies, or even the conservative conventions that persisted in Greek society after the postwar period, guided Fassianos throughout his lifetime.
He accepted France’s state honors but as a nationalistic Greek, refraining from taking the citizenship offered to him. Similarly, he shied away from identifying himself as a “national” artist, even though his oeuvre came to be considered representative of contemporary Greek painting in the international cultural scene.
One concept Fassianos did openly promote is the pro-European outlook. In Paris he became acquainted with the late Greek statesman Konstantinos Karamalis and sided with the latter’s efforts in the 1970s for the induction of Greece into the European Union at a time when Greece was struggling economically and in political instability. The ideals of ancient Greece—rational philosophy and a democratic system of governance, combined with French Enlightenment—Fassianos saw as central to a unifying identity, a way forward through unity and cooperation in the post-war decades.
In 2015, when the Greek bailout referendum brought calls for Greece to exit the European currency union, Fassianos took the rare opportunity to voice his position.
The history of Greece, from its establishment as an independent state after the 1821 War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire up to the ousting of the foreign-imposed monarchy in the 1967 coup, created divisions within its very entity as to what nationhood meant, and also what Greekness entailed.
Fassianos, one of many significant artists and writers of his time, was able to formulate symbols, motifs and narratives that both represented Greece and transcended Greekness. That is no small feat.
Fassianos’ personal journey, seeking freedom in his decision to move to Paris following the military coup in the late 1960s, placed him right in the vortex of Europe’s social and political transformation. The student and civil unrests of 1968 in France, the United States and elsewhere, acted as precursor of political and social advancements.
Meanwhile the opposite was true in Greece; it was the beginning of a period marked by political and social oppression. Fassianos and many of his Greek contemporaries sought refuge in Paris, Berlin and other cities.
The timeline of Alekos Fassianos’ artistic production is a survey of the cultural scene, beginning with the influential Athens School of Fine Arts professors in the early 1960s to his first mentors in Athens and Paris, and the successful collaborations he had with creatives from various fields, especially the literary scene, both in Greece and France over the span of decades. At the same time, the world represented in Fassianos’ art is deeply personal, inspired by specifics of his upbringing, his family, his friends and the places where he lived and worked.
For Fassianos, Paris was not a place of exile. It became his second HOME.
His second period in Paris in the late 1960s provided security but, more significantly, exciting artistic opportunities. The Paris arts and literary scene became the refuge for many Greek expatriates, intellectuals and politicians who were well-received in cultural and social circles of that time. Future Nobel Laureate Odysseas Elytis, seminal arts journal publisher Stratis Eleftheriades, musicians Manos Hadzidakis and Mikis Theodorakis, philosopher Kostas Axelos, film director Costa Gavra, actress Melina Mercouri and her partner, film director Jules Dassin, and other Greeks developed friendships or collaborations with French notables of the time.
In this milieu, Alekos Fassianos was able to develop friendships with fellow Greek expatriates and Frenchmen from the spectrum of Parisian society—journalists, philosophers, essayists, poets, musicians and statesmen. Apart from his solo exhibitions, he collaborated to illustrate record covers, magazines, novels and poetry editions, as well as theater set designs for productions in both Paris and Athens.
Greece, however, remained the focus of his artistic output. While living in France, he continued to draw Greek scenes and motifs rather than Parisian ones. Fassianos’ Greek identity developed into a concept of HOME, both as a subject and symbol, it was often featured in his artistic work.
A linoleum print in the collection of the National Gallery in Athens is a defining self-referential work by Alekos Fassianos. The composition is dominated by a young man in profile with characteristic flowing hair, symbols of energy and motion that are emblematic of his drawings. In one hand the man holds a blade of wheat and with the other a picture frame atop a square table on which his other signature symbol, the scarf that Fassianos was fond of wearing, is resting.
The frame within the frame depicts the contemporary city, the modern apartment blocks of Athens overshadowing a two-story house of the historic quarter, with the dome of a church in the background. The sky is filled with the floating clouds and a flock of birds. This cityscape is held reverently, like the icons found in every Greek household. The artist is bearing the memory of his city, a representation of Ithaca, the eternal longing for HOME.
Τhe Athens where Fassianos spent his childhood lies a few blocks away from Metaxourgeio metro station, where two of his large panels, “The Myth of My Neighborhood” are on permanent
This particular Athenian neighborhood, despite the deprivation of those difficult post-war years following WWII and the civil war that ensued, provided Fassianos with images and memories that formulated his characteristic style.
Playing in the church courtyard where his grandfather served as priest, the theatricality of the ritual and the symbolism of the saints depicted in the icons, and frequent visits to the archeological museum just up the road provided Fassianos with his first interest in art. Necessity during those difficult formative years led to the children making their own toys and decorating found objects, something that Fassianos used as a creative inspiration throughout his life, something he often referred to when asked about the origins of his art.
Mariza recalls with particular fondness the moments Fassianos drew upon this creative connection with childhood. She relates an incident characteristic of Fassianos, his personal outlook and philosophy in particular, to convey life lessons to the children they co–parented. Rather than assuming the conventional fatherly authority role, he guided daughter and son towards understanding their behaviors through play and humor. When the young Victoria and Nikos took their first unchaperoned sortie into the world, staying out late as teenagers are wont to do, he waited for them behind the door and presented them with drawings of a nocturnal creature whose habits they were emulating—a bat. During Apokrees (carnival in Greece), he would hide behind the door, dressed in full costume, and receive the kids. His sense of humor never failed to make an impression on all who encountered it.
This looking back to the early years of childhood with fondness and as a source of inspiration is characteristic also of Fassianos’ style. A simplicity in the freehand lines and bold colors used in his paintings and prints mirror the spontaneity and immediacy of children’s drawings. His primitivism or Faux naïve art were his coup de maître signature. The subject matter of children’s drawings, larger than life human shapes and symbolic items, characterize his favorite themes.
He loved simple people and simple food. He would go out every single night and still did not miss out on reading. Reading was part of his daily life and his learnings were living with him during the day. He would quote historical figures and philosophers as if they were friends and co-workers. He would say, “Irakleous said this!”
The pigeons of the neighborhood church square become flocks of peace-bringing birds in his paintings. Birds in flight are a favorite motif, symbols of peace but also a reference to his surname, as Fassianos means pheasant. The personal becomes familiar, transforming the individual experience into universally recognized symbols.
The freehand spontaneity in the line drawings, the minimalist lyricism of Frassianos’ images emphase motion and flow – the exhalations of smokers, the flowing hair of his favorite cyclists, the fluttering ties of pedestrians, the exhaust of chimney stacks, the flock of birds in flight over the city and the billowing smoke from a train or ferry boat. Even little details like the cache-col that Fassianos was fond of wearing year round connect the private life of the artist with the figures he was fond of drawing, and contributed to making his artwork recognizable as a Fassianos painting or print.
This neighborhood in Athens where Fassianos spent his childhood today is referred to as Mikro Parisi, Le Petit Paris d’Athènes, from the streets named after eminent French philhellenes, Victor Hugo, Charles Nicolas Fabvier, François-René de Chateaubriand and Henri de Rigny, amongst others. It’s also where the train station that leaves to northern Greece and onwards to Europe is located, from which Fassianos boarded to travel to Paris for the first time.
For Fassianos, art was integral to life and he applied this in practice. He gave back to the city that inspired him by donating works to the National Gallery, to the Athens Metro and with other pieces of publicly viewable art. His works in the main lobby and platform of the Metaxourgeio station stand as an homage to his childhood neighborhood. One of his emblematic Hermes figures can be found at the crossroads of Aiolou and Vyssis Streets in the historic commercial district of Athens.
Additional Fassianos touches can be found at the Blue Building in Pagrati, where his symbolic profile heads and other motifs adorn the entrance near the Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art and where Mariza’s Gallery Iris is also located.
In this very neighborhood, Fassianos, with the collaboration of architect Kyriakos Krokos, established a museum to house the artist’s work and archives. With his daughter Victoria, he set up the Alekos Fassianos Estate to preserve his legacy and continue his vision of HOPE and creativity. The museum building is expected to open to the public in the autumn of 2022.
Fassianos applied his imagination and touch to the building as another opportunity to feature his favorite symbols. Architectural details incorporate birds, clouds and other symbolic figures that one encounters in his paintings, his object d’art, his illustrations for novels, poetry collections, record covers and other items he was commissioned to create.
Besides the artist’s museum in Athens’ Little Paris at the intersection of Metaxa and Chiou Streets, Fassianos designed and created details for several other buildings. His private residence in Papagou with his wife Mariza and her children was recently shared with the public as part of the Athens Design Forum program https://athensdesignforum.com/first-edition/the-alekos-fassianos-estate . Visitors had the opportunity to see first-hand the all-encompassing touch of Fassianos, from the design of window grates, flooring and furniture to hand-painted ceramics and objects d’art, all together forming a universe that brings alive the symbols and figures that populate his paintings and prints.
Today, Fassianos is regarded as the prime authority of contemporary Greek painting, one of a handful of Greek artists achieving commercial success, both nationally and abroad. His recognition by the international public and the art world is the result of the persistence of his individual style that visually distinguishes his output from that of his contemporary fellow creatives.