Byzantine art and expressionism

The art of the byzantine icons’ painting , an art form that  was expressionism centuries (maybe a millennium) before expressionism /symbolism or surrealism ever even existed. Some of the characteristic elements of this painting “genre” that point towards this direction are:

-The main figure/ feature Enlightened being -The saint, the Saviour or the Holy Mother) is bigger that anything else in the icon
You can see saints in the background that are bigger than the ones in foreground- You can see Saints on horses that are equal in size with the animal. Proportions in general are based on priority that is a sort of unrealism: But then again, we we seek meaning

-The background too- it may be buildings (which are always distorted or proportionally wrong, rendered with  reverse or inverse perspective ) it may have rough mountains – but the main mentallity is that the background shows a distortion a lack of space or time. That is also why gold is used symbolizing enlightement, eternity, something infinite and eternal.


We speak by symbols. As we alter proportions in space we also alter facial features or body proportions in order to highlight a spiritual quality.
So that is why the ears are longer lips are thin, eyes are big, noses are way to long
and that is also why bodies are “bodiless” – There is no muscular tone, and certainly no curves 🙂
The body is just like a cloth of convenience that would soon be thrown away.
 
 Finally in byzantine painting we are speaking of , we are narrating (the first word in Greek for painting icons is historein which means sayng the history of) the story of another reality, one that is more real than this one we are living in.

 

Byzantine icon making- The Icon panel

There are many recipes and various materials to prepare icon panels for byzantine icon making. This recipe is for  plywood panel in whatever size you wish to be covered that is covered with the white gesso paste and sanded in order to have its smooth, white surface ready for the egg tempera colors that are used in byzantine iconography.
 
Various sizes of prepared icon panels
What you need:
Rabbit skin glue (in flakes or in granules)
Water
Zinc oxide
Stucco (not the acrylic the classic staff  that is also used in walls)
Both powders are cheap and we buy them in stores that sell paints and building materials.
Quantities used
1 spoonful- Rabbits-skin-glue for
1 cup of zinc oxide
1 cup of stucco

Preparation of gesso
We add the rabbit skin’s glue in lukewarm water and mix it (try to dissolve it completely)
and then we leave it overnight
Next day we put in a baigne-marie make it warm, and then we dissolve it again 
We always keep a part of this glue 

 In this mixture we add the cups with the powders and we also pass the mixture  it through a stiring tool (a plastic mesh like for tea) in order to dissolve any knots
We keep it in the refrigerator

For every application of the mixture we first put it in the baigne-marie so it becomes liquid


Making the panel
You take a plywood of the size you wish (sandpaper the edges a bit) and you add with a flat brush the melted Rabbits-skin-glue
Right afterwards, you add a piece of cotton cloth (a bit larger that the panel)
Leave it to dry for a day

Next day you apply the gesso mixture, You leave every layer to dry a day and keep the mixture refrigirated
In the second layer of gesso, you cut the cotton right on the edge of the panel with a scissor

After the fourth layer you will need to starighten the surface with a spatula. Usually 4-7 layers of gesso are added

Finally you have sandpapering (I really dislike this step)  with various types of papers (from a rough to very thin). In the end  the surface should look and feel totally flat.

It seems a bit complicated but all it needs is just patience . Best of luck with it!
 

 

God’s pauper – St Francis of Assisi

There is a book written by  Nikos Kazantzakis, a Cretan novelist, for St Francis of Assisi titled: “God’s pauper” that really influenced my view  Saint Francis. which I always wanted to paint in the Byzantine manner, plainly without the company of little birds or more complicated compositions, like I ve seen his representation in old frescoes and medieval paintings.

St Francis of Assisi – Contemporary byzantine icon

One of my favourite quotes in the book is the following : “….One day, Saint Francis saw an almond tree in the middle of winter. So Saint Francis told him: “Brother almond tree, talk to me about God”.And all of a sudden, the almond tree became covered with flowers….(source http://fresques.ina.fr/)

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Coincidence and custom ordering

A custom order for two byzantine icons of Saints Euphrosyne of Alexandria and St Theodora, the Holy Empress

The Byzantine icons of Sts Theodora and Euphrosene

There is also a connection between them that I considered  a nice coincidence and  a good “omen” for this commission: the Holy Empress when retired chose the monastic life for the 8 final years of her life, in the Monastery of St Eufrosyni in Constantinople.

“Athivolo” Drawing

Sometimes icons seem to “choose” one another!

 

Talking with brushes

It was an olive tree branch in our field, Dimitris asked if I could paint on it. It was treated with gesso and then and the shape of this woman, emerged

Fleeing mama. in olive wood

A mama holding her Child in her back, running away fleeing from war. I hope my work has more to say than I do, in words. To say how I feel, about this mama and all mothers and all people that abandon their homes for safety, for freedom, for peace…



A painting with egg tempera on gesso

The painting was executed with tempera. shellac and finally resin varnish was added- You can see its size in relation with my (small) hands

You can see more in: https://www.etsy.com/listing/258351760/fleeing-from-war-ooak-painting-in-olive?ref=shop_home_active_5




Preparing for the photoshoot



Spring poppies and blood

Red poppies, a sight very characteristic of springtime in Greece. You can even see poppies climbing the rocks just beside the ancient marbles in Athens beneath the hill of Acropolis

Red spring Poppies -Watercolor by Eka

Beautiful red dots that are scattered like gems among the fields of wheat in Crete. A blessing for farmers they were symbolizing the dots of blood of the young god Adonis for ancient Greeks,

Poppies in an olive field- Pastel in dark canson by Eka

or the former white flowers that were permanently dyed red -as we Cretans hold- by the blood of Christ on his way to the cross, becoming a symbol of spring and a symbol of hope.

Saint Tryphon, a protector for animals and… vine-yards!

Saint Tryphon. A young imposing Saint in beautiful garments, holding a cross really tight, and a small bird. 

St. Tryphon miniature by angelicon

To quote dear Virginia: ” In Russia, people ask for his help and protection when they look for work… we believe that he provides everyday assistance to us.. We also have a story that St. Tryphon helped to find a lost falcon of the tsar (otherwise the bird keeper would be executed), that’s why St. Tryphon is a protector of animals and when we lose a beloved animal we pray for his help and safe return.”

In Crete Greece (even for such a distance place as Crete is to Russia) St Tryphon is considered the protector of vineyards so the priest was performing a litany each year in the Saint’s day, through the vineyards and fields of villages.

Myself personally, and my family  have also a very special connection with this Saint: My grandfather was a farmer, earning his living by his vineyards (and olives).
Each year on the crop season he made a special dedication to Saint Tryphon (the ceremonial bread) and brought it to his church, humbly requesting his assistance for his new crop. Therefore the Saint was considered somehow a protector of the daily meal of my family, and a most beloved Saint!

St. Tryphon with St Matrona of Moscow

Saint Basil and his Greek Carols

St Basil the Great,  from Caesaria ,  a Saint that holds a very special place to Greek people’s hearts

St Basil’s miniature icon

His life of giving and caring for the poor, had made Him the Greek Father Christmas; All children are getting their gifts from “Agio Vasili”, and on New Year’s Eve (one day before His feast on January 1st) , regardless of the weather (which can be relentless… believe me), small children go out on the streets, in merry little companies, singing the carols of St Basil (kalanda) from door to door:

“…The New Year follows on Christ’s birth
So holy Christ who walks the earth
May bless you, every girl and boy
And fill all, and fill all—and fill all your hearts with joy!”

There is more of these wonderful translation of St Basil’s carols in http://ypseni.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/st-basils-carol/

St Basil of Caesaria- original byzantine icon

My very best wishes for a Happy New Year and for the lucky coin in St Basil’s Pie!

In a black background- Holy Mother; Annunciation in purple and black

There is this feeling, you enter a in a church, (maybe in the countryside somewhere  in a small village) and the evening mass has started.-A traditional mass where there are no lights, only the small flames of the candles,

So among the fumes of the incense, the little bells, and the chants, images of Saints (written in dark backgrounds) are emerging from the walls lighted up by their halos, leaning towards you. And then Her figure in the front- She is always there, Open to you, ever forgiving, radiant with love. The Mother.

Holy Mother in black background
Virgin Mary in Annunciation -Size 5.5″ x 7″ (14cm x 18 cm)

“..Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word..” KJV, Lk 1:38. Says the icon; It is the Virgin Mary in  a part of a larger synthesis depicting her Annunciation.

Eka interpreted this theme, painting Mother Mary, Panagia (Pan-Aghia – All Holy- the word for Her in Greek) using more dark colors, trying to catch the sentiment I just tried to describe….