Michailidis, Yiannis
Skiathos, 1940


Michailidis is an interesting example of a Greek artist whose work is in dialogue with contemporary Greek painting as well as with the international post-war trends in abstraction, although he did not study outside Greece. Self-taught, his effort to articulate a personal style is visible in the subjects that inspire his abstract work, the way he uses both non-painterly materials, such as newspapers, and the techniques of modern abstraction, such as decollage.

His work is generally dominated by two themes: the sea, first of all, which appears as a natural setting and a site of human intervention in the form of shipyards (Landscapes of Skiathos, 1960; Seas, 1968; East Aegean, 1972; Aegean II, 1990; The Sound of Rust, 2000). Secondly, he focuses on cityscapes, marked by torn posters and other evidence of the consequences of contemporary life (Drawers, 1974; Metallic Still Lifes, 1977; The Marches of Wear, 1995). The sea and the traditional Aegean architecture on his native island of Skiathos are the first things he observes (Doors, 1970), the initial stimuli that lead him toward abstraction. In East Aegean, a series clearly influenced by Abstract Expressionism, he uses car paint not as a conceptual comment but because its deep gloss helps to reproduce the brilliance of seawater under the sun. In his later work he places increasing emphasis on the process of artistic creation. Drawers, a series of collages which incorporate photographs, is probably the single instance in which the artist uses images from an external source—advertisements, for example— with the explicit aim of making a comment on them. Otherwise, despite his indirectly critical stance toward contemporary ways of life, he uses decollage primarily for purposes of composition and for painterly effect. This differentiates his work from that of the Nouveaux Realistes as well as the New Realists. His choice of materials was initially guided by his emotional and professional relationship to newspapers and graphic design.

In the 1980s he began to work in two phases. First he covered his surface with acrylic colors and paper, and then he went back, removing and tearing off layers so as to reveal new forms and arrive at the final product. The torn paper records the gesture of the artist and adds to the expressive impact of the work. At the same time it gives an impression of wear, which he compares to the natural life cycle of things.

Meanwhile, the color and texture of rust introduces an element of chance into his work. The artist first observed the specific textures and forms resulting from exposure to sun light, wind and rain in the shipyards of Skiathos. There, old boats, tar, the smell of diesel, and the dramatic contrasts between light and shade made up a small universe. This idea is probably expressed most clearly in his latest series (The Sound of Rust), in which he leaves thin sheets of paper out in the open beneath metal grids, which, in the course of time and prone to the elements, leave their imprint on the paper. The artist works on these surfaces with color, at the same time exploiting the traces left by natural processes. Finally, he glues the sheets of paper onto canvases of regular shape. The result is a series of totally abstract works in which only the titles give some idea of the process by which they were created (Grid, The Sound of Rust, The Red Lead of the Aegean, The Waters of Sheet Metal).

(Contemporary Greek Artists, Melissa Publishing House) Elena Hamalidi