Analysis of his work

“[…] Gounaropoulos’s painting is utterly original and unique. If one wanted to attempt a characterization, one should borrow a term from another field of art and call it ‘poetic painting’. The painter’s imagination, transformed into a poet’s imagination, lends a peculiar value, no longer psychological but lyrical, to his work”.

 

A thorough aesthetic analysis of Gounaropoulos’s work can be found in the study by Giorgos Mourelos, professor of Philosophy at the University of Thessaloniki and close friend of the artist, entitled Gounaro, which was originally written in French with the occasion of Gounaropoulos’s solo exhibition at the French Institute of Athens in 1957. Excerpts follow (1976, Ed. Melissa):

Motifs and symbols

“[…] To better grasp the meaning of symbols and their place in the artist’s work, one should take into account his hometown milieu and his childhood experiences.

[…] What characterizes Gounaropoulos’s painting is its deep tranquility. Despite the dynamism of the figures emerging from his seascapes –the rocks, women, vessels, houses, trees, flowers– water, by its presence alone, lends its own peculiar dimension in every work, the dimension of a world encompassed by a totally serene and peaceful infinity.

[…] Nothing is more indicative of the introvert nature of the artist’s inspiration than the female figures he depicts.

[…] Another element that amply shows the dynamism and plastic expressiveness of his art is the number and variety of flowers he has painted over the last twenty years. Gounaropoulos’s flowers, even when depicted alone, symbolize the whole human adventure”.

Female figure with necklace, 1932
oil on hardboard
82 x 66 cm

Boats, 1930-32
oil on plywood, 62 x 73 cm
private collection

Vase with flowers, 1965
oil on canvas
82 x 66 cm

Head of a horse drinking water, 1934-35
oil on plywood, 65 x 81 cm
private collection

Prometheus, 1940
oil on canvas, 65 x 82 cm
private collection

The pictorial space

“[…] The singularity of Gounaropoulos’s art drove him, ever since he felt himself in full mastery of his expressive means, to the creation of a pictorial space appropriate to accommodate the visions of imagination and dream. The artist devoted years of efforts and experimentation to the invention of such a space. The space of imagination and dream should necessarily be a space of fluidity, capable of encompassing objects without weight, where the perspective lines are used with greater freedom, according to the kind of representation the painter wishes to create. This space, for Gounaropoulos, should possess two distinctive features: It should be transparent; so as to allow objects to mingle with each another, and it should be a dynamic space. It is a fluid space, wherein the forms and shapes of the objects merge, where boundaries are obliterated; it is a space of pervasion and interpenetration.

[…] Moreover, and this is the second feature of Gounaropoulos’s pictorial space, it presents itself as an elastic space, brimming with dynamism, being itself in motion along with the objects it encompasses.

[…] The laws of perspective that govern Gounaropoulos’s pictorial space result in the rendering of volume of the objects in such a way, that although they emerge as if in relief, their contours are generated only with respect to a system of reference which serves as background and belongs to the realm of the imaginary. Thus the viewer gets the impression that the forms of the painting, while maintaining their defining characteristics, their contour and their volume, instead of belonging to the external world which is accessible to our senses, pertain to a visionary realm”.

Dove, 1965
oil on canvas
67 x 93 cm

Vase with flower and female head, 1973
charcoal and crayon on hardboard, varnish
74 x 62 cm

Light

“[…] Since early on Gounaropoulos got preoccupied with the arrangement of light on the canvas. […] After his arrival in Paris, and as soon as he broke free from the influence of academic art, he turned his whole attention to the ideal configuration of light in his painting. One could well say that the originality of his art mainly consists in the way that he distributes light”.

[…] In his work, Gounaropoulos attempts to effectuate the total coincidence of the objects depicted with light “in order to create a pictorial space totally independent of the natural space. Therefore he breaks, in this respect, ties with the traditional technique. Instead of illuminating his objects from the outside, as almost all his predecessors had done, he illuminates them internally. Light, springing from a hypothetical source located somewhere inside the object, like a mystical centre whose position remains secret, enables the painter to create the feeling that his objects belong to a dreamy environment”.

Horse’s head on rocks, 1973
oil on canvas
123 x 171 cm

Colour

“[…] Having attained full mastery of the realities of his art, Gounaropoulos knew that by problematizing light he also problematized colour, and that, in order to be able to create a pictorial space like his, he should use not only a peculiar lighting but also a palette that would function in perfect accord with that lighting. Through several years of search and experimentation he was led to the conclusion that the fluidity of the pictorial field, so as to create the impression of a visionary space, could be achieved using colours whose hues subtly merge, with no juxtaposition of any sharply contrasting item to disrupt their unity and continuity.

[…] Thus, although the elementary colours he employs are yellow, bright red, dark red and blue, he never uses them in their pure form, but after producing them in the following way:

Yellow, by mixing cadmium with ochre;

red, by mixing cadmium red with bright rouge anglais;

dark red, by mixing dark rouge anglais with lac;

and blue, by mixing cobalt blue with ultramarine blue.

[…] Being fluid, the colour substance offers no resistance to light but permits it to freely circulate through its own movement. Thus, the colours vibrate, brim with life, unite with light, gaining an exquisite degree of transparency”.

Still life, 1934
oil on hardboard
61 x 75 cm

Drawing

“[…] The main characteristic of Gounaropoulos’s drawing technique is the all but absolute predominance of the curve. Drawing takes the form of a one-liner, for the line evolves through its own dynamism like a melody that will not end until its theme has reached its completion. The dynamism of Gounaropoulos’s pictorial space is especially conspicuous in his pencil drawings. In Gounaropoulos’s drawings there is not the slightest trace of affectation, not the slightest sign of mental construction.

[…] Thanks to the transparency of his drawing technique, the marriage of drawing and light is so perfect, that they come to form an inseparable whole”.

Idyll, c.1950
pencil and charcoal on paper
50 x 70 cm