The stance Chryssa Verghi takes in regard to her painting has been obvious since her earliest exhibitions. In the company of other painters of her generation she has also remained faithful to the traditional values founded on the canvas, the paint-brush, and the chromatic material, oils in particular. She belongs to the last, and therefore privileged, lovers of turpentine, as they would have said in times past.
Chryssa Verghi is a painter of nature. She is impassioned with nature; with a Leonardian nature, full of energy, movement, and vitality, a nature that is being ceaselessly transformed. And this is why Chryssa never paints from photographs. Because a photograph is a “thanatograph”, as Roland Barthe puts its so well. Thus it might be able to “murder” the element found at the core of the painter’s expressive proposals. Her ideal aim is to capture the state of becoming, the creative fever, the flow of phenomena. Of course, the Impressionists also had a similar interest. The difference is that Chryssa Verghi is not swept away by the fleeting phenomena, the water, clouds, iridescences, and foliage, which these poet/painters of the popular movement endeavored to set down through their rapid and compact brushstrokes.
Chryssa is focused on a handful of elementary subjects. In her latest work the dialogue between soil, the Earth and water is the dominant feature. Not so much the restless liquid element of the sea but rather the standing water of rivers and lakes. In those places where an amphibious vegetation, an amphibious life of invisible but tangible microorganisms, enriches the surface with hidden pulses; at the edge or on the bank of a river or lake, on that borderline between the dry and the wet, between the certainty of the solid and the fear of the unknown, the fluid.
As we have noted elsewhere, Chrysa spreads her paintings on the ground in order to work on them, as a industrious farmer might, bending over them to study her subject, to smell the damp earth, the swamp, the moss, to eavesdrop on the muted sounds of life that rustle under the surface. In order to transmit the feeling that inundates her, she invents methods and techniques which help her to conceive of this mysterious feeling, this mystic sense of life and, later, transmit it to the viewer of the work. The struggle she has with the empty canvas calls forth and marshals all the senses in a Platonic exercise which is necessary for the creation of a visual alignment, with the living piece of nature she wants to capture.
The view of the motif from above, from a distance, prescribes the vertical development of the composition which rules out the horizon. Thus the heresy of perspective is avoided, which, moreover, is ordained by the aesthetics of modernism, while the painting surface itself is identified with the motif. The painter will call forth and mobilize her solid artistic education, her long-term exercise and training of the eye on both the old and the new painting in order to transmutate into a visible and tangible image the aesthetic and intuitive experience which she lives out before the motif. She makes her painting material both thicker and thinner using glazing, impasto, coatings and palimpsests in order to create images which sometimes refer to the traditional landscape and other times are more reminiscent of the lunar landscape of Tapies while at still other times they show a connection with the gestural work of Pollock.
Indeed, no one can today maintain that the new figurative painting is a repetition of the old. Not only have the images of the natural world changed but the manner in which they are taken in by the senses has also radically altered. But what has really changed is the language of art, as it has been incorporated into the multiform and fertile experience of modernism.
The color schemes that dominate Chrysa’s latest work include the browns of the earthen bank of the river, the livid greens of the vegetation along the lakeshores and river banks, the fresh greens of the foliage, the blue skies reflected on the surface of water, and the gleaming of the sun in the recesses of its waves. The imposing paintings of Chrysa Vergi call on us to immerse ourselves in nature and to eavesdrop on its throbbing heart, trying to divine its dormant but nonetheless threatening distress.
Professor of the History of Art
Director of the National Gallery