The breath of ancient glories in Emilio Greco's work

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A PLEASANT, thoughtful melancholy pervades the accompanying portrait of a lovely young lady. It sings of tenderness, understanding, and admiration. Did she know that her awakening from a profound sleep was being recorded for posterity? Of course she did. She is an artist's model, and in fact was not asleep at all. The pose was taken in response to suggestions made by the artist Emilio Greco to convey his preconceived idea for a drawing.

If an artist has a model's assistance, and such a work would otherwise be quite impossible, a great deal of mutual respect and confidence is required. A model is a very important person, able to comprehend an artist's idea, take a pose and hold it - motionless. No squirming allowed. The exact position must be remembered and returned to if so required.

Emilio Greco is recognized as one of the finest sculptors of our day, and a master of design and engraving worthy to stand among all the great masters of the past. The particular sweetness and naturalness of his style mark him undoubtedly as Italian. He was born in 1913 at Catania on the eastern coast of Sicily, that large island at the toe of the boot called Italy. For many centuries before Christ and quite a few afterward, Sicily was part of Greece. It is now Italian.

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Truthfully, we never felt ``ancient glories'' so intensely as when we were traveling around Sicily. We explored ruins of temples, open-air theaters, etc., and noticed that most of the present-day inhabitants claim to be direct descendants of the Greeks of old; they well could be. At least, the underlying influence in all Greco's work is the classic art of Greece.

Greco's earliest artistic efforts consisted of carving gravestones in Sicily, soon followed by years of study in Palermo and Rome - where he now lives. He has taught art in famous academies in Italy and nearby countries.

His drawing of the dreamer was accomplished in his studio-home near Rome and was probably done in one swoop, with stops only for an occasional breath. We have watched him work, and that is his way. If something is not to his complete satisfaction, he discards it, throws it on the floor, and starts all over again. The room may get quite littered before he finishes.

Greco seems an inexhaustible creator of distinctive images, sometimes for a sculpture but often for their own sake. In the drawings, lines are never just arabesques on a flat surface. Straight or curved, they cross, intersect, develop patterns and perspectives, become shapes with spatial features. In this picture, the white of the paper appears to be light itself, accentuating, casting shadows, while pushing everything forward toward the viewer. So skillfully is it executed, it seems to us quite possible to reach out and tweak that adorable nose.

Just as in music, the pauses, resumptions, suspensions, and emphases evoke melodies, the rhythm proceeds here throughout the design, even to the barely discernible vibrations of the fingers. Apparently our young woman is slowly returning from an enchanted world filled with strange music. We, too, have had dreams almost too wonderful to awaken from.

The vitality and enthusiasm of Emilio Greco are boundless. He started exhibiting in 1935, and more than 50 years later he still does. He has received innumerable awards and prizes, very recently being honored by the International Bienniale at Padua, Italy, with an exhibition of numerous free-standing sculptures, low and high reliefs, and graphics.

We find two particularly endearing qualities in his line drawings: Often there is a sensation of lack of gravity, as if everything is in suspension; always there is a dreamy rhythm.

Emilio Greco's work figures prominently in the great museums of the world; there is even a Greco Garden in Hakone, Japan, and a Greco Hall in the Hermitage of Leningrad. Certainly, the beauty, elegance, and lyricism of his art speak a language understood and loved by many peoples.

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