A figure outside time

YANNIS Pappas, who calls Athens home, is one of the leaders of contemporary Greek art, master equally of painting and sculpture. He was honored recently when the entire Greek pavilion of a Venice (Italy) Biennial was devoted to an exhibition of his work in both categories.

Ever since Michelangelo and the Italian Renaissance, we are hardly surprised to find artists who alternate chisel, brush, and pencil; usually, however, the aesthetic unity is maintained, even affirmed with greater emphasis. With Yannis Pappas, from the beginning, the differences are striking; neither art is a byproduct or complementary aspect of the other. Autonomous languages, they are uncannily, radically distinct.

Whereas anguish fills his paintings, serenity surrounds the sculptures. Those in marble are particularly endearing.

The one entitled ''The Memory'' embodies the Egyptian phase of his researches; in fact, a young Egyptian woman posed for it. During a long sojourn in the country of the pharoahs, Yannis Pappas learned the teachings of Egyptian art to add to the strong influences already received from the Greeks of the 6th century before Christ.

The figure in ''The Memory'' is solidly stated, compact, and static, all the while full of character, psychological exactness, and expressivity. One always wonders whether the stone was chosen because the proposed sculpture called for it, or whether that piece of mottled marble more or less dictated its evolution. Undoubtedly, the artist recognized and employed to advantage the resistance, color, and texture of his material. He has ranged from opaque to clear, suggesting living flesh or a solid bench.

What makes this ''a figure outside of time''? Mainly, simplicity and the nostalgic music produced by the slow rhythm of the contours. In style, the construction is limpid and calm, the smooth surface untouched by shadows of folds or draperies.

The head is firmly and clearly modeled, eyes well set, features balanced. Her appearance of being oblivious of the world heightens the impression of self-concentration, silence, and submission. The tension spreads to the broad shoulders, powerful arms and hands, the body whose anatomy is only hinted under that taut skirt, even to the enormous feet so squarely planted.

In spite, or because of, the evident attention to ancient plastic techniques, the woman registers as modern, a real person, thoughtful, and thought-provoking. Her problems are those of today.

Yannis Pappas knows and appreciates the accomplishments of recent masters, although personally he prefers to cling to roots lying deep in Greece, the land which long ago was the cradle of Western civilization and sculpture.

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