A Decisive Look at Greece at Conduit Gallery

Rosalyn Bodycomb, Modiano Market IV, 2010, oil on linen, 47x35", photography by Michael Bodycomb, courtesy of Conduit Gallery
Rosalyn Bodycomb, Modiano Market IV, 2010, oil on linen, 47×35″, photography by Michael Bodycomb, courtesy of Conduit Gallery

The exhibition “Cassandra” by Rosalyn Bodycomb, opened last Saturday at the Conduit Gallery, is a tempting penetration of modern day Greece, in the eyes of Americans.

The body of works was inspired by the artist’s visit to Greece in 2008 – “a beautiful ancient country with a troubled political past, an unsure economic present, and a disenfranchised population,” as stated by the artist. That decisive Greekness is a product of inattentive native people under mundane (often haphazard) settings, all shrouded in a distinct cool light ( regardless of time of the day).

The best of the series are those depicting local residents and small business owners, caught off guard. They manifest the painter’s virtuosity in rendering complex interior light onto cramped space of light-hued texture. The eerie light, almost palpable like a layer of thin air of uncertainty, skews the casual Mediterranean atmosphere into a modern psyche of shoestring living.

In both “Skopelos Taverna” and “Modiano Market IV”, neither the restaurant cashier, nor the walking elder man, benefits from that momentary attention of suffused light. Both seem to serve, instead, as backdrop for the fully illuminated interior – almost – until the viewer sees the light source, as strong as staged spotlight, frames figures within. Contrary to the airiness of their surroundings, their bodily mass gains disproportional monumentality, like unsung heroes fell half way in their own shadows.

The stillness of figures may suggest a continuum of Mediterranean slow-paced living; yet more or less that could be the result of calamitous financial status. I looked at each individual gaze of these paintings (Modiano Market I, II and III), they were somber and weary. In a society crippled in its own debt, hardworking could be thrown into trivial. A numbing dreariness, from an extended (and seemingly endless) period of anxiety, is what makes these paintings pertinent and humane. In them, she purports a human condition, that is universal to us all.

Had the show been more thorough and inclusive, it would achieve the kind of poignant and heartfelt quality of poetic journalism that Robert Frank, also a foreigner in 1950’s, accomplished in his “The Americans” series. However, other pictures look more like digression. “Sporades” takes a bird-eye view of a hustle-bustle plaza in Sporades, famous for tourism. A triptych of Agios Ioannis Sto Kastri’s sea shore exploits the abstract quality of ripples, rocks and corrals within realism. They serve like postcard pictures to counterbalance the grim reality of the rest, as if to remind American audience that Greece is still a first-rate tourism destination.

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