16 MAY 1970, Page 20


High west wind


It is, perhaps above all, in its immediacy that the evocative power of the Greek epithet ultimately resides. Examples—'saffron-robed Dawn', 'many-peaked Olympus', 'the beauti- fully-maned steeds of Aeneas'—are suffici- ent in themselves to evoke a whole world of sublimated experience: experience not indeed so much of the specific occasion as of the diffused event. And seeing that this is so even in translation, it may well be imagined how much more potent is the effect in the original. 'These words in epic Greek seem alive,' wrote Gilbert Murray of such 'common and ran- dom phrases as, "the high West wind shout- ing over a wine-faced sea"; "the eastern isle where dwells Eils, the Dawn-child, amid her palaces and dancing-grounds, and the rising places cf the Sun",' whence he goes on to remark that 'they call up not precisely the look or sound, but the exact emotional im- pression of morning and wind and sea.'

Something of the same kind may be said of the art of Katerina Wilczynski (whose paintings and drawings are on show at the Ansdell Gallery until the end of the month). For her it is not the recording in minute detail of a particular gorge, temple or hill- side that is important, but rather the render- ing of the overall impression, the equivalent of what might almost be described as an archetypal form abstracted from a long im- bibing of the Greek landscape, its mountains and its olive groves, its harbours and its sacred sites—Delphi, Mistra, Delos or what you will—that completely absorbs her. And

to such an extent is this the case that in the end it may almost be said that Wilczynski becomes the landscape; for which reason the fantasy or capriccio, with its poetic over- tones, seems peculiarly adapted to the em- bodiment of her vision. Were it otherwise, she would not have been able to capture and recapture in swiftly executed sketches the essential spirit of the land, its classical vesture seen through romantic eyes, as she has done in the past and now pre-eminently in the present exhibition, which is well en- titled 'Greece Remembered'.

To say this is in no way to imply that the later work constitutes a mere repetition of earlier attainments; for while, as with all artists, the basic preoccupations remain the same, they are constantly interpreted with fresh insight and renewed vitality. The same highly individual approach, the same com- bination of massive forms and lightness of touch (the latter achieved by a use of the right and left hand indifferently, the former by that of the left hand only) is evident throughout, but the end is attained with a conviction and an assurance that is the sign- manual of complete artistic maturity.

In addition to the landscape of Greece, its architecture and its ruins, Wilczynski has been no less haunted by its sculpture and its legends, envisaged, however, not as mani- festations of the Greek spirit distinct and apart from the scenery and setting to which they belong, but as interfused with them, in such a way that the caryatid and the column are simultaneously present, the fluting of the one and the drapery of the other being felt and expressed in terms of line that is treated, as it were, both constructively and diaphan- ously at one and the same time. Similarly, Zeus, under the form of the bull, is somehow present and yet not present in the landscape, just as the horses and phalanxes are both seen and yet unseen amid the groves—a strange and subtle integration of the imag- ined and the perceived.

But for all its hauntings and the feeling that they give that 'we float upon a stream of legend', Wilczynski's drawings at their best are not wanting in a sense of solidity: fhe craggy steep is harsh and unrelenting; the Cyclopean masonry is securely piled; the long-leaved olive', with its gnarled roots, clings firmly to the hillside. At the same time, by her use of a somewhat tenuous broken line and pale washes of colour, an impression that the whole is interpenetrated by light and air is preserved. There is, how-

ever, one aspect of her work that must be accounted extraordinarily un-Greek, namely her indifference' to the sea. This is because in contradistinction to the land it is devoid of all structural and architectonic elements; whereas the tall-masted, well-rigged caiques provide her with a theme to which she re- turns with undiminished vigour again and again.

Although the current exhibition bears witness only to Katerina Wilczynski's fidelity to her first love, the love of Greece, the land and its people (whom, incidentally, she has also portrayed), it would be doing scant justice to her achievement as an artist, from the time of the award of the Prix de Rome in 1930 until today, if one were to convey the impression that it represents the limit of her horizon, her accomplishment or her aims. Her brilliant portrait sketches, which are deserving of an exhibition on their own. must not be forgotten, while we look forward to the development of her new interpretation of the myth, which may best be described in her own words as metamorphose renversee or anametamorphosis, as it has also been called.