Michael Winters: My Greece. Belconnen Arts Centre, West Gallery, 118 Emu Bank, Belconnen. Until August 21, 2022. belcoarts.com.au.
Michael Winters is Australia's most prominent philhellene artist, that is, an artist of non-Greek origins who is in love with everything Greek.
Winters was born in Frankston, a bayside suburb of outer Melbourne. At the age of 22, on completing art school where he was inspired by the art history teacher Warwick Armstrong concerning the beauties of ancient Greece, in 1965 he set off for Greece with a one-way ticket. Serendipity stepped in and he was introduced to life on the island of Leros (in the southern Aegean Sea) and the love affair with Greece was consummated. Since then, Winters has spent many years living on Leros, the local authorities have made him an honorary citizen, and he has a studio there with its own printing press.
In 1992, Winters moved to Canberra to teach at the school of art and at about the same time discovered an open access print workshop, Studio One in Kingston, with Basil Hall at its helm. He started making elaborate, frequently colour linocuts largely devoted to Greek subject matter, including scenes from his island Leros. Many have found Winters an inspiring art teacher, both in Canberra and on Leros, and he has a devoted following.
The exhibition at Belco Arts is a survey of Winters' linocuts from 1994 to 2022 that are largely based on Greek themes.
He is a figurative traditionalist in his imagery and although at first glance there is something that approaches a postcard aesthetic with spectacular scenic views, sweeping panoramas, domed Greek Orthodox churches and ancient temples - their columns bleached by the Mediterranean sun like some sort of prehistoric skeleton - there is also a lyricism and personal narrative.
Some of the more impressive prints include Cliff Face & Church - Monemvasia, 2018. Sometimes called the Greek Gibraltar, Monemvasia sticks out as a huge rock off the east coast of the Peloponnese with its walled fortress and many Byzantine churches of the medieval period. Winters places one of these churches in the foreground against the polychrome wall of the rock and the battlement above. The tiny pockets of vivid green vegetation in the foreground are offset by the masses of rock. In a very lucid manner, the artist strips his narrative to the absolute essentials to create an image of this fortress island that withstood years of sieges from hostile empires.
In another linocut print, Boat, Church & Hillside - Leros, 2007, Winters piles together the symbols of his beloved island with a fishing boat in the foreground, a typical domed Byzantine-style church on shore, a green hillside in the distance and above the brilliant blue sky. There is a lyricism in many of his prints as well as a very focused summary of the essential qualities of the scene before the artist.
A busy linocut, Ermou Church & Sunset, 2002, takes us into the old part of Athens, on the edge of the Plaka district, where one of the oldest churches of the city is located, the Church of Panagia Kapnikarea. Built on the remains of a pagan temple and in its present state probably dating to the mid-11th century, it is tucked away amongst the urban sprawl. The glorious sunset, apart from adding a picturesque note, may also comment on the passing of an empire. Although the scene is topographically accurate - I know well this corner of Athens and have visited the church on numerous occasions - it is also a remarkably compressed image, a little vignette of Athenian life.
Winters' My Greece is a journey that has lasted a lifetime and one that is related with passion and, in the more recent prints, with a touch of nostalgia.
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