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Dimitris Pikionis - Texts

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Pikionis' Multiplicity of Knowledge

[DIMITRIS PIKIONIS 1887 - 1968, Bastas-Plessas Publications; Athens 1994.]

When I met Pikionis in 1928, he was 41 years old. I was 21. I was just back from Paris, where only two months earlier I had had my first personal exhibition, whose foreword was written by the great art critic Maurice Raynal. The exhibition had caused quite a stir in the newspapers and magazines, and even Picasso had come to see it. This success encouraged me to take the decision to hold my first exhibition in Athens. This exhibition was also a great success and had great popular appeal. Whole columns were written about it in the Press. Like so many other people, Pikionis came along to congratulate me and get to know me. He had liked the exhibition, and my work interested him and engaged his curiosity: he commented on it repeatedly with warmth and interest. And so we became friends. He asked me about 'art nouveau' in Paris, about this artist or that sculptor or architect, whom I knew from their work and only as names. I could clearly see his insatiable thirst for information, for keeping up to date and for learning. He asked question after question, and persisted with his interrogation so as to exhaust the depths of each subject. I realised that this was food and drink to him and that for many years the lack of suitable conversational partners had deprived him of it: that is why he was so greedy. He asked the same questions, with the same intensity, of the well-known French painter Lurcat, who happened to be in Athens at the time. One day, Lurcat said to me, "What a man that friend of yours is! He does nothing but ask questions!" Then it occurred to me: Pikionis asked questions like Socrates did, taking your answers and analysing them, splitting every hair until you felt that the answers you had given were not what they ought to have been.

He had spent many years in lengthy thought on all these matters, and he had a complete command of them. I gradually came to realise how profound - and also how broad - his knowledge was. He often used to rile me by displaying a fresh facet of his education, one with which until that time I had been unfamiliar. This opened up new prospects for me, and Pikionis' influence was great and beneficial. Sometimes, he used to insist on his viewpoint with a sweet-tempered obstinacy. I remember one rather amusing occasion on which one of the Ministries had summoned us to a meeting where we were to express our authoritative opinion on some question of aesthetics. I gave my view, which was more or less the same as that of Pikionis. The gentlemen from the Ministry raised some objections, planted a few doubts in everyone's minds and manifested a certain amount of hesitancy. Pikionis' turn to speak came, and he gave his opinion, which was much the same as mine. After he had heard the same objections and the same pessimism, rather than falling silent as I had done (in the conviction that all discussion was pointless and that we were wasting our time), he undertook the thankless task of persuading them. I was sure that this was quite out of the question and I took pity on him in petto, comparing him mentally to the missionary friars who, with a cross in one hand and a holy water sprinkler in the other, set forth in the hope that they will tame the cannibals of the forests and the wild beasts of the jungle, ending their days as the quarry of carnivorous animals and the prey of cartoonists.

And yet, I remember that meeting going on for hour after hour because Pikionis was prepared neither to give ground not to hold his peace. He presented them with argument after difficult and outlandish argument, reeling off the names of artists and objects and the titles of works made in Italy or France of which they had not the faintest idea, and referring to theories of philosophy and aesthetics, which might have been in Chinese for all they knew. The strangest thing of all, though, was that they listened attentively, almost with awe. The low murmur of his voice - like a soft-headed drill - had mesmerised them: it was like the sound of water running along a winding rivulet in the sand, a rivulet which was eventually swallowed up in the sands of the desert that is Athens.

In the deserts of that period, Pikionis really did resemble an anchorite, a new St John Climacus, a humble ascetic (seen through Christian eyes) or a sage of ancient Greece whose intellectual and moral concepts acquired the accuracy of geometrical rules.

Some artist and writer friends, of whom he was fond and whom he helped with his advice, were dubious of his superiority and reluctant to acknowledge it.

One of them used to say to me, "Mimis knows nothing about painting; all he knows is how to talk and how to weep tears of aesthetic emotion". But he never ceased to pay tribute to them, and even to use his connections to protect them. That, indeed, was the reason why he decided to publish the periodical The Third Eye (the title was the idea of his then wife). This is not the place to relate the history of the periodical - which is in any case familiar - but the true stature and scope of Pikionis' knowledge was evident there, covering the entire spectrum from Ancient Greek and Latin to mathematics (which allowed him to penetrate deeper into the theories of harmonious drawing), philosophy (Leibnitz and also the beliefs of Asia and the neoPlatonists) and Greek and foreign poetry.

I have been speaking here, my dear friends, with simplicity, of a friend whom we miss and who was simple and dear to us. I have spoken of only one aspect of this fertile personality, as I knew it, as I sampled it and as I experienced it during our many years of friendship. I have said nothing of his teaching in the School of Architecture of the National Technical University. As a teacher, he made history. I have said nothing of his architecture, his original and traditional architecture that, I believe, reached its climax in the labour of love he devoted to the area around the Acropolis. And I have said nothing of the harmony of his family life, which protected him against the outside world with the warmth of his house and the love of his wife and fine children.

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