UNFORGETTABLE MOMENTS OF ATHENS OLYMPICS 2004
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN BY VASILIS ZENETZIS
The Olympics are a unique event not only in our times and since the renewal of the event in Athens in 1896 but also in ancient times.
The memories of the Athens Olympics 2004 and Zenetzis painting the antiquities of Athens to commemorate the event are as vivid and real as they were then. Zenetzis has passed away in 2016 but his legacy lives on, his art lives on and the admiration of millions watching him paint on location during those Olympics is a historic artistic event. It becomes more important when one thinks that he was the only artist painting on location these magical monuments during those days. Perhaps he was the only one because he was the only crazy one; in the heat of Athens summer painting in in those high temperatures was indeed crazy but that was reality and purpose for Zenetzis.
The Magnificent Seven were a reality over seventeen days of hard work and they stand today for us all to enjoy.
Enjoy the show!!!
Although Zenetzis had previously worked even exhibited canvases of the same subject as the ‘Magnificent Seven,’ this ambitious series of seven paintings were an undertaking planned and dreamed of as early as 1999 and upon his 1999 ‘One Man Show’ in London of the same year. ‘The Magnificent Seven’ were a logical development and culmination of the work of the period 1998-2004 celebrating his worldwide success as an artist and the Olympics of Athens in 2004. It became an obsession of Zenetzis and a triumphant success for the Impressionist of Greece. Dreams do come true at times, and the fact that Athens was hosting the 2004 Olympics was a dream fulfilled for Greece and for Vasilis. For him, the event was the greatest opportunity to create something unique and historic; a series of paintings produced during the Olympics that would establish his name and his art worldwide. His dream became mine in the years ahead of the Olympics and during the Olympic year of 2004.
We both worked harder than ever to create history for Greek art and for Vasilis. I was more than happy to share his aspirations and high passion for Greece and its history. I admired his relentless work ethos, passion for art and love for Greece. The culmination and zenith of his work related to Athens and its monuments are the series of paintings known as the ‘Magnificent Seven’. Many special features and events distinguish these paintings which have as their epicentre the Acropolis and the Parthenon as the beacon. They were painted en plein air and on location; they were painted in view of and witnessed by thousands of tourists during the two weeks of the Athens Olympics 2004; and finally they were specially inscribed with a painted blue rectangle denoting the Athens Olympics and dated for posterity (something the artist never did in any of his earlier work.) The seven oil on canvas paintings are as unique as any art produced in Athens during those seventeen days of the Olympics of 2004.
The Acropolis with Parthenon
Signed, signed with monogram and inscribed with title, oil on canvas, with artist’s blue painted stamp and dated Athens Olympics 2004 40 x 50 cm Painted on 14th August 2004 Exhibited: Greek Cypriot Brotherhood Centre, London Athens – London Olympics 2004 – 2012, 14th – 27th November 2011, number 1, illustrated in colour in the exhibition catalogue The Parthenon, 10th March – 10th April 2015, number 37, illustrated in colour in the exhibition catalogue Literature: ‘Rags or Riches’ by Peter Constant, London 2013, illustrated in colour, page 416
Painted on the 14th of August 2004
Seated across the road from the monuments of the Acropolis, Zenetzis captured the Acropolis and the southern part of the Parthenon without a preliminary drawing. It was magic to watch him structure the painting from the sky downwards without any kind of sketch. He painstakingly created the vegetation just in front of him and gradually trees, leaves, branches and colours became a living being together with the tourists who were climbing the Acropolis. The visitors gathered and admired. The crowds photographed and marvelled. What a joy for the artist and what scenes of wonder! Time and again he re-touched the Parthenon and added more warmth and colour. The wall surrounding the Acropolis with the Herod Atticus Theatre and the Propylaea just visible were not forgotten. Zenetzis captured their significance and influence on the eye and visitor with hard work and tender care. The path leading to the top was skilfully crafted and a few visitors climbing to the rock were also painted. He added colour to the vegetation many times and the end result is a sweet harmony of greens, browns and yellows.
A small painting that stands apart with the Parthenon imposing and grandiose, the Acropolis and its foothills vibrating life. The painting from somewhere is emanating the spirit of the times. Zenetzis methodically applied the magic of his spatula and colours to deliver and finish an interesting painting in his own inimitable way in about five hours.
The Acropolis with Parthenon
Signed, signed with monogram and inscribed with title on reverse, oil on canvas, with artist’s blue painted stamp dated Athens Olympics 200450 x 70 cm Exhibited: Greek Cypriot Brotherhood Centre, London Athens – London Olympics, 2004 – 2012, 14th – 27th November 2011, number 2, illustrated in colour in the exhibition catalogue The Parthenon, 10th March – 10th April 2015, number 38, illustrated in colour in the exhibition catalogue Literature: ‘Rags or Riches’ by Peter Constant, London 2013, illustrated in colour, page 416
Painted on the 15th and 16th August 2004
Athens was very hot but also extremely bright and colourful; a real princess, welcoming the hundreds of thousands of Olympic fans from all over the world. Zenetzis wanted to paint the same view of the Acropolis and the Parthenon as in painting number 1 but from a different location further south, down the road. He also wanted to use a bigger canvas to include part of the road and the edge of the hill with the people climbing up the rock, the Acropolis.
The sun was blazing, the colours strong and vibrant. After two minutes of drawing the painting Zenetzis applied and spread the first basic layers of colour, immediately attracting international crowds around him. Slowly and gradually from the sky, to the Acropolis, the trees, the Parthenon, the theatre, the Propylaea, all the main elements appeared and turned the canvas into a cosmos of ancient spirit with today’s colourfully dressed people. The crowds kept coming to watch and then carried on climbing the rock while Zenetzis painted and painted. He was in a different world, he was in a world of artistic creation that I had rarely seen before in him.
At about 1:30 and after four hours of non-stop painting he got up from his stone- bench, stopped and started gathering his equipment. “Tomorrow I will finish it,” he said. Zenetzis is an easy-going man. His only passion is painting. He paints non-stop and even physical needs are either ignored or forgotten. The following day he carried on where he had stopped; same location, same spot, same stone seat, same sunny, bright weather. Zenetzis has no half measures in his work. He is serious about his painting and when he works he is passionate about it. The painting developed into a bonanza of colour that I seldom witnessed in Vasilis’ work.
The painting was completed at about one o’clock . Vasilis sculpted the last pigments of colour on the foliage and this celebration of colour was finally finished. Zenetzis seated himself about a hundred metres from the rock. He had painted a magnificent painting in which he paid tribute to the Parthenon, the Acropolis and the faithful visitors prepared to climb in their thousands to admire the miracle created some twenty-five centuries ago.
“Bright and spontaneous swathes of colours and impressions take centre stage in my paintings”
Plaka with Monument of Aerides and the Acropolis with Erechtheum Above
Signed, signed with monogram and inscribed with title, oil on canvas, with artist’s blue painted stamp and dated Athens Olympics 18/8/2004 45 x 60 cm Exhibited: Greek Cypriot Brotherhood Centre, London Athens- London Olympics 2004 – 2012, 14th – 27th November 2011, number 3, illustrated in colour in the catalogue to exhibition The Parthenon, 10th March – 10th April 2015, number 39, illustrated in colour in the exhibition catalogue Literature: ‘Rags or Riches’ by Peter Constant, London 2013, illustrated in colour, page 416
Painted on 18th and 19th August 2004
The studio of the artist is about eight hundred metres from Plaka and the location of this painting. “When I am happy I paint happy paintings” the artist Zenetzis keeps telling me. Certainly the two paintings of the three previous days were proof of such a statement. Even though we left the taverna at three o’clock in the morning, Vasilis showed no signs of tiredness or lack of sleep when I saw him at nine o’clock . He seemed refreshed, very happy and ready to paint. At ten o’clock we walked to Plaka from his studio with all our equipment: a canvas, tripod, paints, spatulas, water, cameras and our hats. He loved his Van Gogh style hat from London. After all, he keeps saying that he is the Van Gogh of Greece. The tourists were in their thousands all over Plaka. He kept walking to the spot he wanted to paint. I followed him. “I want to paint the ancient Greek, the Roman, the neoclassical and the modern together,” he said. He stopped at the corner of the road just before the Roman Agora where the monument of the Aerides is located. The Acropolis was imposing further up and clearly on it the Erechtheum.
Neo-classical Plaka was nestling between the Acropolis and the Aerides monument and the Roman Agora. The view was a great marriage of buildings from different eras and historical periods. Zenetzis looked more than eager to start. He sat right on the pavement and off he went for the next five hours. Just one drink of water. He kept sculpting on the canvas and slowly and gradually the structure of the painting became obvious but far from clear as this painting has so many divergent elements in it. The various levels, the buildings and monuments took shape and colour. Vasilis kept painting, engrossed in the magic of the place and the view. The Ancient Greek, the Greco-Roman and the neo-classical all together and yet so far apart in time and importance. It was nearly two o’clock when he stopped. “This is difficult,” he said, “but it will be done tomorrow.” The following day and at the same spot, at the same time he continued where he had left off the day before. The end result is a superb painting of one of the most amazing locations of Athens and Plaka.
The buildings stand unique on their own and yet they are an integral part of this place called Plaka and the Acropolis. The colours stood aloof at one point but in the end Zenetzis sculpted away and added to present us harmony of colour and unity of composition which he himself called gratifyingly “beautiful.” In this work Zenetzis presents a masterful composition of architecture, colour and Athenian historical spirit. Watching him start and finish this painting was an unforgettable experience.
Stylae of Olympian Zeus with the Acropolis and the Parthenon Beyond
Signed, signed with monogram and inscribed with title, oil on canvas, with artist’s blue painted stamp and dated Athens Olympics 20/8/2004
45 x 60 cm Exhibited: Greek Cypriot Brotherhood Centre, London Athens – London Olympics 2004 – 2012, 14th – 27th November 2011, number 4, illustrated in colour in the exhibition catalogue The Parthenon, 10th March – 10th April 2015, number 40, exhibited in colour in the exhibition catalogue Literature: ‘Rags or Riches’ by Peter Constant, London 2013, illustrated in colour, page 416
Painted on 20th and 21st August 2004
The ruins of the ancient Temple of Zeus are in the centre of Athens just about three hundred metres from the north side of the Acropolis. Colours are nearly always bright in Athens and on days such as this one all the colours become a sea of blue, sky blue for Vasilis. He sat under a tree in the area of the ruins and about thirty metres from the columns of the ancient temple. He made sure that he had a clear view of the Acropolis and the south-west side of the Parthenon. He wanted a medium size canvas so that he could finish in two days.
He quickly drew the columns, the Acropolis and then the trees in between. The splash of colours followed within seconds. The sky was clear blue, the Acropolis and the Parthenon appeared beautiful on the canvas and the columns took their time to be formed. On hot days like that one you look for cover. At one o’clock the sun turned, the shadows and shapes started shifting and Zenetzis stopped. “Tomorrow I must finish,” he whispered. It looked a great picture already and the visitors of the site were captivated by the only artist around. The following day, Zenetzis carried on as if he had never stopped. The colours became subtler, the tones became gentler and the greens, blues and browns under the masterly touch of Vasilis became a composition of great sensitivity. There were photos, posing and positioning by the tourists. The two figures, a father and son from Munich, to the left of the picture stood there for Zenetzis to paint. They came to visit and see the Olympics. The figure to the right in a mix of brown colours is myself, photographing the columns for the myriad time. This painting is a truly magical composition of colour and emotion in an environment and situation that is unlikely to be reproduced again.
This is a unique picture painted for a unique occasion and under unique circumstances.
The Parthenon and the Erechtheum from the East on the Acropolis with Saronicos Beyond
Signed, signed with monogram and inscribed with title, oil on canvas, with artist’s blue painted stamp and dated Athens Olympics 23/8/2004
50 x 70 cm Exhibited: Greek Cypriot Brotherhood Centre, London Athens – London Olympics 2004 – 2012, 14th – 27th November 2011, number 5, illustrated in colour in the exhibition catalogue The Parthenon, 10th March – 10th April 2015 number 41, illustrated in colour in the exhibition catalogue Literature: ‘Rags or Riches’ by Peter Constant, London 2013, illustrated in colour, page 416
Painted on Sunday 22nd and 23rd August 2004
Climbing the steps leading onto the Acropolis is a tiring exercise. Climbing it in temperatures of nearly forty degrees and carrying a tripod, a canvas, paints, spatulas etc was much harder. However, Vasilis wanted to immortalize once more the temple of Athena at close range and from up the Acropolis itself. He wanted to capture the Olympic spirit in the most renowned building of the Western World. The artist sat himself on the east side of the Acropolis at about ten o’clock. He sat looking west towards Saronicos Bay. There were tens of thousands of people around the monuments on this bright, hot day. It was a superb view with the Parthenon as glorious as ever. People needed no invitation to come and admire the only artist painting the Acropolis and the Parthenon on that day or any other of the seventeen days he spent painting en plein air around the antiquities of Athens. The canvas kept changing. The Parthenon, the scattered columns, the Erechtheum, the bay in the distance to the left, the world of tourists, one by one emerged on the canvas. It was very difficult to paint the Parthenon; so impressive and imposing from such a short distance. Vasilis was sitting only about forty metres away. Time and again Zenetzis added colour and substance to the building but it was elusive. The people were no help. Too many people perched on the highest point of the Acropolis did not make it any easier. At one o’clock we climbed down the rock. Vasilis was happy with the painting but it was far from finished. “Nine o’clock tomorrow,” he called. The following day, just past nine o’clock we returned to the same spot. Impatient as ever to paint, Zenetzis hurried to his canvas. He finished the Erechtheum, he cleared the sea and the sky. The paths on the rock became clearer and myriads of people were added. Then came the hard part. Painting the Parthenon with the right proportions and the correct shades was a difficult task. The hardest of all was to capture the air and spirit of the time, the Olympics, but he succeeded and the result was tremendous; a very dynamic composition of the Parthenon with its twin monument on the Acropolis, the Erechtheum.
The Acropolis from Stylae of Olympian Zeus
Signed, signed with monogram and inscribed with title, oil on canvas, with artist’s blue painted stamp and dated Athens Olympics 25/8/2004
60 x 90 cm Exhibited: Greek Cypriot Brotherhood Centre, London Athens – London Olympics 2004 – 2012, 14th – 17th November 2011, number 6, illustrated in colour in the exhibition catalogue The Parthenon, 10th March – 10th April 2015, number 42, illustrated in colour in the exhibition catalogue Literature: ‘Rags or Riches’ by Peter Constant, London 2013, illustrated in colour, page 416
Painted on 25th and 26th August 2004
The visit to the area of the temple of Zeus was the inspiration for this painting of the Acropolis. It was clear from the start that Zenetzis wanted to concentrate on the rock and to include in the painting the Arch of Andrianos which lies just outside the area of the temple. Zenetzis explored the area and firmly placed his tripod somewhere to the right of the temple. High up was the Acropolis with the Parthenon perched as grandiose as ever, Greek flag flowing majestically. It was a hot, windy day with bright blue skies and restless white clouds on the horizon. Vasilis wasted no time. He got down to work. In literally two minutes he drew a few pencil lines on the canvas and then the colours expanded until the canvas was completely covered in a thick layer of blue, green, brown and yellow. Over the next five hours the painting took shape with the monuments gradually emerging and taking shape amid the surrounding vegetation. The painting looked finished but not in the eyes of Zenetzis. The following day, in the same spot and place he put the finishing touches to the painting. The zest and fervour he displayed was astonishing considering his years and the fact that he had been painting since the age of sixteen. The canvas that emerged was a poem of colour and a hymn to the glory of ancient Greece.
The Acropolis with Saint George Lycabettus from the West and Asteroskopion
Signed, signed with monogram and inscribed with title, oil on canvas, with artist’s blue painted stamp and dated Athens Olympics 28/8/2004 60 x 90 cm Exhibited: Greek Cypriot Brotherhood Centre, London Athens – London Olympics 2004 – 2012, 14th – 27th November 2011, number 7, illustrated in colour in the exhibition catalogue The Parthenon, 10th March – 10th April 2015, number 43, illustrated in colour in the exhibition catalogue Literature: ‘Rags or Riches’ by Peter Constant, London 2013, illustrated as Magnificent Seven, page 416
Zenetzis on these paintings: “ With my art I love you Greece, with my art I honour you Greeks of old and today. I am a lonely spirit singing your beauty with my art, my soul and my being.”
Painted on 28th and 29th August 2004
The approaching finale of the Olympics energized Zenetzis. He wanted this series of paintings very much and nothing else was on his mind. He wanted to capture the atmosphere of the occasion from all possible views new and old. The hills on the west of the Acropolis had been visited before and especially from the Philopappou area. The area from the Asteroskopion though was not fully explored. Zenetzis had never painted the Acropolis from this area before. We climbed the hill loaded with paints, a canvas 60 x 90 cm, a tripod, water, cameras and an umbrella. No need to mention the Van Gogh hat of Zenetzis. It was his inspiration perhaps. Vasilis was in a great mood and wanted the best possible location for this last painting of the series. Looking around he finally settled near a pine tree with a crooked trunk. “This is the spot,” he said.
The location and the view for this painting looked magical. Zenetzis could see the whole of the rock beyond the small grove. Standing bright and pulsating with life were the Propylaea, Parthenon, Erechtheum and the whole of the south-west of the Acropolis. Also magnificent to the left of the Acropolis was part of Athens and in the distance the hill of Lycabettus with the whitewashed church of Saint George seated prettily on the top. What a view, what a fusion of ancient and modern architecture, ancient and modern religion.
Vasilis sat in between the branches of the pine tree and he literally used the trunk of the tree to sit on and paint. He acted as if it was the first time he painted. He sketched in pencil very quickly and in a moment the canvas was full of vibrant colours: blues, greens, browns, yellows and pinks filled the canvas in an abstract and yet clear way. He soon gave shape to the sky, the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the hills beyond, the pine trees in the foreground and the dark volume of Athens and the hill of Lycabettus to the left. Painting in such conditions was not easy for Vasilis. He took a couple of minutes break at some point and then re-took his position. The canvas was constantly changing and the artist was immersed in his world of creating a beautiful painting. Even on this remote spot tourists came and watched. They lingered, they talked, they photographed and admired the artist demystifying nature and human creation. It was just about two o’clock when Vasilis got up. “I think we are going to call it a day,” he said. “I shall finish tomorrow.” The painting even though unfinished looked wonderful. The colours were already complementary, subtle and pleasing to the eye. The Parthenon and the Propylaea were discernible and in general all was in place but far from complete and finished.
Sunday was the last day of the Olympics. We were up on the hill at nine-thirty. Nothing changed! The sky, the sun, the heat. Only Zenetzis was in a hurry. It was important for him to finish. The Acropolis with the Parthenon, the Propylea and the visible side of the Erechtheum were finished first. The buildings of Athens to the left and the church of Saint George were added next. The colours looked beautiful, subtle and harmonious.
Finally he began working on the trees in the forefront of the painting. He loves the multitude of colours in his paintings. The soft greens and pale blues became an azure colour. It was about one o’clock and Zenetzis was nearly finished with the painting. Figures climbing up the Acropolis were added. Then we had an unexpected audience. A young family with three children approached. They marvelled at the painting. They took photos, they asked questions. I asked them whether they wanted to be included in the painting. They gladly posed for Vasilis by sitting on the small rock to the right. The icing on the cake was in place. What an amazing painting! What an achievement on the last day of the Athens Olympics 2004! It was two-thirty pm on the 29th of August 2004 . The series of seven paintings became history and their significance will only be known in the years to come.