Dimitris Yeros. Sense and Sensibility
by Lauren E. Talalay
Acting Director and Associate Curator, Kelsey Museum
University of Michigan.
Yeros stands as a unique figure in contemporary art. Painter, photographer,
poet and performance artist, Yeros bridges these worlds with exceptional
originality. He is, however, best known as a painter and photographer,
creating lyrical and surreal paintings and provocative and richly textured
photographs. Although he approaches these two media from different vantage
points, one can detect a painterly eye in his photographs and a photographer's
sensibility in his paintings. The results are beautifully crafted and
arresting images that beckon the
viewer to pause and contemplate the human condition.
most recent work-in-progress is a book of photographs inspired by the
eminent Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy. Since his death in 1933, Cavafy
has emerged as a symbol of the Greek diaspora, inspiring an impressive
array of artists, musicians, and writers. With the exception of Duane
Michals, however, few contemporary photographers have used Cavafy's
evocative verse to create a body of work. Michals's Homage to Cavafy
(1978), is a tribute to the poet, who was forced to hide his homosexuality
in a society that condemned such behavior. Michals's subtly erotic photographs,
which are intended to be "separate and sympathetic," not illustrative
of Cavafy's more homoerotic poems, form a perceptive visual narrative
on desire, longing, and the brevity of life.
Yeros participates in a very different, but equally penetrating, discourse
with the great poet. Yeros and Cavafy form a natural but contradictory
pair. Both are Greek, tethered to a rich heritage. Both explore the
mysteries of human emotion, eroticism, physical beauty, and nostalgia.
Yeros, however, was born 15 years after Cavafy's death and inhabits
a society poles apart from Cavafy's turn-of-the century culture. The
poet lived at the margins of the Greek world, spending most of his adult
life in the city of Alexandria, Egypt. Cavafy's works went largely unpublished
during his lifetime, celebrated by just a small coterie of admirers.
It was only posthumously that he emerged as a towering figure of the
modern period. Yeros, on the other hand, is an internationally recognized
artist who travels the globe, returning for several months each year
to his home away from home the island of Lesbos. His often whimsical
and sensuous canvases embrace the surreal, a world far removed from
the supremely tangible, often historically based environs of Cavafy's
poetry. Yet, for both the world is eternally layered. Both struggle
to eloquently capture the vagaries of life that often transcend full
understanding. And, both often situate their works within the resonant
spheres of the Mediterranean.
approaches Cavafy's poems with clarity and directness. He takes well-known
people, or less often images of common people and landscapes, and contextualizes
them within the story, event, or sentiment limned by specific poems.
Individuals are carefully matched with selected poems, establishing
a dialectic between the person and the verse.
example, Yeros pairs the poet Richard Howard with Cavafy's poem "Voices."
In that brief and economical poem Cavafy muses about the voices of the
dead: "Sometimes they speak to us in dreams/ sometimes deep in
thought the mind hears them/ And with their sound for a moment return/
sounds for our life's first poetry-/ like music at night, distant, fading
away." Richard Howard is himself a poet, known for his erudite
poems and exuberant prose. He is also a celebrated translator, who has
brought the "voices" of French writers and poets to the English-speaking
world. Yeros places Howard within a seeming mausoleum of photographic
portraits-floor to ceiling depictions of famous individuals, Howard's
friends, and even a picture of Cavafy, whose photo lies just to the
left of Howard. The effect is a mosaic of heads surrounding the bespectacled
face of Howard. Although the words of the individuals portrayed in the
photographs are literally mute-they cannot speak to us-the scene seems
to echo with utterances. One can almost hear the "voices"
of the people entombed in the photograph.
compelling, although tinged with humor, is the photo of the artist Arman.
Arman, an important modern "pop' artist known for innovative sculptures
built of sliced, squashed, and burned objects from everyday life, is
paired with the poem "Sculptor of Tyana." The sculptor of
the poem is an imaginary artist of the Roman Empire who works in Tyana,
an ancient city in Cappadocia. The sculptor speaks of his successes
and his endeavors, the great gods and goddesses he has lovingly sculpted
as well as the eminent Roman senators who have commissioned his work
But, he recalls, his favorite work, "wrought with the utmost care
and feeling," is a young Hermes. Yeros's recasts the poem into
a witty and modern commentary. Arman sits in a florid robe holding a
photograph depicting his own creation of Hermes. Arman's Hermes is not,
however, a "classical" rendition but rather an updated version
of this winged god, constructed from modern bricolage.
Yeros creates his own homage to Duane Michals in a photographic "triptych"
linked to Cavafy's poem "The Next Table." The poem is set
in a "casino" with the writer, an old man, gazing at an adjacent
table. At that table sits a young and strikingly handsome male. Looking
at the man seated adjacent to him, the older man begins to reminisce
about a much earlier encounter with another young lover. He then imagines
that he sees, under the clothes of the arresting youth to his side,
the body of his erstwhile lover, "the limbs I loved, naked".
Yeros's "triptych" unfolds like a narrative-much in the way
that Michals uses photographic story-telling-to expose the imaginings
of the old man. An older (fully clothed) man glances, first directly,
then distantly, then almost secretly at a naked youth lounging at the
table next to him. The young man looks dreamily into the distance, oblivious
to the stares of his neighbor. The older man is, in fact, Duane Michals
and the body of the naked man a reference to the kinds of bodies that
filled the pages of Michals's Homage to Cavafy.
Cavafy-inspired images offer us both food for thought as well as a moving
aesthetic experience. Each photograph is a carefully composed beautifully
crisp black and white rendering, filled with details. The images are
varied-some celebrate the nude male body, others a chance erotic encounter,
still others the interior of a workshop, a sensuous landscape, or a
moving view of a country village and its men. The viewer is invited
to contemplate the links between poetry and art, to question why each
image was selected, and to consider how the two artistic forms intertwine
and resonate. Cavafy once wrote that "Art knows how to shape forms
of Beauty, / almost imperceptibly, completing life ". Dimitris
Yeros has indeed brought us an art that helps complete life.