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“Not quite a memory”


And everything that we inscribe in the living present of our relation to others already carries, always, the signature of memoirs-from-beyond-the-grave.
Jacques Derrida, Mnemosyne (1984) 


Is there a cohesive body of memories that constitutes a community’s collective memory?  Is there a point of departure, a point where all personal remembrances meet, that marks a justified logical beginning of our collective memory?  Can introspection pick out a mental, primary event, the presence of which justifies our attitudes towards national history?  And, above all, is there such a thing as objective historical knowledge of our past, or are we left with a digestion of several forms of biased, omissive, selective interpretations dependent on the perspective of the individual historian?

For Zenon Jepras, history as a whole acquires its meaning, structure and perhaps direction via the individual events and actions that make it up.  Therefore, two basic themes run through the work exhibited: the collective memory and the authoritative history that coexist with Jepras’ personal recollections, as well as with his own subjective interpretation of the former. As a skilled figurative artist, he finds his challenge in eliciting a rich world visible in the surface from the necessarily limited means of the design.  Over the past few years, he has drawn on mythological fables and folk stories; but many of his paintings seem to do with his own story.  They often hint at elements of his own upbringing as a Greek-Cypriot of Diaspora – properly dressed mothers and grandmothers picnicking in a park someplace in greater London, and the recurring figures of neat little boys, who may or may not be Zenon himself.  These are narratives of family life in which the real deconstructs the imagined; persistent episodes of memory disturb what was later patterned into historical narrative, as key figures of our recent history whirl across the canvas.  The characters’ faces are sometimes blurred by the passage of time or perhaps repressed by memory; sometimes they look tough and muscular, and wear expressions of subversive cruelty and unease.  Women and children are usually at the forefront of his work, the former often looking sexually oppressed; the later prematurely aged as if they are the only ones with the awareness of what is about to happen. 

Jepras is a storyteller who has come to dig into our past, to record our recollections and reconstruct them in order to offer us a form of archaeology of memory.  Each work holds clues to deeper personal and social narratives, like skeletons hidden in the closet. His characters often take the form of animals for satirical effect; thus creating an ‘alternative world’ that serves to undermine socially dominant forces.

What is particularly interesting is that his work is reminiscent of the post-expressionist movement of New Objectivism that emerged in the Weimar Republic of Germany and ended with the rise of Hitler to power.  As George Grosz, Jepras turns his satirical eye towards what has proven to be a kind of hypocritical patriotism; on the ignorance and even indifference of laymen towards what was happening; on the greediness and corruption of the decades that led to the fall.  Are we today, on evidence for the rise of neonazism and authoritarian goverments in a number of European countries, insist on burying our head in the sand or, like Jepras newlyweds, in a glass tank? (A columnist of the Guardian claimed a few days ago that Greece is the Eurocrats' very own Weimar on the Aegean ).
But Jepras is not condemnatory; on the contrary, he looks upon his subjects with empathy; with a kind of nostalgia brought to him by his own upbringing as an emigrant; with acceptance and forgiveness.  Manolis Anagnostakis has written that “Love is the fear that bonds us”...

In the exhibition “Not quite a memory”, Zenon Jepras examines the idea that memory has a photographic nature; that is, he investigates the fragmental and reconstructed narration of what has become our collective memory.  He comprises elements reminiscent of photographic depiction (i.e sometimes the outline of the figures looks as a transformed ordinary snapshot), while at the same time he somehow engages in a subliminal provocation of the idea of a photorealistic painting.  “Some things you simply can’t photograph… There are things unphotographable, actually”, David Hockney once declared .  As a result, Zenon’s paintings brilliantly comment on the limits of what we naively conceive as “photographic memory”: Ceci n'est pas une photo; this is not a genuine remembrance of a past event; this is here and now; this is ‘the approach or remembrance of the future’ .

Where does this lead the viewer, who is called upon to walk the paths of this deliberate and conscious recovering of the past?  Perhaps, the viewers will discover fragments of their memories and, hopefully, moments of their own personal truth…

Efi Kyprianidou PhD,
November 2012


Nick Cohen, “Greece flirts with tyranny and Europe looks away”, Guardian/The Observer, November 4, 2012.

William Corwin, “David Hockney with William Corwin”, The Brooklyn Rail, February 2012.

Jacques Derrida, Memoires for Paul de Man, Paris: Galilée, 1988.

 

 

The New Menos

 

For an art or an idea to become universal it has to emanate from the particular, the individual and the personal. This is why the gods of Homer are individualised and highly personal; Zenon Jepras individualises further more the divine to the point of its humanisation its ‘ex-anthropism’, which does not make the divine any more humanitarian but more blemished and vulnerable and the fusion results in a mutual negation, a mutual mutation and the emergence of a New World – a New Reality – of which the tautology is soon in search of a new mythology.
Zenon Jepras’ bold expressionism is multi-sensual and dually-semantic and may be likened to this or that influence but it helps naught in understanding why this manner is not here a mannerism but an unavoidable – an only - pathway leading to what has to be narrated: time and again, from exhibition to exhibition, between Cyprus and Britain with Homer and Cavafis too, lurking in the shadows of the tragic insouciance of the archetypal figures of Jepras’.
Helenus, the Trojan prophet warns his comrades against trying to face excessive manhood, the warlike passion that seizes Diomedes. This passion is the menos breathed into him by the goddess Athena.

‘But this man is raging (mainetai) too much, and no one can draw equal with him in menos’.(6.100-1)


This menos, animates Zenon Jepras’ painting, rendering the thick texture more volatile and the actual actions of his heroes unique even in their triviality.
Their action then becomes praxis, worth depicting and worth immortalising in Art. OK. But why? Zepras’s menos emanates from the cracks not of the known German ‘New Sensitivity Movement’ but rather through the crevices of a contemporary world in order to reveal its incohesion and incoherence. Zenon Jepras starts from a world he knows best – or worst- Cyprus and Britain- and reveals the internal forces that tear them apart. The menos of the Cypriot Minotaur is now newly-assumed (as bravura rather) and often subdued. It is counteracted by the pleasure of the colour; and the allusion to music tears reality apart to emerge not as music but as clamour.
These are difficult times for Cyprus and unless the New Menos is found, Cyprus and its archetypical men, women and children may be last seen here tonight, not even recognisable as such, not even real enough.
Zepras’ pictorial narrative is modestly decipherable but ardently condensed with meaning. Do not mistake the aesthetic pleasure to be drawn as void of angst. The humour and drama here on this side of the Mediterranean with Zenon Jepras is the same as it is on the other side of the Atlantic with Edward Hopper only to underpin the fact that these times are tough. I told him last night, rather undiplomatically: The only optimism one can draw from his art, especially for me as a Cypriot is that the pigments and textures and lexeis that make up our civilisation will survive us – my generation- for the sake of Kimon and Eleni – our children.
Our only optimism is a New Menos, a liberating one this time, which Zenon Jepras anti - authoritatively, anti-antagonistically but most dramatically applies, implies - in Art – at least!

Dr Niki Katsaouni
Art Critic, Cultural Counsellor of the
Cyprus High Commission

 

 

The Colour of Memory, Dr Antonis Danos, 2002

 

Zenon Jepras's paintings may well be characterised as works of anthropocentric expressionism. Human figures dominate in all his pictures, while the surrounding space is rendered as a neutral oainterly surface, at times, as unspecified interiors or, more rarely, as equally unspecified exterior spaces.


In some of his older works - where one encounters a few (mostly urban) landscapes, influences can be traced (in iconographic as well as purely colouristic terms) from Belgian Symbolism, and more generally, modernism at the turn from the 19th century to the 20th. A rather apparent 'eference is the work of James Ensor (1860-1949), whose caustic sarcasm is also to be found in Jepras's work.
However, the dominant (art-historical) reference in his pictures seems to be the idiosyncratic expres-s onism (which later developed into the so-called "New Objectivity" work) of Max Beckmann ;1884-1950). There exists a strong theatrical, or stage-like, quality in the work by the German artist, 3 large part of which is made up of "historical", mythological and religious allegories, through which contemporary existentialist, metaphysical, social and political concerns are being expressed. Jepras's pictures might not exhibit the multi-layered and richly symbolic structure of Beckmann's; "nevertheless, we are encountered with similar, theatrically staged scenes, where current socio-political situations and phenomena are dressed in timeless clothing, the fabric of which is made c' the threads of Greek mythology. Mythological references are particularly dominant in some cf Jepras's older work cycles, such as, "Odysseia", "The Gaze of Oedipus" and "Minotaur Dreams". T^e artist himself has often talked of his interest in, and aim at rendering contemporary life through mythological symbols and narratives. It is an open question, as far as I am concerned, .vhether the specific references to mythology, provided by his pictures' titles, actually help the .!ewer to enter more easily into Jepras's artistic universe, or whether they are detrimental to the viewer-artwork "interaction", in that this exchange is forced into a rather narrow narrative framework

.
n any case, direct references to mythology have been greatly reduced in the pictures of his atest work cycle, which bears the overall title "The Colour of Memory". The rather vague, even "icidental, one might say, titles of his latest pictures leave room for an enjoyable stroll into the oersonal, yet accessible, world of Jepras. n "The Execution", for instance, three female figures, armed with knives, spoons and forks,
threateningly dominate the picture surface, while their frightening gaze is directed toward a point outside of it, presumably, at the victim of their imminent attack! A similar combination of humour and social "commentary" is encountered in "The Bookeeper": A man, busy working, sits in front of a table that carries the tools of his trade - a large calculator and books. The setting, however, must be that of his own home, the privacy and "safety" of which allows him to "protect" himself from the public gaze - his back is turned on us. Moreover, he is able to reject the public side of his work role: he is working in his underwear, while, under the calculator there appears another male figure, dressed in a suit, that hangs off the table, head down - he is both literally and metaphorically the "skin" (official dress, mask or outer layer) the accountant has shed, albeit temporarily.


Jepras lives and works in London. His anthropocentric work could not but be influenced by a corresponding tradition in Britain - one that is not confined to British-born artists - which can roughly be traced from Lucian Freud (b, 1922) and Paula Rego (b. 1935) to Jenny Saville (b. 1970) and other young artists. Jepras's work can been regarded in this light: the iconograhic elements as well as the formalistic and technical aspects of most pictures from "The Colour of Memory" exhibit affinities with such a tradition in painting, especially with the work of Rego. Scenes of seemingly ordinary human interaction, that has frozen in time, as if people have stopped to "pose", transform the natural and the banal into artificial and extraordinary. Human bodies, moreover, are treated with a realism that verges on caricature, which is accentuated by the emphasis on the texture of the human flesh.


More generally, Jepras's oeuvre may be placed within the framework of neo-representational painting that, even through it traces its origins within modernism, it continues and, more importantly, has renewed the genre of painting, within the contemporary, post-modern condition.


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