Chryssa Romanos (1931-2006), a distinctive Greek artist, quickly established an individualized style which placed her at the forefront of global artistic developments of her time. Her work is characterized by a critical position on sociopolitical and artistic issues, as well as poetic polysemy.
Chryssa Romanos was born in Athens, where she lived until 1961 and again from 1981 onwards, but the intermediate two decades she spent in France (1961-1981) determined her artistic temperament. There she met her future husband Nikos Kessanlis, as well as various other artistic personas. Romanos was part of the group of Greek diaspora artists who lived and worked in Western art capitals during the post war period. For the first time in recent Greek history, Greek artists would play an instrumental role in the formation of international artistic movements.
Beginning late into 1964, and for the next two years, Chryssa Romanos would create the series Labyrinths, Targets, Horoscopes, Casino, Reportage, and Maps. She would collect and select depictions of reality taken from the photographic footage of highly circulated contemporary newspapers or magazines, iconic images of consumer products or mechanics, documentary accounts of current events, fragments of landscapes and geographic or land registry maps. Romanos would then compile these materials in dialectic relation with written or printed words in order to articulate her own critique of society, artwork and the function of the arts therein.
Amidst the backdrop of Pop Art and its French equivalent, Nouveau Réalisme, and more broadly of Neo-dadaism, it was the moment in which reality invaded the canvas in the form of found material, a derivative of the readymade, or language. Chryssa Romanos draws on the techniques of Dadaist collage, the language of mass-culture advertisement, and the written tongue, not to praise, but to mount a critical commentary on capitalist culture. Similarly, she juxtaposes the irrational, the playful and the fantastic with the sociopolitical framework denoted. Her direct and poignant critical opinion is informed by the climate of general defiance that would lead to May ’68.
Since 1980/81 the artist has worked systematically in large-scale décollage on plexiglas. This method, used by the Nouveaux réalistes of the ’60s, was embraced by Chryssa Romanos as the natural successor of previous artistic investigations and got personalized. The artist would begin by gluing publications and other paper materials (adverts, maps, periodicals, photographic replicas of historic artworks…) on Plexiglas. Once it dried she intervened with a wet sponge, rubbing the surface of the paper until it came partly undone. This procedure was repeated with consecutive layers of paper, which however remain thin and translucent. The artist acts on the back of the work; consequently the final front surface would reveal itself to her only after the procedure was completed. The technique of gluing and erasing overlaid paper materials necessarily emphasizes the procedure itself and produces dynamic visual palimpsests. Rhythmic labyrinths of forms and colours, structured by notional axes and uneven sections, where occasionally Rorschach’s inkblots might be discerned, invite the gaze and mind to wander. Reading is neither linear nor guaranteed. The fractured space contains the traces of liberated gesture, memory and cultural experience.
Chryssa Romanos’ varied oeuvre includes also: abstract painting, monotype collage, Meccano –a sculptural series based on the known children’s model construction system– and a series of silkscreens in diary format.