AMM Featured Artist: Atelier Omiros & La Galleria, Glimpsing Heaven in Bedford, NY and in The Vatican
Have you ever seen God? That probably sounds like an odd question, but theophany (when God, or a god, appears to a person) emerges large in our collective human experience, is not an uncommon experience. From the burning bush to the escapades of Zeus, from the visions of the holy mystics to the serene smile of the Buddha, we humans want to see and know more of about God, Heaven, and the Divine.
We want to believe there is more to reality than what our five senses can reveal, so we tell and re-tell the stories of when we saw God, felt Heaven, or experienced the Divine.
One of the most famous accounts of God, Heaven and the Divine comes from the Synoptic Gospels: The Transfiguration of Jesus. Many of the world’s great artists focused on portraying this most electrifying of mountain-top experiences, yet among Fra Angelico, Bellini, Botticelli and others, the Vatican’s masterpiece of this experience by Raphael stands alone.
It is unusual for depicting tiered Biblical scenes in the same painting: the transfiguration of Christ floats in the upper section, while the Apostles helping a boy suffering from demonic possession occupies the lower section. Raphael reveals Jesus transfigured, his face shining like the sun, his clothes dazzling white. The entire upper portion of the painting glows with this glorious light from Heaven, which spills over and splashes down onto the all-too-earthly scene unfolding at the base of Mount Tabor. Raphael forges ahead with an entirely new emphasis on expressiveness, creating a striking complexity of form and light. The confounded disciples, the gesticulating crowd, the fatigued and apprehensive father who holds his afflicted boy, all coordinate into a heightened drama that was new to Biblical narrative in the High Renaissance.
For centuries, the Transfiguration captured the imagination and scholarly devotion of artists and critics alike. Eventually it fell out of favor, and even the movements that replaced the High Renaissance gave way to modernism and the abstract tastes of the 20th century. No one, it would seem, painted the classical stories of theophany anymore.
Then, along comes Omiros. Like Raphael (who apprenticed at eight years of age) and other titans, the sheer force of Omiros’ creative intelligence surfaced early. Despite being permanently blinded in his right eye, he learned to process the world around him in a new and unique pictorial language. This language became his refractory way to speak in color, form and abstraction—his own Figural Abstraction nested at the juncture and conjuncture of both.
In 1979, while simultaneously working on several periods, themes and series eager to communicate the Byzantine iconography of the Greek Orthodox church, he hurled himself into representing—as did Fra Angelico, Bellini, Botticelli, Raphael and others— the otherworldly God, Heaven and the Divine. And for the next 27 years he painted “The Byzantine.” Alive with brilliant color and dynamic interaction, these compositions weave together a passion for the holy stories with a deep reverence for his medium.
Several of these heavenly paintings currently on view at Atelier Omiros & La Galleria compare strikingly with Raphael’s masterpiece. Omiros himself forges ahead with an entirely new emphasis on expressiveness, creating a striking complexity of abstraction and figuration in form, color, and light, as can be seen with Paradise, The Martyrs and The Last Judgement.
In Paradise, a dramatic composition with tiered Biblical scenes in the same painting, Omiros masterfully depicts both the supernatural and the natural in one image, as Raphael did in Transfiguration, separated by the River of Life. Throughout the lower half of the painting, he effectively storyboards the entire trajectory of the creation, temptation, fall, expulsion, and ultimately, the restoration of Adam and Eve. Just as a Cubist would seek to compress every facet of a subject into two dimensions, so Omiros distills every stage of the human narrative into one canvas, proving himself not only a master storyteller, but one with a vision outside time and space itself.
Centered within these vignettes of Adam and Eve, we see a transparent oval containing Jesus and his earthly ministry of healing, reconciliation and atonement. The oval symbolizes the perfection of the egg, sustaining all that is necessary for life, or spiritual life. The striking white of Christ’s robe here sets him apart from all the rest. With just a few strokes of the brush, Omiros distills what Mark says of the transfigured Christ: “His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.”
Similarly, below in The Martyrs, Omiros again shows us a composition with tiered Biblical scenes in the same painting, the glorified Christ on his throne, arrayed in a white so dazzling and pure that we recall the Transfiguration as well as the visions of the Son of Man recorded in both Testaments. Omiros, endlessly inventive, fashioned what he called a “roto-brush”,” by attaching a paintbrush to an electric drill. Said device may be how he achieves the rays of paint that emanate outward and upward from the Throne itself. These directional flecks of paint enhance many of his Byzantine works, adding to the centrifugal energy radiating from Christ, the spiritual anchor of these intricate compositions.
Vibrant teal blue pools at the feet of the Lord seep downward, enveloping most of the “cloud of witnesses”,” extending even beyond the boundaries of the canvas. This heavenly hue embraces—or glances off – each figure, even those who are committing violence. Nothing escapes the notice of this attentive Christ, whose gaze bends down in concern for those who love him, as well as for those who do not.
The arms of Jesus extend openly, embracing the mass of humanity below. His symmetrical, balanced figure conveys his Lordship. He seems to gesture to the archangels, having them refrain from intervening in the scene below, as they hold their powerful spears at ease. Their enormous figures take up much of the upper quadrants, with their vast wings framing the composition even as they flank the throne of the Most High.
The martyrs themselves form a coherent mass, connected by gesture and gaze. Here we see tremendous unity among those who suffer in solidarity for their beliefs. Upon closer examination of the crowd of souls, each reacts differently to the suffering experienced in the front row. Some are perturbed, especially the face in the bottom right corner, and many brows draw together in sorrow and apprehension. To the right we see an arched doorway, through which a figure with his back to us passes away from this temporal life, entering the presence of God.
As in Raphael’s masterpiece, gestures and upturned faces connect the two halves of the picture. Goethe wrote persuasively of the integrated nature of Raphael’s Transfiguration, and his words also apply to the compositional choices by Omiros.
As Goethe asserted”,”The two are one: below suffering, need, above, effective power, succor. Each bearing on the other, both interacting with one another.”
Comparably, in The Last Judgment, Omiros again masters a composition with tiered Biblical scenes in the same painting with its churning mass of figures and layers of action that immediately brings to mind The Last Judgment by Michelangelo. Omiros also alludes to Tintoretto, El Greco and others in his sweeping declaration of our ultimate fate.
Here Omiros depicts God the Father in the upper tier of highest Heaven, with God the Son just below, united in their last judgment of all humanity. Next to the Father we see a trio of saints, their golden crowns aglow, echoing but a hint of the conflagration below. In line with tradition, Omiros shows Christ flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. John holding open the Book of Life. Saints and angels surround them, as Jesus inclines his gaze to the right, toward the saved souls who worship him. Michael the archangel stands just at the feet of Christ, holding the scales of judgment and conversing with the horned figure of Satan.
Battalions of angels in brilliant peacock blue, symbolizing the purity of the ranks of Heaven, advance toward the bottom edge of the painting. They hold the line against the damned souls, reinforcing it with their imposing javelins. Flaming orange and red consume the lower edge of the canvas, flickering against the nude bodies of those who have been consigned to hell. The reddish raw silk of the canvas shows through not only at the edges but throughout the image, unifying the intricate composition with an intensity that highlights the luminous, serene figure of Christ at the center of all.
When viewing Raphael and Omiros side by side, the similarities are more striking than the differences. Raphael strove for perfection; he would never have revealed his hand at work by leaving a brushstroke visible. Omiros on the other hand, wants us to experience the action right along with him. He who could draw with the best of the old Masters, mostly chose to set aside natural observation for an augmented pictorial vision. So, while Raphael and Omiros seem so different and even diametrically opposed in sensibility, each artist was groundbreaking and breathtaking in his own right.
Raphael and Omiros allow us to glimpse God, Heaven and the Divine with their versions of theophany, as the stories have been told for millennia, and as they individually encounter God, Heaven and the Divine on their own terms. The word sprezzatura, coined by Raphael’s famous friend Baldassare Castiglione, describes a studied carelessness that conceals effort or artistry. Both Omiros and Raphael make it look easy! We want to believe there is more to reality than what our five senses reveal, and so we look and see God, Heaven and the Divine in Raphael and in Omiros’ masterpieces.
Omiros’ Byzantine paintings depicting God, Heaven and the Divine are currently on view at Atelier Omiros & La Galleria until they travel for a permanent exhibition at the Vatican in 2020.
In fact, one of Omiros’ paintings of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus, from The Byzantine exhibition is already at the Vatican, having been given by Marlene Saile to His Holiness Pope Francis, himself, June 26th, 2019. Omiros painted it in 2001, representing the Virgin Mary as Theotokos, the mother of Christ, and the gateway to humanity.
While the paintings of the religious Masters now in cities far flung might be beyond reach for a simple excursion to go and see God, Atelier Omiros & La Galleria present Omiros’ Byzantine, where we can glimpse God. These beautiful paintings are easily accessible and well worth a day trip to a peaceful quaint 200-year-old farmhouse in the picturesque Village of Bedford, New York. Well, at least until they go to the Vatican!
The ensuing exhibition, titled :a WHOLE wOrLd: which opens on October 5th, 2019, will show selected paintings from his Abstract, Four Seasons, Fashion, Sports, Equestrian and Formula 1 themes depicting Omiros’ mastery in the incredible juxtaposition of themes, as expressed in his unique expressionistic Figural Abstraction style.
As a title for a single exhibition, :a WHOLE WOrLd: may sound a bit ambitious, yet Omiros was as epic as his name: “Homer” in Greek. Here is an artist who also painted colossal 400-yard canvases of deep space! The exhibition title comes from the abstract painting below selected for the exhibit, itself a vast composition measuring nearly eighteen feet wide.
As the centerpiece of the new exhibition”,”Two Colors: A Whole World“, will hang amid the other stunning works. As wide as the range of topics is, every single work represents Omiros’ unwavering goal throughout his life: “to praise beauty in all its forms.”
Atelier Omiros & La Galleria will also present some of Omiros’ extensive work in other media, as well, including drawings and ceramic tiles.
Locally, some of Omiros’ paintings are also on display at the Bedford Playhouse (www.bedfordplayhouse.org/on-exhibit) in Bedford with an exhibition of Omiros’ “Pure Abstraction“,” DiBiase/Filkoff (www.dibiasefilkoff.com/gallery) in Pound Ridge with an exhibition of Omiros’ “My Free Space” and at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church with a permanent gift of a painting from The Byzantine titled “Pilgrims at Emaus.”
Curator and Executive Director
Atelier Omiros & La Galleria
11-15 Court Road
Bedford, New York 10506