Takis (Panayiotis) Marthas (1905-1965) was a Hellenic architect and painter, and a key figure in the field of Modern art.
He was born in 1905 in Lavrio, Attica, while his family hailed from Kea island.
He graduated from the Varvakeio Experimental High School (1924) and he studied architecture at the National Technical University of Athens NTUA (1924-1929).
During his studies he taught drawing for three years at the Athens Biotechnical School, him being recommended by Dimitris Pikionis.
In 1930 he joined the academic staff and became a lecturer in the Descriptive and Projective Geometry and Perspective Sketching Department of the NTUA (1930-1960) where later assistant professor of Architectural Design in the School of Architecture (1945) until his election, in 1960, as professor of Freehand Drawing at the Architectural School of the NTUA, remaining in that position till his death.
He also taught Geometrical Drawing, Sketching and Panoramic Drawing at the Hellenic Army Academy (Evelpidon), the Officer Cadet School, and worked as an architect in the Department of Hygiene for the Ministry of Health (1937-1939).
As a freelancer, he dealt with the study and supervision of typical works of ‘modern architecture of the interwar period’ in Athens (Apartment Building, 25 Metsovou str.) as well as first prize awarded architectural monuments such as:
· the Monument to the Fallen, in Piraeus, (1930) –
· second prize for his project for the whole area, in collaboration with the architect Μ. Kanakis-
· the Monument to the Fallen Sessions Aviation in Thessaloniki (1949)
· the composition for the national competition of the Ministry for Armed Forces, in collaboration with the Professor Κ. Biris.
In 1956-1958 he was President of the Association of Architects and represented Hellas at the International Association of Architects (UIA) in Paris.
For many years (1943-1960), he maintained a tutorial of Free Drawing for the candidates and final-year students of the Architectural School at his atelier, Solomou Street in Athens.
He never studied painting officially but he had been painting since his apprenticeship years at the Polytechnic School (1924-1929). He was self-taught, as self-taught as an architect can be since he had been provided with painting and plastic teaching and training at the School of Architecture of the NTUA, with professors Nicolaos Asprogerakas and Michalis Tompros. He first appeared as a painter at the 2nd Panhellenic Art Exhibition in 1939 and since then he has continued to participate in all Panhellenic societies until 1965.
His work was presented in solo and group exhibitions in Hellas and abroad, receiving distinctions in national competitions as well as international awards.
In 1955 he presented his first solo exhibition at the ADEL Hall. Marthas characterized it of retrospective nature, with works representing his output over the previous two decades of 1935-1955 and concerning three periods, as divided by the artist himself (1935-43, 1944-53, 1954-55).
More solo exhibitions followed in the gallery Zygos (1958)|Creuze gallery in Paris (1960) and “Hilton” in Athens (1963) and he also participated in the: Exhibition of Contemporary Greek Art – Stockholm (1947)|Young Exhibition – French Institute of Athens (1948)|Contemporary Exhibition, Kouros Art Gallery (1958)|Exhibition with Nautical Themes, Sarla Gallery, Athens (1959)|at the Exhibition of Modern Art Exhibition, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. (1959)|Exhibition of Contemporary Greek Art, Creuze Gallery (1959)|Salon de l’Art Libre exhibition, Paris (1959)|Group Exhibition Nees Morfes (1961)|International Exhibition of the Garnegie Institute, Pittsburgh (1961)|International Design Exhibition, American Federation of Arts, New York (1961) |VI Biennale of Sao Paulo (1961)|Floating Exhibition of Modern Greek Painters, Dorian Cruises (1964)|Exhibition Contemporary Greek Painting, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels (1964), Buenos Aires (1964), Antwerp (1964)|Exhibition of Israel’s partners’ gallery Nees Morfes (1965) as well and in group exhibitions in 1962, Antwerp (1963), Athens Hilton (1965), New Heights (1965) and Qantas Gallery in London (1965).
Post-mortem exhibitions: “Kennedy” Hall, Hellenic American Union (1970)|Offenent Tür Hamburg (1971)|Trito Mati Gallery, Athens (1978)|Zabo Gallery, Nuremberg (1981)|Cultural Center of the Municipality of Faliro (1983)|Takis Martha Resistance, Exhibition of Engravings, Law School of Democritus University of Thrace, Komotini (1984)|Ictinos Gallery, Athens (1984)|By Martha the Crucified, “Mihaila Averoff” Hall – Greek Writers’ Association (1986)|The Face of Postwar Art in Greece, Municipal Art Gallery, Athens (1986), Nees Morfes Galery, Athens (1986)|Exhibition Hall of the Municipality of Lavreotiki (1987)|Thessaloniki Municipal Gallery (1990)|Athens Municipal Gallery (1991)|Patras Municipal Gallery (1992)| Takis Martha’s participation at the Exhibition of European Painters – Conference of the International Literary Critics Association – AICL, European Art Center (EUARCE), (2004).
It would be preferred to distinguish two major periods in Takis Martha’s oeuvre: the first one which includes his artistic production until 1955 and the second one, particularly fruitful in experimentation, which culminated to a remarkable production covering the last decade of his life until his death in 1965.
Without moving away from traditional materials, such as tempera, oil, egg or pencil, his very first works -including also the years of apprenticeship at the Polytechnic School (1924-1929)- were mostly aquarelles, oil paintings, pencil and indian ink drawings. Although Marthas liked to mark out three periods regarding his early production, in order to differentiate it in a way, -as showed in his first retrospective exhibition in 1955- these indicative periods are not necessarily concurrent with breakthrough innovative employment of materials or ways and methods of applying and expressing.
In his premature period as an artist, he chose to depict subjects arising from his immediate environment, in their plurality seascapes, harbours, animals, human figures or various still life images with fish, boats, temples and houses. Building on a specific feeling that these subjects brought to his inner self, he emphasized on the design structure and its competitive relationship with colour, conveying deep sensitivity to the viewer. The subjects could be fundamentally recognizable, but not as the dominant image. It occurs that he liked to sign these first works of him as ‘Pan. Marthas’.
With the outbreak of the Greek-Italian War, he was recruited in the army and during the period of the German Occupation he joined the Resistance movement. Having been deeply affected by the bitter impact of the War and the drama of the Hellenic people which he experienced along with them, he felt like expressing himself through the engagement with one of the most apposite means for the time: engraving.
Signed by the name ‘Panagiotis’, with sense of respect and strong pulse but without exaggerated sentimentalisms, he created a series of paintings and engravings which are widely known as ‘Occupation Scenes’. Through rough lines and with the least possible of descriptive details he recorded such scenes as war disaster, suffering, slavery, hunger, roadblocks, executions or even more such acts of heroism as the removing of the swastika flag from the Sacred Rock of the Acropolis of Athens. It is said that probably the ‘Occupation Scenes’ series were additionally used to accompany signals that circulated secretly during the times of the German Occupation.
Martha’s bold lines, in this particular series, enhanced the drama embedded in the narrative and referenced the severity, while the formed images were filtered through the artist’s own experience both as a human and an artist. Thus, it is best to be interpreted more in terms of social offer during particularly difficult and unpleasant times despite any certain artistic weaknesses or strengths.
Generally, although limited in number, Martha’s etchings, mainly in copper or linoleum, constitute a separate unit of his total oeuvre, yet special and of great importance. Among them a number of portraits, the aforementioned tragedy scenes of the war and other themes that engrossed his interest since his student years.
But it was only after 1950 that his abstract compositions came in and he started to move away from representational painting leading himself gradually, circa 1960, to Abstraction. This second phase of his work, taking in the final decade of his life, may be considered as the most substantial contribution to Hellenic Modern art due to his radically new, far beyond the norms and bold, to an utmost degree, artistic expression in terms of choice, employing and combination of materials, painting surfaces and techniques.
Curator’s note: Acknowledged as one of the forerunners of Abstract art in Hellas, Takis Marthas, paving the way, has earned a historical place among its pioneers. Not only did he subsequently lead the development of the Hellenic Modern art, but also he exerted an influence on later Modernism, in general.
While in Europe and America Abstract art was being explored in depth leading up to numerous avant-garde art movements embodying Abstraction, in Hellas the suspiciousness and the resistance shown, by both the artistic cycles and the public, forced the creators to a painstaking effort, showing special skill and considerate in dealing with the public opinion. Due to the fact that the movement was coming from abroad, the artists were additionally concerned with the research of patterns and practices that would give Abstract art a Hellenic identity of its own in order to be popularized and there appreciated.
Takis Marthas, both as a professor and an independent artist, deeply incorporated and communicated the aesthetics that Abstract art represented right from its appearance. He valued the experimentation and invention that Abstraction allows, and even today, his work maintains such a progressive style that someone could say as if it looks shockingly similar to contemporary Abstract art.
His process is rooted in his feeling for the material, especially for those provided to him by technology and had been familiar with by using them as an architect. The media/the materials, often cheap, and their transformation into structural, liturgical elements, with an artistic function, gradually played a leading role to his work, in place of the subject or of same importance to that of colour.
Watercolours, oil and acrylic paints were mixed with plaster, glues, cork, burlap, enamels, cloth, thread, newspaper, corrugated cardboard, papier-mâché, sellotex, tulle, feathers, bakelite and even more, first ever, at least in Greek art, building materials such as sand, polystyrene, and many others.
All were employed in an imaginative way -practically extreme for the time- experimenting with a sheer number of techniques and styles: for instance, compositions either of small disconnected parts or sporadic elements; canvases either complicated in structure and consisting of interconnected parts, geometrical or without restraint, free and open; synthesis either having a dark hue, shadowed, devoid of light or brightness and small in range of colours or made of a colour blast; sometimes relief forms, others flat; either liquid colour application or stained like daubing with a dye; graphisms, etc.
The reconceptualization of the artistic process as more akin to experiment was introduced to Takis Marthas through Bauhaus, the single most influential art school of the 20th century. As a student and later a professor of architecture himself, Bauhaus’s teachings and key ideas had a strong effect upon him, especially those regarding the unity of the theoretical and practical artistic creation. Media used in functional craft or manufacturing are placed inventively onto his canvases, brought out as aesthetic symbols with soul and expression. According to the chosen materials and the ways of their using, small or wider units of his oeuvre may, eventually, be distinguished as, for instance, works made on bakelite or cork where collage has the main synthetic role or other groups developed on coloured surfaces.
Despite the peril of arousing controversy on account of breaking with established artistic standards and traditional aesthetics, especially in his early stages of testing or unfulfilled attempts, Takis Marthas permeated a truly sincere modern artistic thought. He was never limited to a rational, dry, flat artistic approach of simple handling or shaping the materials. First and foremost, he was interested in the meaning and the noted impact of this creative process for himself and the audience. From his point of view, this artistic experience was not to portioned off from the spirit, but instead, was to find its place as an integrated, embodied perceptual process that culminates to the exhalation of the matter itself. His inner self let the craftsman encounter the lettered man, making bold connections between materials, aesthetic elements and ideas beyond the canvas.
Furthermore, an islander by birth, Marthas was deeply fascinated by the Hellenic landscape: the sea, the plain, the rock. The more he studied it the more he uncovered its hidden geometry. The architectural structure, the multiformity that characterize the Hellenic land scenery, along with the uniqueness of the Hellenic light, constituted sources of inspiration for him.
In his canvases he moves between two fundamental points as basic principles: colour and geometry, until in some cases he manages to merge and unite both masterfully.
On the one hand, colour’s different qualities and transparencies in relation to alternations of flow and spots suggest that the arrangement of colour was of primary interest to Marthas. He was interested in infinite ways colour could be applied to develop advanced and beguiling compositions beyond and outside the ordinary range. The colour sometimes underlines or is added to the design and sometimes it enters and with its exuberance creates the feeling of saturation.
On the other hand, plexus of suggestive forms and energetic shapes tend to conquer the space of Marthas’ canvases giving viewers a veritable setting of lines to follow and connections to make. Through the quality of being complexly arranged and developed in an intricate and compounded way within the paintings’ space, these complexes enthral the curiosity and arouse stimulation on perspectives of actuality which cannot be fully articulated through language. This state of veritableness sometimes underlies either to pure geometry of points and lines and curves and surfaces or is uttered in a sinuous, spiral or circular course as having an oblique or slanted direction through a neo-baroque kind of artistic expression.
Consequently, the schematics and the coherence of Marthas’ paintings’ structure, as a united, orderly and aesthetically consistent whole, are usually defined by the interaction between colour, shape, mark-making and surface.
His brand of mixed-media amorphous abstraction draws, even till today, attention to the singularity of his own oeuvre which, undoubtedly, contributed catalytically to the development and elevation of the Hellenic Modern art. Indelibly, linked with Abstraction’s revolutionary ethos, Takis Marthas succeeded to impose on and became one of the most distinctive figures of the Hellenic artistic avant-garde of all ages.
- Christos Christouu, Painting in the Twentieth Century, Vol. I (Thessaloniki 1972), Vol. II (Athens 1981).
- Eleni Vakalo Ornan, The Face of Post-War Art in Greece, Athens, 1981.