athinaion cafe completed / by Philip Tarlow

athinaion café 38.5x11 cm. gouache on archival paper

today i was able to complete athinaion café, a painting in gouache on paper which will be sent to athens, greece & become part of in an exhibition about the “athens school” of painters who were active during the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. i was the only non-greek member of this group, who were interested in making paintings of everyday life in was not a formal group, but some of us did exhibit our work together, especially in ora gallery.

nikos vatopoulos, who has organized this show, emailed me & asked if i could make a painting in that genre, which would also incorporate an example of one of the remaining neoclassical buildings in central athens. nikos has written about my work & reviewed some of my shows in greece.

the smaller paintings in gouache that i did at the time were all done on site. so for this one, i would have been sitting opposite the café with a portable easel, ideally in a shady spot.

obviously, that was not possible in this case, so i found a photo i had shot on a trip to athens in 2011, printed it out on a 17x11” piece of paper and worked from that. although many years have passed since i made paintings like the one you see here, it’s easy for me to get back into the vibe. sometimes i can even smell the air & hear the conversatipons happening at this landmark café just across from the acropolis, in a neighborhood called thision.

had i been on site, the colors would likely have been softer. those tans, earth reds & ochres have remained my favorite palette. almost all of athens & piraeus was, until the 50’s, dominated by neoclassical architecture, which had been introduced by the germans in the 19th century, in their passion for recreating the purity & beauty of ancient greece. they even introduced a form of greek closer to ancient prototypes, called katharevousa, which, for a time, all school children were required to learn. it never caught on, and was used mainly in legal documents and, for a time in newspaper articles.

neoclassical architecture, on the other hand, soon filled cities, towns & islands, so suited is it to the landscape. many of these buildings are still standing in places like syros, capitol of the cycladic island grouping. but in athens & piraeus, a combination of greed and ignorance of the importance of these landmark buildings won out, resulting in the demolition of many of them and, as result, the degradation of the visual beauty that was athens.