The Metamorphosis of Vine to Wine
Charcoal, 78" x 57"
"Three bowls do I mix for the temperate: one to health, which they empty first; the second to love and pleasure; the third to sleep. When this bowl is drunk up, wise guests go home. The fourth bowl is ours no longer, but belongs to violence; the fifth to uproar; the sixth to drunken revel; the seventh to black eyes; the eighth is the policeman's; the ninth belongs to biliousness; and the tenth to madness and the hurling of furniture."
From the play Semele or Dionysus by Eubulus, c. 375 BC
I never knew my grandfather, on the Greek side, but am named after him, Constantinos;
His nickname on the island was Barba Chedeli.
He cleared all the stones from the valley to grow crops that were sold at the market.
Built his own house, furnace and wine press where grapes were crushed underfoot.
Drinking in moderation, but enough to loosen the poetics of song and dance.
In the face of war and famine, he was quite simply, glass half full.
I thought I knew my father, a Pole.
But he could never talk about the war and famine that exiled him to England.
Vodka was never enough to loosen the poetics of song and dance.
He loved me but I don't know if he was ever truly contented.
No words in any language could quench his half-empty thirst.
The mist drifts down the vineyard and into the corridors of the mind.
This is the story of four bowls plus one and four.
Drinking rituals executed with no particular rhyme or reason, beginning or end.
An Existential compulsion.
Top, left to right: Ruin of house built by Konstantinos Christofis, oven and wine press
Bottom: Valley of rocks cleared for cultivation of crops, Oinousses
Musical refugee as the city of Smyrna burns
24x20" charcoal 2009
A cafe in Smyrna where a Greek lad brazenly sings about killing and raping the enemy;
And as he staggers home, drunk, after closing hours, a knife is plunged into his stomach.
He dies in the arms of his sister asking for a glass of water.
The heavens finally open to provide relief to the unseasonal temperatures.
The family are sharing a heady brew, performing the last rites with a night vigil.
Tomorrow they will gather their strength to bury the elder.
But the stomach of the corpse starts to rumble and the children laugh, contagiously.
They and the dead have not eaten any food in three days.
The radio broadcasts convey the indifference and desperation of the phoney war.
The family decide to bury their prized possessions, including a crate of wine,
Little suspecting that the Nazi's will plant a colony of new forests on their land;
At the same time, neighbours are either executed, or forced to wear a yellow triangle on their back.
Bound and gagged
23x19" Charcoal 2010
The student on the Intercity 125 has a Cold-War identity crisis.
Tucked in the breast pocket of his 1940s herringbone overcoat is a 50ml bottle of Glenfiddich
And a notebook of Ted Hughes-inspired poetry written under the pseudonym of Marian Evans.
The wonders of a comprehensive education and full-maintenance grants;
With enough left-over change in the other pocket to fund decadent posturing.
Thatcherism hasn't fully fucked up or revolutionised the country, yet.
Every time she cooked a meal, pasta alla wild fungi, cooked in red wine,
Trying to worm her way to his heart through the stomach:
His stomach ached and gassed for several hours, kiss by kiss.
Lilac Wine by Jeff Buckley was playing in the background.
There is a lone child in the other room of the flat and it is hungry.
With bottles scattered behind pot plants, cans crushed under sofa cushions,
She has had too much to drink and vomits up a meal of alphabet vegetable soup.
And now still retching, trying to divine the significance of letters in the sink...G...M...T....
Suspense with suspenders
24x20" Charcoal 2009
It's a hen cruising night at Camden, three over the clock.
Sat on the edge of a kerb stone, dress semi-hoisted, bladder overflowing,
She wants to leave her piss stain for all the zombies in town.
England have been knocked out of the World Cup.
Then. Commotion. Club-crawlers are alarmed.
But as her eyes refocus, there is a female death-metal band running down the street.
She laughs at this godforsaken photoshoot and dribbles more pee.
Instinctively. Fingers. Instagram.
He has a name in the art world for creative notoriety in the manner of Francis Bacon:
Violently bragging about who dares wins, fuelled by drink more harmful than cocaine and heroin.
Not to be outdone, his partner has left him for an Amsterdam retreat.
They are cursed to fantasise about each other in hangover and high mushrooming cloud.
The cuts and bruises still fresh on their respective bodies.
There is a trade war between China and America.
Tree as a thorn in my eye
(Set design after Wojciech Has's Saragossa Manuscript)
23x19" Charcoal 2010
Donning hat and coat and slipping on dancing shoes.
Le freak, c'est chic or is it the Can-Can?
His or her mind is shifting in time and place.
And this is the first time you fully recognise a problem with hearing and balance.
All those drunken conversations and couplings, fading to static and then silence.
The flesh, still willing, spinning you on the dance floor; until the world falls from grace.
Your life was foretold in the opening sequence of the film, Le Plasir (1952),
Where a masked young dandy celebrates life on the dance floor, then collapses.
How is that possible?
Perhaps, if we cut out the liver and rip-off the facial mask,
Everything in the spurting toxic blood will be revealed as both ancient and Science-Fiction.
L-R: Three generations: Konstantinos, Constantine and Kazimierz Gras
Greek column at Willesden High School
2003, oil pastels, A3
Love vase for Jacqueline Augustine - Rice and peas and ackee!
2005, Acrylics, A3
War vase for Achillea Achillea - I'll kill ya, Achillea!
2005, Acrylics, A3
Visionary vase for Mr Cobb - Artist, Musician, History Teacher
2005, Acrylics and Oil Pastel, A3
British Museum, Friends Opening 26/11/07
Ian Jenkins discusses the vanity, erotica and power of the Elgin Marbles
Flag flutters for freedom over the Greek island of Oinousses.
Candles flame still for the Chios massacre and diaspora.
No chime at church but the goats assemble with their brassy bells.
Mythological calm beyond the horizon.
My cousin guards dinner plates teeming with tens of thousands of bass and bream.
End of shift. Shift. Play.
I travel with Homer and Ms. Simpson to the castle at Mytilene.
Down at the taverna, news spills out about the landing of 17 Turkish asylum seekers.
Swimming against the tide that just won't turn.
Solitude on a beach with grains of sand that you can count in one palm.
Final visit to the stone house that my grandfather built as a refugee from Asia Minor.
The boat departs from Oinousses with a memory that can never return.
Greek War of Independence, 1821-1829
Greek nation state established after 400 years of Ottoman empire rule.
Greco-Turkish War, 1919-1922
Greek invasion of Northwestern part of Anatolia is defeated with establishment of modern Turkish state.
Treaty signed in 1923 to effect a population exchange of 1.5 million Greeks and Turks.
UNESCO have just listed Rebeitko on its Cultural Heritage List. This is the music and dance that my grandparent's generation brought over to Greece in the 1920s after they were displaced from the crumbling Ottoman empire. The happenings at late night cafes and clubs articulated the feelings of refugees. They grappled with poverty and despair while searching for earthy love and spiritual consolation.
Oinousses is 1 mile from Chios and 5 miles west of Turkey. Its waters, airspace and land are contested.
At its peak in 2015, more than one million migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea. The islands of Lesbos, Chios and Oinousses, given their close proximity to the Turkish mainland, are one of easiest zones of approach into Europe for asylum seekers and economic migrants coming from Western Asia, South Asia and Africa.
I’m going to climb up to the highest mountain and sing.
When I cry and am in pain, the mountain will sigh.
To Μικρό ταξίδι
To Micro Taxithi
The small journey.
This is the name scholars gave to the 8km journey across the azure stretch of Aegean sea
From Anatolia, Asia-Minor, Turkey in-the-making
A red-blooded journey once made from that landmass to the Greek island of Oinoussa.
My family and other animals were empire builders, well versed in trading, seafaring.
Of late they had settled into tilling the Ottoman soil and and selling crops to market.
This bucolic existence prepared them not a jot for twentieth century war, famine, genocide.
Forced to flee and cast out to sea, my grandparents made that small journey from Anatolia to Oinoussa in 1922
While over a million Greeks (not to mention Greek and Turkish muslims) were displaced from their ancient homeland.
Modern refugees from Syria and other conflicted regions are making this self-same journey
Across the Aegean to Oinoussa and the nearby islands of Chios and Lesbos.
Where will their journey take them ?
I am compelled to tell of another more expansive journey in 1943.
The phoney war was dead real and my father limped on foot and by boat from Poland to England.
He joined the Polish Free Army and armed with wings of freedom parachuted back into Europe
Only to experience a bitter victory as Communism replaced Nazism.
He joined the ranks of over 200,000 Poles who settled down for a new life in England.
A small journey from Włocławek to London, boy to man, soldier to carpenter.
Return back to the future on the island of Oinoussa.
In 1959 my mother makes the painful decision to wave goodbye to her father for the last time.
Her sister has already made the move and tempts her with dresses from Shepherds Bush market.
Another journey is made by boat to the white cliffs of Dover and a sterling new world.
A small journey from Oinoussa to London, girl to woman, servant to dinner-lady.
While my father's earthly voyage has ended, the diaspora is beginning anew.
Today more desperate migrations are being made by air, land and even under the English channel.
Bodies are once again being washed ashore on the beaches of Oinoussa, Chios and Lesbos.
Where will all these journeys take you?
If one day you arrive on this fair isle of England, I will be there to welcome you.
Polish Parachute Brigade, 1945
Farewell party for Moshoula Christofis
The house my Grandfather built in 1922 on the island of Oinoussa
The transmigration of Greek souls
16x12 " oil pastels
The small journey across the Aegean
64x41 " oil pastels