“Wim Drion looks to the ground. Through the flat stones lining the streets of Paros, Drion sees the art of generations. “The beauty of Paros is not always the beauty you see on a postcard of the island. There is also an ordinary beauty. A beauty of the everyday.
A beauty you do not allow yourself to see as you run over it to work,” Drion says. The Apothiki Art Gallery, situated in the Kastro area of Paroikia, will host an exhibit “Dutch Variations on Greece” starting 5 July in collaboration with the Netherlands Institute of Athens. As a Dutch painter inspired by Greece, Drion, along with Ruud Mattes and Barbara Meter, will be featured. Drion has entitled his exhibit “Psaroplakes” – literally translated as “fish stones.” Looking to the streets of Paros, Drion sees his canvas. The abstract strokes of his brush mirror the whitewashed lines framing the black stone roads. Drion watches women paint the whitewash on the ground. He sees their fingers trace the patterns of their ancestors. “What I see on the streets, the black stones, the white lines, it inspires me. The people who are aware, they see it. They see the old women continue to whitewash the streets. Some are very artistic. Some even draw fishes in between their white lines. For me, it is a small piece of art,” he explains. Twenty-nine years ago, Drion stumbled upon Paros by coincidence. At the harbour in Piraeus with wife, son and daughter, he stood staring at a map. Trying to choose a destination was like holding a globe in his hand, closing his eyes and picking a spot with the point of his finger. “I will never forget,” he says, “a man with the tourist police came up to me. He saw me reading the ferry departures. He took a long look at my young son and even younger daughter. He said, ‘I suggest Paros. It is safe and it is a close distance, so the children will not make mommy and daddy upset.’
” When he walked off the ferry, Drion fell in love at first sight. He was poor, a struggling independent artist. He camped on the beach with his family and swam naked in the Aegean Sea. “I have tried to go to other islands, but I always return to Paros,” he says. Drion lives in one of the oldest homes in the Kastro area. His residence is tucked away safely from the noise pollution of cars. In the mornings he can hear the donkey passing carrying vegetables for sale. “I close my eyes and I can still feel how it used to be,” he says. “I can see the oil lamps, remember the blackouts. It was a lovely time, very romantic, the best part of my life.” Drion lives half the year in Paros and takes his sketches, his snapshots and his memories of the island back to his studio in Amsterdam. When winter crawls into his art, his paintings turn dark and gray. Then he knows it is time to return to the transparent light of Paros. He is intoxicated with Paros. His island is his muse. “In the simplicity of the typical Cycladic house, I see beauty,’ he says. “To me, the layers of whitewash are like skin. I can see them breathe. The houses, the streets, they are beautiful because they have always been here.” It is not just the stone. Drion is attracted to the light, the colour and the people. Both the branches of the olive tree and the handsome hands of an angler repairing his nets inspire his themes. Drion compares his paintings to a novel. In the voice of every main character, there is a whisper of the author.
“A painting is pure fiction,” he says. “But you try to show something from reality mixed with something from yourself.” His paintings are personal. He paints what he sees and paints it the way he sees it. At first glance, it may look like an abstract taverna. You may not see the human figure. But look closely at his terracotta pot. You will find the shadow of a woman dancing.
Drion says that painting is a battle. He beholds his blank canvas. He starts his sketch. He stretches his idea. Then, during the process his painting takes over. “All of a sudden, a little part irritates you,” he explains. “You try to fix it, but the small detail rapidly takes over. You have to go through the whole painting again. You cry. You scream. From deep, deep down, it rebuilds itself.” Drion says painting is a handicap. “You are alone. You suffer. Then you finish. Sometimes it takes a long time to accept that you are done. Every time I finish, it still feels like the first time. I am never truly satisfied. Satisfaction is dangerous. If you are totally satisfied, you will not paint anymore.” He grows nervous when he is not thinking about painting. His work is his life. “My paintings are my veins, my blood, my beloved and my children,” he says. Drion is a professor at the Willem Kooning Academy of Fine Arts in Rotterdam. He instructs his students to search for their soul and advises them not to compromise. “You cannot do anything against your temperament, your character, your true self. Try to find your meaning, your secret, your story. This you cannot teach. You can teach techniques. Techniques are important, but they are only a tool. A technique alone is nothing. It is empty.” Drion feels the reward of teaching. His young students and their eager ideas refresh him. Today he sees himself back where he started, a young man painting oil on canvas. “I am back to my roots trying to make paintings. I always have been, am and always will be a painter.” Drion does not consider himself to be a political man, but his concern to preserve the history of Paros is so strong that he went to talk to Mayor Rangoussis about it. He does not want to see the streets of black stone and marble filled with concrete. He does not want to see electrical lines or plastic shutters. “Maybe it is because I am a grandfather now, but I think of the Paros that will be left for the children. I came to a breaking point. We must be careful, there is an essence that we must not allow to be lost. I have seen many mayors, many elections, but my interest in Paros, the culture and the quality of life made me go to speak with the Mayor now.
I support what he is doing. He sees the measures that hide behind small changes. He is aware. His actions protect Paros.” Drion is also very supportive of the Apothiki Art Gallery and would like to further raise the support of the community. “The Apothiki is unique,” he says. “It allows Greek-influenced art to be shown in its Parian home. It deserves our attention.” Drion still sees himself as a foreign visitor on Paros, but appreciates the people, their open minds and their welcome. “I know the compliment for which I am the most proud,” he says. “I was told I may not be Greek, but I am Parian!” by Athena Ponushis