A scene from the performance “The Trojan Women” in 2020.
Below, “The God of Carnage”, the last play N. Sinodis directed.
Is it possible to live two lives in one?
Well, it seems so!
Interview: Avgi Kalogianni | Photos: Vaggelis Fragkakis
In the case of Nikos Synodis, at least, this is what happened. He passed from life to death and back to life again. And he started over from scratch. Several of his life files, including that of speech, were corrupted and had to be reconstructed from the beginning. But others, such as painting and his passion for the theatre, remained intact and good to go, though in a different form.
Nikos Synodis was born in Lesvos in the 1950s. His father, Stelios Synodis, was a photographer – an acclaimed one. Nikos has an artistic streak and seeks an outlet to let it out. He doesn’t want to follow in the artistic footsteps of Stelios, as he himself usually calls him –he doesn’t wish to compete with the father. In the photographic studio, he happens to meet painter Lolossides who gives him his first art classes.
But painting is not enough for him. He also steps into the world of the theatre, initially as an actor and, later, as an assistant director and director. Shortly after finishing high school, he leaves his hometown of Lesvos to go to Athens. He enters a drama school while attending drawing classes. Taking his father’s advice, he works in a bank so as to put food on the table and, thus, be completely free to pursue his artistic practice.
He overflows with exuberant talent. He acts, directs, creates sets, and associates his name with some of the most prominent figures of modern Greek theatre, the likes of Skourtis, Dialegmenos and Pontikas, among others. He has an extrovert side too, as he travels to France and Japan representing Greece in the World Amateur Theatre Festival.
At the same time, he moves along in his painting focusing on the aquarelle technique that allows him to directly express what his imagination conceives. The sheer freedom watercolours impart fascinates him.
His work will take him to many a place across Greece, invariably, the islands. It’s the condition he sets for accepting the frequent job transfers he has to undergo as a bank manager. One of these posts is Kefalonia. There, fascinated by the villages that have been ruined by the devastating earthquake of 1953, he will create a series of heretical icons on old wooden boards, doors and windows of the abandoned houses. His works are exhibited in individual and group exhibitions while featuring in private collections in Greece and abroad, and his name will be entered in the Encyclopedia of Artists released by Melissa Publications.
In 2000, we find him in Paros where he re-establishes Archilochos Theatre Company putting on the first of a series of plays, Bost’s Medea. As noted in the play’s brochure: “A few crazy yet pure-hearted lovers of art and good taste –worthy toilers, accused of mindless romanticism and, possibly, maladjustment, just before getting crushed, decided to take action, turn off their TVs, come out of their houses, and team up to set the ball rolling on ARCHILOCHOS’ theatrical arm.
They aim at achieving the impossible by staging a performance in 45 days. They are being kept on their toes from morning till night, putting together sets and dance routines, composing music, acting, and sewing costumes but, mostly, they are joyful, laughing, having fun and, above all, creating action”.
I think that this comradely atmosphere seeps into all those engaging in the theatre here in Paros. And there are quite a few of them –and worthy too. But beyond that, Nikos Synodis is also concerned with the theatre as a lever for thought and reflection. –
Comedy’s good, because people need to laugh, to have fun, but the theatre has another role to play, he will say when we meet at his home in Parikia.
It had been my intention to have this meeting for several years. The idea of an interview naturally emerged right after watching the performance “Everything is in your mind” and was finalized after Euripides’ Trojan Women, staged in the summer of 2020, which prematurely brought the season to a close at Paros Park theatre due to the pandemic. It was then that I got to know the director and set designer Synodis of the second period. Because I know Synodis in his second life –the life after the 2012 accident. An end and a beginning. When many things were lost and had to be regained. Others, though, such as the painting and the theatre, seemed to be deeply engraved inside him where nothing could erase them. They may have changed, perhaps, dramatically so. Most notably, the painting he produced during this second life is breathtaking. It’s not that the works of his pre-accident life are not extremely interesting, but the recent ones are outright outstanding. Citing again from the invitation to his last exhibition featuring watercolours and dip pen-and-Indian ink sketches: “This time, I’ve come back to my favourite aquarelle painting, to the dripping colours… I don’t care much about straight lines; I don’t mind what’s crooked… While I’m painting, I’m having a good time. I’m laughing at all this play of the water and my crooked drawings. Like little children do…” Like little children… how many painters have struggled, have toiled away, to achieve that? To draw like a child!
The big-eye portraits are another chapter in Synodis’ second-life painting period. The eyes, which for a long time after the accident had been the only medium of communication with other people as speech was lost, were inspired by the Fayum portraits. Imbued with a distinctly personal flavour, they are simply stunning.
As for the theatre, flipping through the brochures of the plays staged before and after the accident, I notice a difference in the choice of themes. Those of the second period are focused on human relationships –Bost, who took centre stage with two plays, “Medea” and “Fausta,” produced in 2000 and 2002, respectively, is missing– while at the same time marking new collaborations. Aphrodite Vazaka is a valuable, or rather invaluable, companion to Nikos Synodis in his titanic struggle in the theatrical arena, as well as in life, without whom none of these ventures would have been realised. A philologist and musician, the director’s assistant and life partner is the silent force that supports this extremely talented man who started off from Lesvos, moved to Athens, and then later to Kefalonia, Chios and Crete before ending up on Paros, which he chose as his definitive place of residence. So the big gainer from these wanderings is Paros and all of us who can delight in Nikos Synodis’ artistic output, be it painterly or theatrical. But Paros equally loved Nikos Synodis back, a small sign of its appreciation of the artist being his election to the position of president of the greatest and most historic cultural association of the island, Archilochos, as a supra-partisan and publicly accepted figure. What mainly saddens him is young people’s limited participation or willingness to pick up the torch from their predecessors and continue their legacy in the association.
This year, Archilochos put on the play “God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza, with Nikos Sinodis and Giorgos Gemeliaris as directors. It was yet another performance produced at the highest level of professionalism and artistic excellence that blew us away.
“Oh ocean liner,
you sing and sail. /
Apple trees blossom always in our hearts/
with their sweet juices
and their shade.”
(Translation of “Turbine Turns” by Maria Margaronis)
I’d known Nikos Synodis very little, from no more than two theatrical performances at Archilochos Association. This interview gave me the opportunity to get to know the painter behind the theatrical man.
LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL
Life, apart from being a bitch, as Burroughs says, is surely unpredictable, beautiful, and, ultimately, filled with unexpected surprises at times. Looking at Synodis’ latest work, I had the same sensation I’d felt over forty years before upon reading the poem “Turbine Turns”. Synodis doesn’t carry coals to Newcastle. His painting, though, “sings and sails,” incessant, stormy, swift. It’s genuinely, not pretty much, automatic. He has assimilated so fully what he has seen and felt with his senses and his mind that he can now give birth to new work. His painting captures the present moment and eternity alike. Everything gets mingled together. Colours and lines are so distinct that you are taken aback by the result.
“Αutomatism” brought to current times. Is there anything more beautiful, unconventional and subversive, especially when it’s far from regurgitated stuff: rather authentic, spontaneous, brand new art! Every day, Synodis discovers novel and, in often cases, never-seen-before, toys. He plays with them enthusiastically and, eventually, offers us a spray of crystal-clear gurgling water to quench our thirst.