Mattew Levine Sudden Arrivals


Out of the blue, about 10 years ago, I received an inquiry from Fotis Flevotomos. At the time, I worked for a nonprofit funder of vision research. He described himself as an artist with vision deficits and he was seeking help in locating a U.S. venue for an exhibition of his work.

Little did Fotis know when he sent me that first email that I was a painter, that my father was an artist who was losing his sight to age-related macular degeneration, and that his request went straight to my heart.

I made some suggestions and phone calls, but Fotis ultimately forged his own path and, in 2011, held an exhibit of drawings at The New York Public Library: an initiative to raise awareness on art, low vision and creativity. This was also Fotis’s main field of study when, a year after that exhibit, he returned to NYC and collaborated with NYPL for his Fulbright grant. (To this day he continues to pursue an intense commitment to make public art more accessible to those with low vision.) During his stay in NYC he painted several of the interior scenes in this catalogue, using an iPad, which he was beginning to explore as a medium.

From the get go, I found Fotis’ work exciting, but not for any reason connected to his vision issues. His selective glimpses of the world challenged me to be more specific to my own interests, and they continue to do so.

I suspect that Fotis is right. That through his paintings he is subconsciously trying to reveal to us the way the world appears to him, without warning, a consequence of his ocular albinism.  As he describes it, his condition makes it difficult for him to perceive depth or to understand “where things are coming from and how fast they move – my constant feeling is that they just arrive.”

Yet, by virtue of capturing that very moment in a still image, he conveys something quite different. Instead of a jolting intrusion, a sense of invitation is palpable in each of these works.

Through sheer force of deliciousness and his persistence in crafting these images — and perhaps also aided by an equal luminescence of each color, which Fotis explains is an additional gift of his different vision — he seduces us to explore every nook and cranny of the objects and scenes that he chooses to paint. Sunglasses have been left on a table. Through a doorway we see another warmly lit room. We are on a path, in a park, under a canopy of trees. Athens. In each image, we do not know where to look first and want to look everywhere at the same time.

His seemingly casual choices of subject add psychological resonance to the deep, visual satisfaction that he achieves through palette. Within the common objects and scenes that Fotis is attracted to, and which likely have passed, neglected, across our own fields of vision, he reminds us that, even in the absence of the human figure — or perhaps because that absence is implied by the man-made elements of the objects and scenes he chooses — narrative connects artist to audience in the quietest moments of observation, in the way one color lays against another.

There’s a lineage that easily can be imagined connecting the vibrant, calligraphic strokes of Van Gogh, to the colorful simplifications of Gaugin, to the equal emphasis placed on every inch of the surface of Vuillard, to the arresting color combinations of Hockney, to Flevotomos.  If that lineage exists, what he has taken from those giants he has made his own.

 Let’s not forget that, while the work is consistently rewarding and painterly, in making these images Fotis is not using paint. Rather, in his hands, the pixels of the iPad become that medium. And this use of the iPad adds another layer of complexity to his preoccupation with whether his own, different vision causes his images to be different, or if he has freely chosen a different way of re-envisioning the world.

It warrants remembering that vision occurs in the brain, where information gathered by the body is interpreted. It is possible, for instance, with some training, for someone who is blind to use a video capture/tongue stimulating device to perceive objects and to navigate space. I am told that, while we are in a deep dream state the occipital lobe, where the brain processes visual input, shuts down … and yet we see.

It is unavoidable for an artist’s perception to be influenced by the characteristics of the input mechanism. Add to that the impacts of experience and taste, which create selectivity. The limitations of the artist’s facility with a medium lends character. An awareness of audience can exert influence.

It is unavoidable for an artist’s perception to be influenced by the characteristics of the input mechanism. Add to that the impacts of experience and taste, which create selectivity. The limitations of the artist’s facility with a medium lends character. An awareness of audience can exert influence.

So distortion is present, in some manner and to some extent, in all artists’ works. But where does art occur?  We are narrative beings. The eventual viewer becomes participant. The initial communication, freed of its creator, is open for interpretation.

 Fotis refers to theses images as paintings and we accept them as such. So, perhaps, he has already expressed an answer to his dilemma. That is a question that he must wrestle with, alone. How fortunate, though, that he is engaged in this struggle. Not with being circumscribed by his sight … with expressing his vision. For us, there is no debate. The answer is as immediate as our reaction.