Art Medium: Acrylic on canvas
Size: 30 cm x 50 cm
The Special Guard icon which I also refer to as the Tsolia icon is another painting from my Modern Icon series. Apart from depicting personal stories and memories they also celebrated figures from everyday Athenian life. This one is dedicated to the iconic ‘Tsolia’: a Greek solider that serves in the Presidential Guard (similar to the Beef Eaters of London who stand guard at Buckingham palace), this painting also reminds me of a friend who I studied together with at the Athens School of Fine Arts, who used to be a Tsolia.
I often saw them near Syndagma Square in Athens, marching or standing guard in front of the presidential palace which houses the modern day Greek parliament. In Greece young men are obligated to do army service. The Special Guards are hand-picked amongst the new recruits to undergo intense training. To be part of this elite unit they have to be 1.87 metres tall and athletic. A tsolia needs to learn how to stand for several hours in a row, avoid eye contact, stare at an imaginary point without moving or blinking his eyes. Tourists have fun trying to get their attention.
Tsoliades have an impressive marching style, lifting their legs up to shoulder height and are impeccable dancers, required to perform in official ceremonies; and yes, their uniform makes an impression too, it’s a skirt but it is also strongly symbolic. The skirt is said to have 400 pleats, one for each year the Turks occupied Greece.
I’m pleased to note that the guy in my painting looks very much like a pacifist, don’t you think? He seems innocent almost childlike in his expression, resembles a toy solider, even though he is holding a gun. Perhaps this painting is a little tongue in cheek; it definitely has a lightness and irony to it that could provoke discussion. Though I take pride in aspects of my culture I am suspicious of unchecked national pride.
If you look carefully you can spot my signature on the bottom right hand side of the painting. My first year back in Australia I signed my surname on my paintings in English, but like it sounded in Greek: ‘Hanioti’ with a H instead of ‘Chan-i-o-tis’ with a CH… a different kind of pride perhaps? This icon is one of the earlier paintings of this series, which I placed in gold frames to deliberately refer to the gold leaf often used in icons of saints.