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Mario Prassinos

Painting, drawing, sculpture, tapestry, photography

(Constantinople, 1916 - Avignon, 1985)

Mario Prassinos was born in 1916 in Istambul to a Greek-Italian family that had been living in Turkey for a long time. In 1920 his sister Gisèle was born. In 1922, the family went into exile in France.
Mario studied at the Lycée Condorcet in Paris, then at the Ecole des Langues Orientales (1932), and finally at the Sorbonne (1934). Gisèle and Mario's father, Lysandre, was a professor of French literature in Istanbul and editor of the journal "Logos". He was aware of the European artistic movements and therefore encouraged his two children in their activities as painters and writers, which began in 1934. It was through the intermediary of the publisher Henri Parisot that Mario and Gisèle Prassinos frequented the surrealist milieu of painting and literature. In 1935, Gisele published her first collection of poetry "La Sauterelle arthritique" published by Guy Lévis Mano. In 1938, Mario had his first solo exhibition at the Billiet-Vorms gallery. In 1940, on his return from the war where he was a volunteer, he freed himself from surrealism and began a figurative period. In 1942, he began a long collaboration with the NRF as an illustrator. His activity as an illustrator, which began in 1935 for the GLM publishing house, lasted throughout his life. He illustrated, among others, Lewis Caroll, Albert Camus, Edgar Alan Poe, Jean-Paul Sartre, Guillaume Apollinaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Raymond Queneau.

Since his adolescence, Mario Prassinos will write fantastic texts very close to surrealism. He will never stop writing about painting, drawing, tapestry, photography.

In 1970, he wrote "Les Prétextats", a chronicle of the elaboration of the eponymous series of works.
In 1976, he began writing his second book, "La Colline tatouée" (The Tattooed Hill), which was published in 1983 by Grasset.

Theater : in 1947, he made his first set design for Jean Vilar and the first Avignon Festival. Numerous stage designs followed for Jean Vilar and the TNP, the Scala de Milan, the Théâtre National de Marseille and the Avignon Opera.
In 1948, he had his first exhibition at the Galerie de France, Paris, where he exhibited regularly until 1976. In 1951, Mario Prassinos bought a house in Eygalières in Provence. It was there that he began his daily work of drawing the Alpilles, the hills that lie to the south of the house, and that he made his first tapestries. He will make more than 170 of them.
In 1956, Mario Prassinos had his first tapestry exhibition at the gallery La Demeure where he would exhibit regularly until 1975.
In 1958, his first trip to Greece. After a cruise in the islands of the Aegean Sea with Albert Camus and Michel Gallimard, he rented a house for a few months on the island of Spetsai. This year will see the beginning of the series of cypresses of Spetsai, which will culminate in the painting "Meltem" in 1959.

The Portraits : From 1962 onwards, he continued a work on the portrait begun in the 1940s. This time, it is an attempt to portray the singer Bessie Smith. Then, he undertook the portrait of his family. He chose his grandfather Pretextat to begin with. From 1972 to 1974, the theme of the Pretextats produced avatars: the Proprotextats, in which the image of the grandfather and that of Propro, the painter's dog, are mixed, and the Pèretextats, a mixture of the portrait of his father, a Baule mask and the image of the Shroud of Turin. The Shrouds series took shape in 1974 and 1975. These large format drawings in Indian ink deal with the portrait of his father Lysander.

Sculpture : Mario Prassinos created his first sculptures in 1932, freely inspired by African objects that he could see at the time at the Musée de l'Homme in Paris, or in Pierre Vérité's gallery.
In the early 1970s, still concerned with the representation of his family, he began to make sculptures in clay, some of which were cast in bronze. They are mainly groups of characters, grotesque figures copulating.

Turkish Landscapes : The Turkish landscapes are made between 1970 and 1981. "It is a childhood memory. The countryside around Constantinople is relatively flat and dotted with groups of isolated trees. I wanted to take up this image of the horizon cut by a tree that stands out against the light" (extract from an interview with J-L Ferrier in 1972).
In 1976, the first exhibition of Turkish Landscapes was held at the Galerie de France, then in 1980 at the Galerie Nationale du Grand-Palais.

The Trees : from 1980 until his death, Mario Prassinos devoted his work to the series of Trees, oil paintings on paper of which the paintings of Supplice were the culmination. They are part of the donation of 108 works that Mario Prassinos made to the French state in 1985, the year of his death.

Source: Text ©Catherine Prassinos

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