Having grown up practically in Greece and spending much of her time in the country that her family loved like home, Rachel Howard is happy to speak about her father on the occasion of the exhibition of his paintings by the city of Athens. Rachel lost her father, Charles, in September, so the exhibit he helped city curator and art historian Christoforos Marinos put on at the Melina Mercouri Cultural Center in Thiseio is actually a retrospective.
Charles Howard was a war baby, born in London in 1936 to a family “with strong roots in the theater,” explains Rachel. Son and grandson of actors, he himself got on the stage and came to Greece in 1959 to star in the film “Our Last Spring”, a film based on the 1938 novel “Eroica” by the Greek writer Kosmas Politis. The film was directed by Michael Cacoyannis, who was also a friend of the family. His first walk in the city center, to Syntagma, “made him feel at home,” says his daughter, a journalist and travel writer whose work appears in major European newspapers and magazines and Americans.
He ended up becoming Cacoyannis’ second assistant director and before returning to London he made a lot of friends and acquaintances, and got to know the city. During the Greek dictatorship of 1967-1974 that followed, he supported many Greeks who fled abroad. “He has developed a deep and meaningful relationship with Greece,” explains Rachel.
Later, after starting a family of their own, the Howards acquired a small vacation home on the island of Syros and later a permanent residence in Athens. “We have lived in Kifissia for many years, renting out these beautiful old houses with gardens. We had chickens and ducks in one, and a donkey in the other, ”she recalls.
Charles began to take an active interest in Greek music in 1963. The first rebetiko song he heard – at the encouragement of a saleswoman in a record store – was by Vassilis Tsitsanis and it made such an impression. that he decided to further explore the genre. Having started buying 78 rpm records in his youth, he already had a fine collection of pre-war American jazz and blues. Over the years – through painstaking research, hard work and a love for rebetiko – he has come to release 23 songbooks that have helped save the authentic sound and history of the genre.
His connection to Greece, to its people and its culture, “was a connection with many spiritual elements,” explains Rachel, and this is also evident in her work. “Whether it’s abstractions – like landscapes – or portraits, the ‘grecness’ is evident. It is in the light and the colors, it is in the sense of the country.
The exhibition, titled “Greek Summer,” features 54 paintings, ranging from female figures – many of which are nude and cast against a blue sea background – to landscapes like bald mountains. The paintings of the female figures have simple backgrounds, sometimes dotted with an island or two, or a small white church in the distance, reminding us that these women – mostly anonymous – live the carefree Mediterranean summer.
“If there’s one thing to take away from Howard’s paintings, it’s love: love for Greece, love for these people, places and cities in particular, and ultimately love for the life. With this exhibition, Greece returns this love ”, explains Christoforos Marinos, the curator of the exhibition.
The show is presented until January 23 at the Melina Mercouri Cultural Center (66 Irakleidon & Thessalonikis, Thiseio, tel 210.345.2150), Tuesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Entrance is free of charge.