The subject of this diptych by Yannis Tsarouchis is the Neon Cafe as it was in 1956-1966 and still exists in Omonia Square. A daytime version preceded the nighttime view, which is interpreted here. In both compositions Tsarouchis depicts his subject, the facade of the cafe, frontally, eschewing perspectival illusion. The coffeehouse in Omonia Square was an emblematic theme for Tsarouchis, being the place frequented by the painter’s heroes – sailors and working-class youths. The coffeehouse was the stage upon which unfolded the everyday events that charmed this characteristic representative of the Thirties Generation. There are, however, other elements that Tsarouchis wished to call attention to in this theme: the architectural design of the cafe’s facade with its play of rectangular openings, doors and windows creates a grid pattern evocative of Mondrian, the innovator of geometric abstraction. Tsarouchis created an exciting play between abstraction and realism, between modernism and tradition.
The nighttime coffeehouse has the additional factor of artificial lighting, the white, yellow and orange lights that animate the painting’s generally black and grey palette. Here, the cafe’s patrons, a handful of small dark silhouettes, have become a secondary theme. In the daytime version they are absent entirely. Painted with classical austerity, Tsarouchis’ two cafes are his most abstract, modern and suggestive works.