Tetsis first learned to paint in 1940, taking lessons from the German artist and woodcutter K. Frislander; however, the artists N. Hadjikyriakou-Gika and D. Pikionis, who he met and considered to be his true masters, went on to play decisive roles in his progress as an artist. In 1943, he began his foundation studies in painting at the preparatory department of the Athens School of Fine Arts; his tutors were D. Biskinis and P. Mathiopoulos. A year later, he became a full-time student of the ASKT studying under instructor Constantino Parthenis. He graduated in 1949, receiving a scholarship from the State Scholarships Foundation (IKY) to the School of Fine Arts in Paris which he attended as an independent scholar from 1953-1956. While at Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Tetsis became more involved in engraving, and especially etching, with tutor E.J. Goerg. After obtaining a three-month bursary from the Italian Government, he travelled to Italy in 1960 to Study Italian art in the museums. In 1972, a Ford Foundation sponsorship allowed him to devote his time uninterruptedly to painting and engraving.
Tetsis had many roles: creator and teacher, painter and engraver; but more than anything else, he was a colour artist ranging from his early efforts to his final pieces. He was interested in all sorts of subjects – the human form and scenes from daily life, portraits and still life, individuals and groups, landscapes and large compositions. Throughout all his artistic endeavours, he remained an expressionist artist, one who not only designed in colour but also managed to bring all the inner character and expressiveness of colour to the surface of his works, without sacrificing the visual reality of his content. Tetsis was particularly interested in full length portraits when embarking on his first attempts (1950-1955), producing works that combine realistic components with expressionist ideals; these works are distinguished for their rendering of the metaphysical. Other portraits (1955-1960) are noted for their limited expressionistic distortion and greater colour intensity. During this period (1950-1960), he created works with other thematic categories, individual pieces and works as part of a series such as ‘Blunt’, ‘Washer Woman’, ‘Football’, ‘Cages’ as well as a few landscapes. After 1960, he made landscapes more and more, again in sequence, for example ‘Roofs’ (9161-1963), ‘Athens’(1961-1970), ‘Gardens’, ‘Shipyards’ and others. Light plays a key role in these works along with the expressive nature of his colours; a light that augments his compositions in every way.
From 1969-1970, Tetsis focused his attention on the scenery of Sifnos, wanting to produce a series of works on the various aspects of the island. The works from this series are distinguished for the artist’s application of a cooler colour palette and rhythmic elements with an emphasis, as always, on expressionist tendencies. In the 1980s, one of his most important efforts was the ‘Public Market’, a large composition that was more than 50 metres long and 2,5 metres high; a piece regarded to be one of the most complete and significant ventures of contemporary painting. A truly monumental entity, it features the epic theme of the happenings of everyday life, summing up all the artist’s former thematic preoccupations in one giant piece. A rhythmic sense of organization, the richness of colour and quality of light and the combination of synthetic and artistic values come together to complete the animated character of the ensemble.
After 1970, Tetsis became particularly concerned with interiors and still life, two themes that would generate some of his most comprehensive and original efforts. ‘Balconies’ specifically shows how he combines colour and linear values while the series ‘Tables’ and ‘Still Life’ portray the decisive role of colour in his works. These are works literally coming alive with light and colour, a trend seen in another sequence of pieces created on the island of Hydra around the same time (1980-1990). Besides his work with oils and mixed techniques, the artist also produced exemplary efforts in watercolour – mostly on scenic Hydra but on other subjects, too.
His engraving work has the same expressionist feel of his oil paintings and watercolours; intense contrasts of white on black or other colour clashes, the same emphasis on rhythm and movement and a particular focus on the typical preside over each medium.
Panayiotis Tetsis, Bypassing the Tselevinia, 2009, Oil on canvas, 195 x 250 cm