Traditional Paintings of Cyprus

The beautiful Mediterranean island of Cyprus has a long history of division and turmoil. But, in spite of its troubled past Cyprus is a youthful and vivacious country that is bursting with many warm traditions and ways of life. For example, one of the first things a visitor to Cyprus will experience is the friendliness of the island and its people. Everyone is very welcoming and familiar. It is very easy to get to know people and make good company. 

oil painting Lefkara Cyprus, traditional lace making village by Theo Michael

Market scene paintings

However, contrary to the popular stereotype not all Greeks smash plates. But, they do engage in handicrafts, farming, cooking, and many other cultural pastimes that are just as rich and memorable. Indeed, it is where the generalities end and the subtle details begin that, artist, Theo, finds his elevating style of painting. In his attention to the minutiae of Cypriot general life his work often transports us into the hubbub of a market street, or the electricity of the town at night, or the serene stillness of the beach and the ocean when it is calm. 

Tonia Buxton

The hustle and bustle of a typical Cypriot market scene is the inspiration for the painting Lady At The Market. And who better than Tonia Buxton, an 'ambassador' for Cyprus, to feature as the beautiful lady vendor at the market stall. 

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market scene painting, featuring Tonia Buxton an oil painting by Theo Michael

The painting Lady At The Market

Lady At The Market is a market scene painting that celebrates the subtlety of Cypriot life as a beautiful woman markets small crates of oranges, fruits and vegetables. The female subject in the painting is based on the famous Tonia Buxton, the British television presenter and restaurateur, who visited Theo in his studio providing the inspiration for this piece. Greek Cypriot, Tonia, is the host of the Discovery Channel Travel and Living series, but, rather than feature her in a more eventful setting Theo found her true beauty merely participating in the selling of food on an ordinary day in Larnaca. It’s in these artistic choices that Theo consistently shows us how extraordinary the ordinary can be.

Lady At The Market oil painting by Theo Michael, October 2019

oil painting The Melon Seller by Theo Michael

The painting The Melon Seller

The Melon Seller is another celebration of Cypriot tradition. During the melon season many vans populate Cypriot roads selling their water melons.
The vendors are so sure of the quality of their fruit, and are happy to cut the melons in half and offer you a slice to taste.

On occasion, as in this painting on the red crates, you can see traditional Cyprus Halloumi cheese in jars also offered for sale.
Then a few months later when the season passes they disappear again. In the painting a middle aged man smokes a cigarette sitting on the warm concrete as the sun beams down. In the background we can see his truck full of melons as he waits for customers to appear. The bushy trees carve down and produce shade for the man and his fruits. We wonder what he is thinking. Is there a woman who is weighing on his thoughts, perhaps? Or is he looking forward to finishing work and having a few drinks with friends and family?

The Melon Seller oil painting by Theo Michael, October 2010

oil painting The Salt Lake Worker by Theo Michael

Oil paining The Salt Lake Worker

One of the most notable landmarks of Cyprus and Larnaca are its salt lakes. These expansive areas have been a big part of local businesses and their major exports in the past. The lakes of Larnaca form the second largest salt lake in Cyprus after the salt lakes in Limassol. In the painting Salt Lake Worker diligent worker strolls along the salt bed with a donkey, a shovel, and his dog. The details are beautiful and full of personality as the worker gazes down to his dog with curiosity and joviality. We wonder how long the man’s day has been, and how hard he has been working in the sun with his donkey in tow and his dog running along beside them. 

The Salt Lake Worker oil painting by Theo Michael, April 2020

The Shepherd is a painting based on the work of the photographer Reno Wideson

Watercolour painting The Shepherd

The Shepherd is a painting based on the work of the photographer Reno Wideson who published several books on Cyprus. Reno's work, like Theo’s painting, is a celebration of subtlety and the little details of his subjects and locations. So impressed by Reno Wideson's work was Theo that he was inspired to paint one of his photos in watercolour. The end result is a remarkably charismatic piece as The Shepherd leans on his walking stick and gazes out into the horizon with his dog.
The original photo of a traditional shepherd was taken sometime in the 1950’s, but this image has a timeless quality. It could be the present day, or it could be a hundred years ago, such is the timeless power of Theo's painting and stylistic choices.

The Shepherd, watercolour painting 2011

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The Icon Painter

The same could be said for The Icon Painter which features a Greek Orthodox priest painting a religious icon in a similarly timeless scenario. The details here are key, in the priest’s beard and its realism, as well as the painting itself and the brushes stored beside him on the table stool. The aging priest is using a Mahl stick to steady his hand for the finer detail of the painting.
In the distant background is the mountain of Stavrovouni where there is a Greek Orthodox Monastery standing at the top of the hillside. It is one of the oldest monasteries anywhere in the world and no doubt the home to the subject of the painting, the well lived and earnest Orthodox priest come artist.

the icon painter, an oil painting by Theo Michael of a Cypriot priest

The Icon Painter

The Icon Painter oil painting by Theo Michael, April 2020

The Backgammon Players

Anyone who has been to Cyprus will know that the streets are
often full of gregarious old men engaging in games of cards, chess, and even Backgammon. Backgammon is a game where each player has fifteen pieces and the objective is to move all fifteen pieces off the board. The game involves strategy but also luck in the rolling of the dice. The themes of strategy and luck can be seen in the subjects and their various facial expressions of kinship and joviality. Theo’s painting The Backgammon Players celebrates a Cypriot pastime and friendship. A group of men are gathered around a table outside a local barber shop. The man on the far right is based on Theo’s father, watching on from the outside but absorbed in the social occasion all the same. Whenever Theo visited his father's home, the brandy, the kouloumbra (Kohlrabi) as well as the backgammon would inevitably come out, and the battle would commence.

oil painting The Backgammon Players by Theo Michael

Oil painting The Backgammon Players

The Backgammon Players oil painting by Theo Michael, February 2020

Cyprus Traditions

Theo’s artwork has flourished to revere all things Cyprus as his passion for his surroundings and personal experiences have grown. But, it does so with a healthy dose of humility, which is to say the humility of a nation that has experienced many travails throughout its long history. Cyprus is an island of love, and romance, in spite of its troubles, but it is also an island of common folk engaged in magical everyday traditions and pastimes. It is the magic that Theo evokes with these still, lively, and almost photographic paintings of the island's humanity. Sometimes the paintings ask you to search for the magic, but whether it's in a beautiful woman, or the smirking facial expression of one of his elder subjects, or in the collation of little details that transport you into the environment, the magic is always discernible, and never too far away. You only need to look long enough and explore the paintings to discover it.

Author Marc Michael, February 1st 2022