Syros. Return to the Sea of the Gods





The obsession

Going down a stairway that was marked by the waves, a man who had lost his wife and was on a journey in Greece with his son came upon a small beach, by the walls of an ancient city. Among the stones and sand that formed it, they observed numerous pieces of coloured marble that the waters had rounded, and cast upon the land. Father and son admired them, handled them with respect, and then gave them back to the sea, so that it could continue its task.

Time passed; the son had grown. The memory of that beach never abandoned him, and, in his mind the pebbles possessed the most varied colours and the most transparent qualities, like cameos created by the hands of a jeweller craftsman. With the red marble of Chios, the nero antico of Rhodes and the white of Corinth, Corfu or Lesvos, his imagination took him back to that place where modern civilisation is held to have begun.

His father’s memory, and the persistence of their shared experience became an obsession with him, until, perhaps in a subconscious attempt to recover his own youth, he decided to go back, to find that beach.

The search

At first, his search led him to other places, as he tried to gain an understanding of the nature of truth he was seeking. He sailed up the Golden Horn, visited the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and in the Eyup’s Mausoleum, felt the strange presence of women who covered their faces, each seeming identical but nevertheless different, one from the other. He found places where men and women withdraw from this world and talk to God, under the sun and through the rhythm of the seasons.

There he felt the presence of Attis, perfect lord of time, inalterable like the sun itself. A Sun that, before starting its nightly journey beyond the horizon, moves between the clouds over a silver sea and hears the chants emanating from the door of the Church, giving truth to the saying that there are places where the light is God, or God is the light, depending on the point of view.

He sailed the Aegean and the Dodecanese, with no luggage, sometimes without a map, asking directions, and relying on improvisation. He saw islands, some of them with names of Homeric resonance: Kalymnos, Symi, Folegandros, Amorgos, Naxos, Syros and many others.

In the stone labyrinth of the city of Rhodes he could feel the effect of three thousand years of history, which seemed to him to flow from the caves, and escape through the open doors of the houses. On one of these, a forgotten plaque of marble, written in perfect Spanish, bore witness to the innocent life of the Sephardic community some years before their deportation and extermination. Such is the glory of this world, he thought.

On Patmos, he told its monks that painting was his own way searching for God. On Easter Thursday he conversed with them in the monastery of St. John the Theologian after the Niptír ceremony. On the following days he drew all the liturgies of the spring equinox, enveloped by the penetrating smell of incense and the deep sound of the Byzantine psalms, within the Katholicon, which was carpeted with branches of lavender. Outside, it was as if the doors oozed wax, and the fresh painted façades presaged a great event: Jristós Anésti, (Christ has risen), a true celebration of life.

The disappointment

While searching for the beach he came to appreciate many other things: the endless coming and going of humanity, the trust we place in each other, the huge importance of intuition, the pleasure of things well done and the contemplation of them afterwards, the placing of natural values before commercial, the true importance of the simple rhythm of life. The light from the islands was so clear that it helped him to synthesise his drawings.

After four trips he had not managed to find the beach. A fifth was undertaken and, having exhausted all other possibilities, it was necessary for him to go back to Ermóupoli, the great port of Syros, where, three years before, the Metelmi had held him trapped for two days. Then, a prisoner of the fury of the wind and with his time running out, he could not find the beach, until, finally a ferry of the Blue Star line took him back to Piraeus.

When he went back to Ermoupoli all the signs were positive: he found long streets paved with marble, with steep stairs that went down to the sea but were closed with gates to prevent access to it.

The potential area was progressively reduced, until finally he heard the sound of the waves, and he knew that he had reached the place in his memory and a deep sensation of anti-climax overwhelmed him. “It is so useless to go back to the past,” the man mused. “The past only exists in our memories. We are what we are living now and what we have ahead to live. Although it is good to arrive, what really matters is the journey.” When he returned home, the man explained the story to his own son. And the son observed, with all the assurance of one who has all his time in front of him: “The sea will form the beach again.”

“Yes, I’m sure it will,” was the father’s answer, “but, I won’t see it when it happens.” He ended, “Each one of us should search for his own beach, for in the journey he will enhance his own existence and learn many things”.

This is the story of the beach with the coloured marble pebbles. And, I will explain it like this: adding images to the words that testify the existence of the road.

© JC Roca Sans













Down to Hades



Paroikia – Island of Paros (September 2007)













Torroella de Montgrí. (Summer 2007)





Contemporary Art Exhibitions-Conferences-Performing Arts


PROGRAM  Islands Are Life

opening  8 September 2007


DOWN TO HADES is an exhibition based on notes and sketches made by Joan C. Roca Sans (Barcelona 1946) at the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian in the island of Patmos.

This project vindicates the traveller’s drawings, procedure that was common to many painters and writers since a very recent past, and which has practically disappeared today due to the “low cost” travel and the massive presence of the portable cameras.

The artist brings his first hand material to a completely new achievement as a result of working his handmade drawings with computer programs.

The exhibition denounces the simulacra of the optical representation showing the artifice of photographic procedures. Roca Sans doesn’t want to represent the real but to overcome it and introduces the digital effects to observe things under a new angle.

The experience suggests that the old and new are not distant, and proposes an outstanding revival of the engravers of the past, using light, as they did, in order to create drama.




Ermoupoli is a professional, vital project initiated on the island of Patmos in 2007, with the collaboration of the Apothiki Foundation (Paros, Brussels)

Conceived as a modern voyage to Ithaca, it develops a poetic reflection on time and the way of looking at things, incorporating new supports and technologies into each stage.


Description of the Project

Ermoupoli is a global project that combines the media of photography, painting and video to show things from a different angle and break down the barriers that separate the new supports from the old ones, which are, after all, two sides of the same coin. To do this, he explores different media in a parallel way and shows how, going beyond hybridisation, each of them is infinitely versatile and that, directed by the software in the artist’s brain, they can be guided in one direction or another. He thus shows, once again, that art does not progress in a linear way, but by updating its origin.

A recurrent theme in Roca Sans’ production is the defence of values that have been disappearing in the name of progress, such as personal autonomy, solidarity and innocence, always found in his narrations. He proposes basing the understanding on mutual knowledge, seeking meeting points between different cultures and ideologies to show what human beings have in common and the need to respect everyone’s roots, principles and universal values.

Return to the Sea of Gods is the story that gave rise to the Ermoupoli Project, and narrates a man’s journey to Istanbul and the Greek Islands in search of the beach of youth. Along the way he discovers values that will change his life. From then on, the project is structured as a modern trip to Ithaca, in which the important thing is the journey and the experience, including new supports and technologies at every new stage in a poetic reflection on time and gazes.


The children of the Straits, that takes place in Tangiers, shows particular aspects of the inhabitants of the city, considered in the past to be a mythical Eden while, nowadays, its children feel obliged to emigrate.

The Shcermerhorn Papers, which is set on the island of Malta, satirises certain areas of the art market based on a fictitious story concerning an alleged Caravaggio.


Roca Sans believes that, as Lévi-Strauss stated over half a century ago, travel has died and what is left is the experience and the narrative of the experience. This is why he constructs his stories on the go in order to represent, not reality, but what it hides.




Born in Barcelona in 1946, he graduated in Business Administration at Esade, where he lectured at the same time as assessing companies until, at the age of twenty-six, he decided to turn to visual creation. After three years at the School of Fine Arts, he moved away from Barcelona to the Baix Empordà, where he has lived ever since. He was granted the Castells Culturals award for the restoration of the Palau-sator Tower-Castle.

He has given more than one hundred individual exhibitions in places such as Barcelona, Madrid, Munich, New York, Stuttgart, Reutlingen, Heidelberg, Vienna, Graz, Linz, Lindau, Ascona, Andorra, Paros, etc.

Convinced that art is a living, participative thing, he manages the Atrium Art Centre in Torroella de Montgrí; a place of interchanges where he offers his own proposals as well as those of invited artists. He also collaborates in art and culture magazines and often uses the Mediterranean as a pretext for his visual narrations.




Ermoúpoli. A treasure stored in memory. A memory reformed in word and image. An image sought and recreated. A simple story has become a masterwork. Quintin Jardine

A journey to the past, a passionate exploration of the hypnotic power of images and a reflection about the passage of time and the ghosts that remain through it all. Jan Keys

His paintings display an obsession with light that infuse his work with a subtle, but marked soulfulness. Katie Addelman

Your well written book gives a pleasant image and a good introduction to Greece and the Orthodox Church. Once more we would like to thank you and assure you that your work will get a place of honour in the Library of St John the Theologian. Abbot and patriarchal Exarch of Patmos

Everything is clean, the space is balanced, present, with the necessary distances; the colours, which illuminate without shadow, just as colours do, have constructed it and distributed it. Roca Sans explains what the human brain does not see, but which when it does see, it recognises. This is because in art what is subjective always imposes over what is objective. While the objectivity is paramount there is information but no emotion; when the emotion imposes itself, reality becomes de-objectified and becomes emotional and artistic. Arnau Puig

Roca Sans paints sequences that correspond to a story, based on events experienced which he recovers with a prodigious imagination.

Knowing him, he is trying to bring back the lost saga of writers, explorers, journalists and anthropologists who documented their observations and experiences with drawings to understand the facts better. Maria Lluïsa Borràs