Artist and author Brechneff (Homage: Encounters with the East, 2007) chronicles his 30-year courtship with the Aegean isle of Sifnos, recalling his passages of self-discovery, development as a painter and ambivalence over his island identity.
Punctuated by spare, evocative sketches—seascapes, landscapes, portraits—the book, written with Brechneff’s partner, Lovejoy, is no mere travelogue of an idyllic retreat, but something of a sociological study as well as an examination of sexual confusion and the perils of adopting a persona that becomes a behavioral trap. Brechneff was born in 1950 in the Belgian Congo, the son of a Russian émigré father and a Swiss mother. Feeling like an alien in Switzerland in his teens, he was drawn not only to the romance of island life, but to the prospect of being cut off, freed from the strictures of proper Swiss society in a culture that seemed lodged in another century. On Sifnos, he found limitless inspiration, warmth and hospitality, but also deeply ingrained traditions and habits. Each summer, beginning in 1972, Brechneff basked in the Greek light and reveled in his new skin. Pictures poured out of him, leading to increasing success in London and New York. The author’s alluring narrative combines erotic liaisons with vivid portraits of islanders and visitors, though the sheer number of these encounters and friendships renders them less distinct in the end. He wavers between being unusually self-aware and tiresomely self-absorbed, engaging about his work but preoccupied with sexual longings and conquests, often depicting himself as a caricature of the voracious young omnisexual. Yet his candor is winning, and hard to resist, as we follow his growth from naïve young man to worldly, accomplished adult.
Brechneff leavens his account of adventure, simple pleasures and hard work in a magical landscape with interludes from his life in Europe and America. Yet, happily, the author seldom strays far from his beloved island refuge, even when its enduring entreaty begins to wane.