ART / exhibitions

The flesh of art at ‘Figura’

Stella Sevastopoulos of ‘Art Scene Athens’ catches up with artists and gallery owner Georgina Theou, at the opening of the show ‘Figura’, at artzone42 gallery. A brief moment of culture in Athens during the lockdown:

‘Toxic 13’, by Giannis Gigourtakis

DUE TO the ongoing lockdown, although museums and other cultural institutions remain closed to the general public in Greece (and function mostly via online events or educational programmes for school children), art galleries were allowed to open their doors, together with retail shops, from January 18. However more restrictions returned in the region of Attica by January 30, with shops only allowed to function with the ‘click away’ and ‘click in shop’ methods of purchasing goods. And so, it was only briefly that some galleries in Athens got to fill the ever growing ‘cultural’ void of the current lockdown. And while long queues of people awaited patiently outside the most popular clothes shops on Ermou Street, and all the appointments at hair salons got booked up, one wonders why these, were safer options, compared to opening the museums (for a while at least).

Nevertheless, under these circumstances, one of the first galleries to open its doors with a brand new exhibition for 2021, was the artzone42 gallery, which inaugurated the show ‘Figura’, on January 26. With few visitors allowed in to see the show at a time, and with all measures being adhered to (the wearing of masks etc). It was indeed an extraordinary moment, to go to the inauguration of a gallery show, in these crazy pandemic times that we are living! The show, organized and curated by the gallery’s owner Georgina Theou together with artist Maria Vyrra, presents a diverse array of perspectives on the human body: from the completely figurative, to the totally abstract, from the sculptural to the conceptual, from the expressionistic to the minimalistic. It was indeed interesting to see the human body being probed via art: With its flaws and weaknesses, associations and passions, and its vulnerability being exposed in the process. From the ghostly spectre of artist Anna Papadopoulou’s sculptural form, to the body that metamorphoses into a shell through a series of sketches (by Isabella Kasalia), one realizes that there’s more to the human body than meets the eye.

Gallery owner Georgina Theou, standing in between the works ‘Female Plant’ (L), by Kostas Lales, and ‘Unity’ (R), by Alina Kashitsyna

Artzone42 gallery owner Georgina Theou explains further:

“The show ‘Figura’ presents works by 24 Greek and foreign artists who focus on the human form, or otherwise. The exhibition has been co-curated with artist Maria Vyrra. There are many mediums presented – eg. painting, sculpture, photography – plus new collaborations and an honorary participation. Under normal conditions, the show would run till February 20, but due to the new measures, it will be extended.”

Georgina Theou has been running artzone42 gallery since 2013:

“I started running the gallery in the midst of the crisis, but the truth is that it didn’t scare me, because this was a dream I wanted to realise. During these years I believe that I have managed on my own to raise its standards in terms of the exhibitions, and to attract more buyers, which in turn has led to more people getting to know about the gallery. As a gallery owner I am not only focused on attracting the specialists and the art lovers, but also the public which isn’t so familiar with the idea of visiting a gallery. One of my aims is to ‘break down’ the idea that so many people have about galleries and art spaces – that they are solely for certain types of people. I always want to promote my artists and the culture they produce, to people with different interests. It is of course a privilege for each and every one of us to enjoy the thought-provoking and positive stimulation that art can offer.”

One of Isavella Kasalia’s ‘Female body-shell’ drawings

The pandemic of course hasn’t allowed people to enjoy the positive effects of art, at least not in terms of visiting real exhibitions… Georgina Theou feels that it is indeed sad how the cultural sector has suffered: “The world wants to communicate via the arts  – music, dance, fine art etc. Through these means of expression, people come together, but with the lockdown people have been starved. At the moment, artistic creativity exists only within the home, and there is no correct outlet for it. And let’s face it, the online art/cultural events can’t compare to the real thing…”

Although the gallery has had to close its doors due to the new measures, one look through its windows will allow passersby to witness the current show’s wealth of artistic creativity. Dominating the ‘round window’, is the sculptural work named ‘Female Plant’, by Kostas Lales, where one could say that the totemic nature of Brancusi’s work, has been given a surreal twist, seeing as its trunk-like form boasts a multitude of female breasts. Kostas Lales explains the concept behind the work:

“The ‘Female Plant’ symbolizes a deity. The main role of the sculpture is to collect moments of couples and turn them into erotic dust. My totem is the ancestor of the goddess Aphrodite and at the same time, it is the spirit that helps every woman to stand up and fight for her rights and values. A series of drafts, colors, and ideas around the feminine nature and motherhood, led this artwork to how exactly it is right now: A white, tall, and bright form that stands in front of us like a fossilized tree of millions of years.”

L to R: ‘Sugar on the Edge’, by Mary Nakou Pappa, and ‘Ghost’, by Anna Papadopoulou
‘Bourgeois Women on Holiday’, by Kostas Spiropoulos

Behind Kostas Lales’ work, can be spotted a painting of a very different nature, called ‘Unity’. It is the creation of Ukrainian artist Alina Kashitsyna. The influence of the great Greek abstract artist Yannis Moralis on this work is paramount, but at the same time, it could be seen as an updated version of his abstract ways. Alina Kashitsyna felt that she had found a ‘soulmate’ when she discovered Moralis, being also a great fan of Bauhaus aesthetics. To tread on the toes of the great greek abstract master could be a rather dangerous thing, however  she explains the following: “I think I understood the risk of this approach much later. When I was working on the painting I was moving intuitively. And only after I finished it did I realize where it had brought me. I admit that the responsibility is huge, and probably I wouldn’t take it intentionally. But since it flowed out naturally, instinctively, since it was exactly what I felt and wanted to express, I accepted the challenge. In one way or another, we are all influenced and shaped by the great artists, it’s our cultural context and fundament. I’ve observed that contemporary Greek artists are mostly influenced by foreign coryphaei of art, for me Yannis Moralis was also a foreigner.” She goes on to explain the meaning of the work ‘Unity’: “It is about feelings that are equally toxic and curing, inspiring and destroying, desired and abandoned. It is about ‘uniting’, where the physical is preceded by the mental, where the ‘voltage’ between two opposite worlds is so high that it leads either to collapse, or unity.”

Of a very different nature is a work by Mary Nakou Pappa, called ‘Sugar on the edge’. Painted on Nepalese handmade paper, a group of women whimsically peer out of the painting’s blue-green background. The artist explains:

“I was inspired by a book by Eugenia Fakinou, which refers to vacationers of a certain age, at a spa town, who remember unfulfilled desires. At the end of their holiday, they end up at a party. I have focused on their sad faces which betray the shrinking of their unfulfilled dreams and the compromises they have made… the dehydration of their life. That eternal distance between what is desired and what is real.”

Vacationers of a very different sort can be found in a work by Kostas Spyropoulos, entitled ‘Bourgeois women on holiday’. Playing with the colour opposites of blues and orange/yellows, he manages to pinpoint certain traits and characteristics of a certain kind of tourist, presenting his subject with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour.

For the time being, this exhibition remains closed to the public, and the human figures of this show remain in ‘lockdown’, behind the gallery windows. Let’s hope that things will change for the cultural scene in Greece in the near future, giving people an opportunity to visit these painted, sculpted and photographed figures ‘in the flesh’.

‘Woman with Pillow’, ‘I Didn’t See the Sun Today’, ‘Red Bra’ and ‘Untitled’, by Kalliopi Kouklinou

Participating artists:

Rania Anasotzi, Panos Bakas, Nikos Chiotinis, Vera Chotzoglou, Giannis Gigourtakis, Stergios Goudinis, Gabriel Flores Jair, Isavella Kasalia, Alina Kashitsyna, Kalliopi Kouklinou, Beskida Kraja, Kostas Lales, Gevis Lekiqi, Evaggelos Maravgakis, Billy Mazreku, Anna Papadopoulou, Mary Nakou Pappa, Kostas Spiropoulos, Markos Theodorou, Anna Tourla, Mary Triviza, Mara Tsafantaki, Stefania Zouroudi. Honorary participant: Alexandros Voutsas.

  • Artzone42 gallery is on 42 Vasileos Konstantinou Ave, Athens. Tel 210-725-9549

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