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Siafakas and the incredible depth of pencil drawing

PENCIL drawing, has been at the heart of art since the 17th century. Although it is most commonly used to create a sketch, or a preliminary drawing/precursor for a final painting, it has also comprised a means to an end itself: the realization of incredible fine art works, made solely from pencil on paper. Contemporary art has certainly breathed new life into this humble medium which always had lots to say. And Kostas Siafakas’s exhibition of pencil drawings at Genesis Gallery are true examples of this medium’s versatility and depth.

Siafakas states in the exhibition catalogue, that: “The works which make up the present show were created from 2009-2020 and are pencil drawings. Observing them now, separate from their creator, I realise that they comprise experiments of osmosis between visual memory and fantasy, with the aim, every time, towards the realisation of a more complete form, able to equate all the more, real life with that of the dream”.

The pencil drawings of Siafakas at genesis gallery, are delicate and detailed, precise and meticulous, neat, and perfectly executed. They present the viewer with an imaginary landscape, where bizarre things happen, where the natural order of things, and traditional rules of perspective might be bent, so that a giant dog for example, may find itself sailing in a boat, or a naked woman may find herself sitting on a giant, sleeping cat. It’s a game of changing sizes, like those that Alice in Wonderland experienced.

Imagery from different artists come to mind, especially those who have dealt with the surreal and extraordinary in their art (but not only them): from Hokusai’s wave, to Magritte’s apple and umbrella (although the umbrella is closed in Siafakas’s work, and the apple has been stabbed in many of the works). The black-and-white tiled floors that so fascinated Escher and Vermeer, also feature in the architectural structures depicted by Siafakas, while there’s a touch of Parthenis in the way the cloud and tree formations have been rendered.

Another fascinating aspect of these works however, is that they present such a vast range of tonal qualities, which, as the artist explained to me, have been achieved with a single HB pencil on the most part, and not with a set of pencils ranging from dark B’s to light H’s. In order to achieve this, Siafakas had to really put the pressure on the pencil in order to create the darkest darks, and then of course to be as light as a feather when using it to create the lightest lights. Siafakas sees the tonal ranges of graphite as having both warm and cool characteristics, rather like those of the colour spectrum. He sees the colour in their greys. Of course the tonal qualities of colours, and the correct translation of colours into tones is a fascinating and very important part of the artistic process. We think of a red apple as being bright, however, red is quite dark, in terms of tonal value.

The symbolism in the works is also awesome, inviting the viewer to attempt a ‘decryption’ in order to understand what exactly the painting’s message is, and what its components represent. For example, what does the big, dark triangle looming in an otherwise peaceful landscape symbolize? Is it a fear? An unpleasant incident? An obstacle in an otherwise peaceful life? At the end of the day, maybe it’s up to each and every viewer to choose an interpretation… In some works, however, the message is loud and clear, such as the image of the wolf in priest’s clothing…

A stabbed tree, to which an artist’s palette has been tied, for me at least, symbolizes the plight of the artist in the contemporary world. In the background, the beauty of nature remains, as an eternal truth and redeemer of all ailments.

About the artist:

Kostas Siafakas studied art at the Athens School of Fine Arts (1994-2000) and went on to do an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Western Macedonia (2015). He has taught art in the secondary education system, and is currently teaching at the Athens School of Fine Arts. He has realized 5 solo shows and has participated in many group shows. His works may be found in private collections both in Greece and abroad. He has also had his literary writings published in magazines and also by Smilis editions.

  • The exhibition of works by Kostas Siafakas runs till January 8 at Genesis Gallery (35 Haritos St, Kolonaki). Open Tues, Thurs, Fri 11.30-21.30, Wed 11.30-15.00  and Sat 11.30-15.30.
  • Τhis review has been written by artist/journalist Stella Sevastopoulos, who moved to Athens from London, in 1994. Since then, she has been following the Greek art scene, writing about it, but also exploring her own artistic practice. For examples of her art you can also visit her online portfolio

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