Stella Sevastopoulos talks to artist Maria Matala, whose literary experience and painterly oeuvre go hand in hand towards pushing the boundaries towards a freer artistic process. Matala is currently participating in the group exhibition organized by Dimitris Lazarou, entitled ‘My hand tells me what I’m thinking’, which honours the 50th anniversary since Picasso’s death, and runs till April 9 at the Tsichritzis Foundation for the Visual Arts in Kifissia.
ART CAN MEAN different things to different people, but for artist Maria Matala, the connections between art, nature, and Dionysian and Apollonian concepts, have led her on a contemporary expressive artistic journey full of emotion, driving her quest to connect with her inner self. Having had the ‘luck and the honour’ as she states, to have connected with great artists such as Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, Yorgos Lazongas and the remarkable engraver Rena Anoussi-Ilias, Matala’s art is above all, about freedom. Furthermore, it is about the energy of nature, infiltrated via a dialogue between ancient, modern and contemporary art practices. The exploration of the subject of the sea, has played a pivotal role in her work – the forces and energies within it are captured on the canvas in the form of expressive brushwork and textural richness. From her small works that depict the energy of the sea, to her larger painting installations, with painted canvases that span many metres, what one witnesses is a connection with the sea’s fluidity and dynamism.
Matala’s expressive freedom is moving to say the least. And freedom in art isn’t as easy as it appears. It isn’t easy to release oneself from the teachings of other artists, from art history’s prisms and masterpieces, from philosophies and literatures, or from one’s own psychological defaults. Picasso summed it up nicely when he said “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child”. The quest for freedom in art is liberating and yet frightening, because anything is possible, anything can happen. However, the final result still has to be art. That is the only restriction, but that restriction is a very complex one, because the concept of what art is, changes and evolves constantly with the times. Matala has managed to traverse the road of freedom in art with dexterity and passion.
The Q&A with the artist that follows, delves into the oeuvre of Maria Matala and the nature of her work. An artist whose indepth, award-winning literary knowledge, has inspired her painterly freedom of expression:
The artistic road isn’t an easy one, and it’s not so ‘straight’ for all artists. Tell us firstly about how and why you decided to follow your artistic calling. And, how would you describe your artistic journey.
We are used to separating art from everyday life. Education guides us to understand that art resides in our everyday life. But my daily creative process doesn’t translate into the act of painting each day, or that I engage in creating engravings every day. Instead, it can often be a case of thinking, acting in an artistic frame of mind in my everyday life, consciously.
Furthermore, no road is straight and at times there is no road, perhaps it is more of a harsh narrow path that the artist is called to open and to leave his/her trace there. The path is difficult and requires strength and will. Ideas come easily. The difficulty is in the expression, in the performance of the idea, so that the work touches and moves the recipient, carving grooves in the mind and expanding his/her thinking.
You had the honour of being taught by Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, and also attended as a guest student, the workshop of Yorgos Lazongas at the Athens School of Fine Arts. Tell us about these two great artists and teachers, and what you learnt from them, what stayed with you from their teachings.
Let’s start from the beginning: I was lucky and honored to have a teacher in secondary education, George Moschos, painter and engraver. I was initially taught engraving and painting by this very free spirit who above all taught culture.
Then I was accepted by Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika , and excited by my work, until the end of his life he urged me to exhibit my works so that he could preface them. Unforgettable conversations with him were a wonderful journey into visual knowledge and technique. It gave me strength to knock on doors and to dare.
Yorgos (or George) Lazongas gave me his space and time, after having seen my paintings. I had the honor to participate in the last exhibition of his workshop. He himself warmly recommended me to other painters.
Rena Anoussi-Ilias came late in my life and with her own knowledge and well-known generosity, she taught me all the valuable things about the art of engraving.
I feel that getting to know great artists who so generously sprinkle the dust of their star on potential artists, strengthens them, reinforces them and encourages them to create freely.
You have had 10 solo shows in Greece. How has this experience been and what words of advice would you give to other artists about the whole experience of having a solo show?
I don’t usually give advice. However, if someone asks me, I’ll tell him/her to be himself/herself. Experience comes from commitment and continuous work.
A solo exhibition is about individual exposure – an externalization of soul. It is the last step, the step where artists expose themselves by presenting their soul, naked in front of an unknown audience. It is necessary for artists to have well-planned their work thoroughly in order to take this step, and to be prepared to present their proposal, their work.
You are also a French Literature Professor. How does this literary side influence your art?
Thought and research in both literature and art are essential. French Philology/Literature is taught alongside the culture course in which we are taught the various artistic currents that dominated in France and influenced both visual arts and language – technical expression.
What would you say are the main influences on your work?
To begin with, I don’t divide art into currents. Art is one. More specifically however, I am influenced by the art of ancient Greek vases, the art of the modernists, especially Van Gogh, Picasso, Miro, Papaloukas, Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, Vakirtzis, Tsarouhis, Moralis, Tetsis, Lazongas.
Art alone does not change anything for anyone. And even less so in terms of the social conditions that have been chosen by others. However, we must learn to think with art. We build the ‘décor’ of the civilization we desire, and we live and die within it. Our only hope, is our conscious improvement, and our voluntary change of ‘décor’.
Your solo show at the Municipal Gallery of Piraeus in 2016 was called ‘Thalassa – Thalassa’, and the sea has been a major influence in your work. Tell us about how you see the sea.
The many aspects of the liquid element, my long search/wandering and the culmination of so many years’ work gave me the idea to call my retrospective ‘Thalassa – Thalassa’, as the Myriads exclaimed, according to Xenophon, when finally, after their wanderings, they saw the sea of the Black Sea.
You have also created an artist’s book entitled ‘Apollonian and Dionysian Ecstasy and the Two Faces of Love’. Tell us about this project and how it developed, and the influence of ancient Greek literature and art on your work.
In this work, I transferred the diachrony of the utilitarian vase’s Greek painting into a contemporary engraving composition. With respect to the archaic artists, I adapted the archaic forms to the art of engraving, modifying the script, but preserving their thoughts.
Thus, the art book ‘Apollonian and Dionysiac Ecstasy’ has been freely designed and engraved, after researching and composing several vases, searching for the desired form and my conversation with the artist of the vase, through the imaginary bridge of communication between ancient Greek and modern art.
I believe that the ancient Greeks created through the austerity and abstraction of their lines a diachrony in art that addresses a synchronic dialogue, which can be transferred into contemporary engravings, and thus going beyond the known copies of the black-figure and red-figure anthropocentric vases. This is how the second work ‘The two faces of love’ emerged, a modern work based on the ancient black figures.
Your art practice is an expressive one. Emotions spill onto the canvas in the form of vigorous mark-making and texture. Tell us about your artistic process, how this ‘ritual’ starts and ends.
When I want to express myself, I become part of the eternal dance of the opposing elements that compose nature. Through the constant flow, I express creation, life, love and death visually. Communicating with nature helps me communicate with myself. Living in this ecosystem, looking for my inner measure in nature, I try to unite with my own human nature.
If you had to complete the phrase “Art is….”, how would you complete it?
Art, for me, is a pretext for communicating with nature and myself. Art is constantly mutating and has a dynamic force, it is the forerunner and the vision of every present and future culture.
Maria Matala was born in Greece, in 1959. She has obtained a D.E.A . in French and Comparative Literature, and is a member of the Chamber of Fine Arts of Greece. She is a painter, engraver and art critic.
Since 2017 Matala has been participating in the printing workshop of Rena Anoussi-Ilia at the Municipality of Nikaia, under the auspices of the Chamber of Fine Arts of Greece.
In painting, Nico Hatzikyriakos-Ghika was her first teacher who urged her to present her pictorial expression in 1990. She attended as guest student the painting workshop of Yorgos Lazogas (2011-2012) at the Athens School of Fine Arts.
2018: Palaio Phaliron , Presentation of Artist books: Apollonian and Dionysian Ecstasy and The Two Faces of Love; 2017: Glyfada, Artville, Presentation of Artist books: Apollonian and Dionysian Ecstasy and The Two Faces of Love; 2016: Pireus, Municipality Gallery of Pireus, ‘Thalassa – Thalassa’; 2014: Voula, Municipality, ‘Mediterraneum’; 2013: Athens, Theater Alma, Athenian artistic network, presentation of ‘Thalassa’ 4 x 10 metre installation; 2008 : Voula – Art Gallery Café – ‘Sunsets’; 2007 : Corinth– Municipal Gallery of Corinth – ‘Parcours’; 2005 : Αthens – Greek-French Association – ‘Dreams and Memories’; 2004 : Aghia Paraskevi – ‘Le Ver Lisant – Old Stones’; 2000 : Piraeus, Poseidonia, ‘2000 – ATLAS’ 3 x 4 metre installation.
Municipal Art Gallery of Athens, Municipality of Athens:Cultural center Melina Merkouri, Athens, 2018, Artville Polychoros, Glyfada 2017, Peloponissou Stration, Athens, 2016, Kakogiannis Foundation, 2016, Municipality of Athens, Cultural center Melina Merkouri, Athens, 2015, Art Gallery Café, BIOS- Athens, 2013, Finos Films, 53, Chiou,2013 Perama, 2008-2015, Sofitel Athens Airport Hotel- Spata, 2006-2009, Municipal Gallery of Piraeus;1996-2009, Athens Foundation ACG, Athens, House of Cyprus, Athens Cultural Centre of The American College of Greece- Plaka; 1994
AWARDS – DISTINCTIONS
Parnassos cultural institution’ award (2008)
2015-2023 Luxembourg art prize
CATALOGUE : VIEILLES PIERRES, SHOW MARIA MATALA, ATHENES, 2004
ALBUM: THE AMERICAN COLLEGE OF GREECE, A tribute to the alumni artists of Pierce College, ed. LIVANIS.
CD: VERNAL EQUINOX, Pierce Alumni group exhibition, 21 mars 2013
ALBUM : ATLAS, MARIA MATALA, self-published, Athens, 2014
CD : group show catalogue TRIBUTE TO PEACE, Melina Merkouri, Athens Municipality, ATHENS,2015
ALBUM :group show catalogue IMMIGRATION, Kakogiannis Foundation, ATHENS,2016
CATALOGUE : THALASSA – THALASSA, SHOW, MARIA MATALA, PIREUS 2016
HERCULES, ATHENS, 2023
METAMORFOSIS, ATHENS, 2023
L’EXTASE APOLLINIENNE ET DIONYSIAQUE, MARIA MATALA, ATHENS 2017
L’AMOUR A DEUX FACES, MARIA MATALA, ATHENS, 2017
• Literature: Since 1987, her studies have been published literature critics in France and Greece.
• She received the Grand Prix Européen des Arts et des Lettres from the EEC at Grasse, France (1990).
• She received the Greek Authors’ Association Award (2008).
• A special mention to her work is found in the new Gallimard’s edition “Albert Camus” (2008)
TEL: +30 6932400636
https://mariamatala.blogspot.com (thoughts, critics, shows)
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Very uplifting/enchanting artwork with its swerling strokes, a subtle influence of Ghikas I would say!