Evgenia Apostolou

Apostolou Evgenia
© Yannis Michas

Born in Sudan in 1954, she studied at the Central School of Art and Design in London (1974-1978) and continued her studies at the Royal College of Art (1979-1982). She has presented her work in many solo exhibitions in Greece and has participated in various group exhibitions in Greece and abroad. Her work can be found in important private Greek and international art collections. She lives and works in Athens.

Works

Solo Exhibitions

2015

Apparitions Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center Athens

2009

Works 1984-2009 Museum Alex Mylona Athens (curated by Denys Zacharopoulos)

2009

Retrospective 1984-2009 Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art (MOMus – Museum of Contemporary Art) Thessaloniki (curated by Denys Zacharopoulos)

2007

Nees Morfes Gallery Athens

2002

Nees Morfes Gallery Athens

1997

Diana-Yiulia Gallery Athens (curated by Yiulia Gazetopoulou)

1995

Kreonidis Gallery Athens

1992

Kreonidis Gallery Athens (curated by Maria Kotzamani)

1989

Eleni Koroneou Gallery Athens

1984

Desmos Art Gallery Athens

Press

Evgenia Apostolou

Artist selection is not, nor should it be, incidental. The responsibility for the curator’s or artistic director’s decision goes beyond any current aesthetic and of course any question of good taste. Unable to be based on ‘objective’ criteria, this decision is, on the one hand, bound by the subjective nature of all judgement, but on the other it is based on a historical hypothesis. This hypothesis is a multifaceted relationship, comprising both a working hypothesis and a plot, as if in a play. It moreover resembles a public issue, as well as an assumption towards solving a mystery.

The selection of a retrospective exhibition for Evgenia Apostolou at the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art is informed by all of the above factors (and many more, which I leave it up to the reader’s imagination and the viewer’s surprise). The exhibition and the oeuvre of Evgenia Apostolou counter-propose to each one of the above assumptions the view that gives a museum its academic role, its historical responsibility, its political and cultural position, as well as aesthetic and artistic dimension. Evgenia Apostolou’s oeuvre has systematically pursued, from the early 1980s until today, the complexity, the uniqueness, the risk and the personality bestowed upon the visual language and upon the questions posed by it the historical, aesthetic, social, artistic substance that justifies, documents and allows a retrospect. The retrospect, the same as rethinking, brings the oeuvre face to face with the perspective of the future as well as the current power of its presence.

Ever since almost every important artist in the Western world has somehow acknowledged the death of painting, the history of art is comprised of thousands of insistent and substantial propositions which return to this concept as “the end of the frame” and propose in turn anything from resurrections to cases of collective mourning, from anatomy lessons on the corpse of painting to superstitions, which range from the practice of embalming to the cult of the mummy. The history of painting, alongside Modernism itself, eventually passed through every crisis of the fetishisation of the object up to its reversal and the transposition of the postmodern social convention to an idolatrous attachment to it. The 1980s, when Evgenia Apostolou began to work, abound with such attitudes, which adopt views ranging from the melodramatic to the satirical and from the nihilist to the cynical with respect to the potential development of painting. The dominant neo-expressionism and the prevailing formalism become vampires living on the blood recycled from the corpses of the history of art, the petit-bourgeois taste, the artist’s mythology, the technique, or its rejection, the mechanistic continuity or the arbitrary rift.

Evgenia Apostolou was not aloof to the prevailing climate, but for some reason that this preface could not possibly dwell on, rather than compromising or giving in to the current state of affairs, she escaped, in a very personal manner, into byways that were to take her to landscapes and places which do not belong either to official historical acquiescence or its rejection. Her work has been from the beginning at the forefront of the debate regarding the arts in Greece, thanks to her personal relations with critics and gallery owners who were to recognise that she ranked among the most dynamic younger artists of the period. Nevertheless, her position remained on the fringe and her stance especially discreet. This did not prevent her, though, from persevering on the pursuit of her work through approaches that continue to this day to demarcate her presence as exceptional in the visual arts constellation of Greece. Moreover, her work combines subtlety with power in a manner so pure and robust that one could state in all certainty that not a work of hers lacks physical or intellectual intensity. This intellectual and visual clarity, alongside the dramatic emotion apparent in the work as a physical incident and a mental process, justify her prominent international position. Even though she did not pursue an international career, besides her participation to the Venice Biennale in 1995, and her frequent and long sojourns in Britain notwithstanding, one could consider her work in the context of that of other similar international artists. Apostolou is able to hold her own alongside artists of her generation who successfully dared to articulate a visual discourse in which painting and the intellectual aspect do not come into conflict, but, rather, are mutually complementary.

An innate intellectual trajectory becomes the epagogic lead for the poetics of the visual oeuvre. From the performative and so distinctive Memories – Juxtapositions – Confessions (1984), in which the object is central, yet one could hardly call these works figurative, she went on to the almost monochromatic and gestural surfaces she named Seascapes (1989), which verge on abstraction. After a period of eloquent silence, the mystical series inaugurated by the works she titled Flux (1992), Silent Ways (1995), works in which the internalisation of the sense of space restores to the surface an unexpected depth, which the artist correctly perceives as a motion both fluid and inscribed in a trajectory that represents a development in painting as well as a poetic growth.

The material elaboration of her works was to introduce an even more intense temporal quality, as well as a diversity of colour, in spite of the apparent monochromatic nature of the work, which bring the conceptual writing of this painting nearer to a musical composition of multiplicity in relations. Spanning at least six years, these works arrive, from Red-light District (1997) on, at a systematic study and realisation of an ever increasing intensity. In Towards White, The Beginning, Elements (2002) until Limits (2007), Evgenia Apostolou’s painting approaches the limits of a phase which reaches completion in the form of a cycle, often depicted as a snake biting its tail in ancient iconography. The last large-scale works in charcoal on paper are perhaps among the most literal works ever made in modern Greek painting. Entitled “Limits”, they do indeed represent the limit between one and the other, the half-empty and the half-full glass that condenses or diffuses painting, charcoal as limit – half material, half a mental image of the drawing –, half light half darkness, half mineral half surface. Throughout this development, Apostolou and the visual process that animates each of her works, the existential and intellectual stance that each work boldly assumes, the distinctiveness of the moment, the aesthetic experience and the texture that elevates it into an austere linguistic and poetic visual proposition, cannot be classified under this or that movement.

Intuition plays a special role in her stance and practice. Yet, intuition does not seem to rule out a theoretical distancing and the possibility for a subjective, almost ‘landscape’ treatment of this distanced poetic style, while on the other hand the painting act reaches completion in an ever more immediate physical character which nevertheless never stops at the tip of the fingers. In other words, Apostolou’s oeuvre is based neither on information nor expression; neither on image nor feeling. The deviation from commonplace knowledge and naive expression that the development of her work marks seems to come from the very roots of modernism, and at the same time from an experiential knowledge, whose experience does not come from museums, nor from exotic resorts, but functions as an echo of a different world, a world both experienced and vibrant, in which almost nothing comes in the expected order of habit as seen or lived in reality, or even in the cinema.

Her work appears to be a phenomenology of perception, which a series of anthropological ruptures destabilises in order to give it, besides an obvious material texture, the unprecedented complexity of an inextricable natural and mental relation with an unexpected and on-going alterity, right on the limit between awe and wonder. And this limit is recorded as the foundation of the visual art work, without allowing any ideological hierarchy between awe and wonder, or seeking to profit rhetorically or theologically from the one or the other. One might say that in Evgenia Apostolou’s case, painting finds (before the contemporary art introduced the multicultural models that were to mark the expansion of the cultural horizon and at the same time the contraction of the artistic and visual discourse even today) the measure of a critical distance, which on the one hand introduces the otherness head-on, while also leaving outside of its raison d’être every kind of profiteering and self-interest in its nature and conception. Childhood memories and conscious constructions equally remain assumptions of different natures which, even though they constitute another assumption – that of difference on a semantic, linguistic, experiential, historical and social level – they do not rank these levels, but enable the viewer (as much as the painter) to experience the limit and the silent way that leads there.

From the plateaus in central Africa where she spent her childhood and often returned later on, to Athens, where she spent her adolescence, London, where she went on to study and live for a long time, up to the art studio she organized upon her return to Athens, the everyday person called Evgenia Apostolou transformed, alongside her relationship with the world and its perception, the named and the nameless ego that makes her an artist. This trajectory passes from stages of alienation concerning her relationship with the object to altered states, where the subject shifts from the numerical relationships we entertain with things and the world to a complex, algebraic relation of multiplicity, where the seemingly ‘same’ is overwhelmingly ‘different’. Perhaps only a poetic quality is able to endure and support this kind of relationship over time, one that is not based on any verification, but whose intuition enables the artist (and subsequently the viewer) to experience life through texture, colour and iridescence. Far from us to refer here to the light of the Aegean or a landscape in Africa (alas, folklore continues to threaten ever more the art around us), but to an experience whereby a colour at a specific moment in life, or a sound, or a sentiment, take on the higher form of art and personal experience. This structural freedom and essential inner discipline it is that Evgenia Apostolou sets as the locus and modus of painting outside of the frame and beyond the object. Not as some theory of abstraction or gesture of free expression, but as an instant of knowledge and self-revelation, as continuity and rupture with the ‘self’ of the artist, the work and the viewer. This instant is captured both as a subjective, or rather a personal, experience, while on the other hand it becomes a gesture thrown at the table of history that each person may interpret in their own way. There are many assumptions – what is important is that each one reaches the limit between personal and public discourse like the two sides of a coin. This almost unique act and position for the generation to which Evgenia Apostolou belongs represents a valid approach towards the limit of the artist’s historical awareness, rather than merely of sensitivity, skill, or mastery. Besides, one can certainly see that these aspects of her work are equally well taken care of, equally distinctive, weighed and historical, elaborate and conscious. This retrospective exhibition of her oeuvre, therefore, speaks for itself, and so do the polyphony of writings and approaches, and the personal, conversational tone evident in the accompanying catalogue, which enable us to seize the scope and density that her work proposes as an inhabited territory of the mind, of art, of visual script and pure painting.

 

Denys Zacharopoulos 
Artistic Director of the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art 
(MOMus – Museum of Contemporary Art)
* From the catalogue of Evgenia Apostolou’s retrospective exhibition, Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art (MOMus – Museum of Contemporary Art), Thessaloniki, 2009.