Maria Giannakaki

Giannakaki Maria
© Leonidas Dimakopoulos

Born in Athens in 1958, she studied Painting under Panayiotis Tetsis and Mosaic under Yannis Kolefas at the Athens School of Fine Arts (1977-1982). She furthered her education on a scholarship from the Greek State at the Hangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in China, where she received a postgraduate degree in the techniques of traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy (1983-1985). Her first solo exhibition was held in Beijing. Along with painting, she is also involved in book illustrations and book cover design. Works by her can be found in significant private collections. She lives and works in Athens.

Works

On Art and Her Art: Maria Giannakaki

The painter Maria Giannakaki talks about art as light, and as an individual path that each artist follows separately. She underlines the leading role of the human presence in her own images, and refers to her influences from Chinese painting and philosophy, breaking down the role of drawing and script in her work. She points out that the fundamental issues that interest her are memory, the void, and the relationship between the accidental and the conscious. Developing her views on the Sotiris Felios Collection, she comments on her painting The Almond Tree and the play between the main theme and the secondary features of the composition.

Solo Exhibitions

2018

Alma Contemporary Art Gallery Trikala

2017

i-D ProjectArt Athens

2017

Oionos Gallery Karditsa

2016

Mare Monstrum Skoufa Gallery Athens (curated by Elizabeth Plessa)

2014

Alpha C.K. Art Gallery Nicosia

2013

Technohoros Art Gallery Athens

2013

TinT Gallery Thessaloniki

2013

Oionos Gallery Karditsa

2011

TinT Gallery Thessaloniki

2010

Galerie Theorema Brussels

2009

Galerie Aliquando Paris

2008

Festam Festival Toulouse

2007

TinT Gallery Thessaloniki

2007

Galerie Aliquando Paris

2007

Oionos Gallery Karditsa

2006

Nees Morfes Gallery Athens

2003

TinT Gallery Thessaloniki

2002

Mylonoyanni Art Gallery Chania

2002

Ariadne Art Gallery Heraklion

2000

Nees Morfes Gallery Athens

2000

TinT Gallery Thessaloniki

1997

Terracotta Art Gallery (TinT Gallery) Thessaloniki

1996

Nees Morfes Gallery Athens

1995

Terracotta Art Gallery (TinT Gallery) Thessaloniki

1995

Ariadne Art Gallery Heraklion

1995

Mylonoyanni Art Gallery Chania

1992

Astrolavos Art Galleries Piraeus

1992

Ariadne Art Gallery Heraklion

1991

Nees Morfes Gallery Athens

1990

Mylonoyanni Art Gallery Chania

1989

Chyssothemis Art Gallery Athens

1987

Nees Morfes Gallery Athens

1986

Beijing Artists’ Gallery Beijing

Press

The Raft of Painting

An artist’s attempt to address through his work the tragicness of a painful current reality entails many dangers. The greatest of all is not that the artist’s venture might be considered as a means of exploiting the relevant publicity, but, rather, the potential weakness to transform the real event he is referring to into a self-luminous artistic creation.

The already emblematic image of refugees in boats, the human cluster floating at the mercy of the water, became the harrowing occasion of reality which led to the creation of the present works by Maria Giannakaki, since last summer.

Giannakaki found painterly support in two monumental works of the 19th century which addressed the same subject, people’s despair at sea: “The Raft of the Medusa” (1819) by Géricault and “The Shipwreck” of Don Juan (1840) by Delacroix. Géricault’s work depicts the raft with the shipwrecked from the “Medusa” frigate, which sank near the coast of Senegal in 1816: the diagonals of bodies and ropes form a triangle of compositional agony, which peaks at the sole figure that stands waving at a passing ship far away. Delacroix’s work, with clear references to the aforementioned painting by Géricault, refers to the wreck of Don Juan and his companions, inspired by the poem having the same title by Byron: the almost parallel position of the boat with the horizon seems to be washing up towards us the survivors of the wreck, at the very moment of a draw that will show who will be the prey among his companions, creating the feeling of an insurmountable inertia.

In between these two paintings drift in a dramatic manner the hope for rescue and the abandonment of the human figure to the unknown – the same pendulum where Giannakaki placed all her current work. By paying a painterly tribute to the two great ones of the past, she honours, by means of her own painterly idiom, those who are now helpless in the water. In the light of the exhibition title’s pun, mare nοstrum – mare monstrum, Giannakaki’s works concern the atrocious reality of the Mediterranean which is no longer a shared, warm embrace.

Giannakaki’s familiar love for the Oriental sense of graphism on paper and rice paper, together with the Western tension of colour autonomy, create clusters of intertwined figures floating with trust on seas of abandonment in Prussian blue. The detached space and the absence of specific time in her painting constitute here the natural field in which children appear again as protagonists, a basic element in Giannakaki’s imagery. With lifejackets in garish red, children’s figures manage to survive from the relentless water formed by undulations of Sino-Japanese origin, and are wrapped in aluminum blankets made of gold leaf – precious icons of little saints.

Giannakaki paints torn between the self-sufficiency of drawing and the expressiveness of colour that amazes her. She reserves the accuracy of realism for the faces of the figures she paints, which emerge from auras of abstract painterliness while, at times, transparent figures made of airy lines next to full figures resemble other worldly attendants. The explosions of ink and the blots of watercolour do not ‘mean’ yet they signify, with their attitude, the painterly tension of the image, which identifies here with its atrocious content. Human heads leaning backwards, gaping mouths, figures turning towards the sky, are painted with exquisite colours and carefree lines on silk fabric and handmade paper, dressing with preciousness the drama they depict. Thus the tension of a poetic paradox is born that pervades these works – beauty that battles against its very object. The images of “Mare Monstrum” oppose the tragicness of the subject they address by dedicating to human pain the beauty of painting.

Giannakaki does not narrate – she describes. And that is a quality of photography, upon which she draws the fragmented character of her works, that seem to be made of dispersed memories of dreams. The ruin-like approach to the image, which she recognised in Sino-Japanese painting, joins hands in her work with the aesthetics of the non-finito: her compositions are conceived and executed locally, from the formation of a face and the expansionism of a colour blot. In this way, the domination of the void is reinforced on the surface of the work and what manages to survive is unexpectedly showcased. Wretched bodies rise luminous from a light that shines from above and outlines of tormented figures become sculptures of indivisible human rocks on the empty sea horizon. A sublime monumentality is rendered here, which, nevertheless, negates itself before the view of a half-naked child’s torso grieved by the delirium of lines and colours of a painterly seabed.

Maria Giannakaki’s current works do not constitute a political or humanistic statement, but a profoundly painterly act, which has the power to shake by means of its medium – with an emotion that is aesthetic, not sentimental – the way in which we have become accustomed to the view of refugees at sea.

Giannakaki does not clash – she sympathises – employing an autonomous artistic proposal as her weapon, her only weapon. The “Mare Monstrum” works manage to rescue the greatness of human dignity through the image of an inhumane reality. Maria’s raft is her painting.

 

Elizabeth Plessa
* From the catalogue of Maria Giannakaki’s exhibition “Mare Monstrum”, Skoufa Gallery, Athens, 2016.