Theodoros Papayiannis

Papayiannis Theodoros
© The "Theodoros Papagiannis" Museum of Contemporary Art Archives

Born in Ellinikon of Ioannina in 1942, he studied Sculpture at the Athens School of Fine Arts as a scholarship student from 1961 to 1966, under Yannis Pappas. In 1967, with a two-year scholarship by the Greek State Scholarships Foundation, he pursued the study of Ancient Greek Art in Greece and the wider Mediterranean area, effecting a series of relevant travels. In 1970 he was appointed Assistant Professor at the Athens School of Fine Arts, next to his teacher, Yannis Pappas. In 1974 he co-organised with other 24 colleagues the Center for Visual Arts. In 1981-1982 he pursued further training in the École natio­nale supé­rieure des Arts appli­qués et des Métiers d’Art in Paris, in the latest materials and techniques of sculpture. For over twenty years he has been organising Sculpture Symposia in different cities of Greece and Cyprus, leaving behind large scale sculptures in public places, created in situ. Monumental sculptures by him are located in private areas, museums and private collections, both in Greece and abroad. He has sculpted busts and statues of prominent personalities as well as many medals and coins. Large sculptural compositions by him are placed in many public spaces. He has been awarded with many prizes in different competitions that he participated, the latest being the first prize in the international competition for a sculpture at the Chicago Airport. Today, he is Professor Emeritus of Sculpture in the Athens School of Fine Arts. Also, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Ioannina, in the Department of Plastic Arts. In 2009 he created the “Theodoros Papayiannis” Museum of Contemporary Art. In 2015 was honoured by the President of the Hellenic Rebublic Mr Karolos Papoulias with the Grand Commander of the Order of the Phoenix. He lives and works in Athens.


Solo Exhibitions


Ritual The Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil Sparta


My Ghosts – The Bread Teloglion Foundation of Art – Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Thessaloniki


Bread Süvari Saray Ioannina


My Ghosts Benaki Museum – Pireos Str. Building (138 Pireos St.), Atrium Athens (curated by Manos Stefanidis)


Bread Byzantine & Christian Museum Athens (curated by Manos Stefanidis)


Scuplture & Drawings Kaplanon Galleries Athens


“Theodoros Papayiannis” Museum of Contemporary Art Ioannina


Zosimaia Pedagogical Academy Ioannina


Argo Gallery Athens


Ellinogermaniki Agogi Pallini


Hilton Hotel Exhibition Hall Athens


30 Years Microsculpture Ikastikos Kiklos Athens


Anemos Art Gallery Kifissia


Amymoni Art Gallery Ioannina


Art City Mihalarias Malakassa


Kuenstlerhaus Munich


Gallery Kypriaki Gonia Larnaca


G Gallery Limassol


Athens Art Gallery Athens


Ioannina Cultural Cetre Ioannina


Skoufa Gallery Athens


Orfeas Gallery Ancient Olympia


Former Archaeological Museum (Yeni Cami) Thessaloniki (curated by Katia Kilessopoulou)


K Gallery London


Argo Gallery Nicosia


Chiron Gallery Zurich


Campus Art and Sciences Kifissia


Polyedron Art Gallery Patras


Artforum Gallery Thessaloniki


Amymoni Art Gallery Ioannina


Agathi Art Gallery Athens


Skoufa Gallery Athens


Pierides Art Gallery Glyfada


Prisma Art Gallery Rhodes


Morfi Gallery Limassol


Anemos Art Gallery Athens


Anemos Art Gallery Kifissia


Sculpture – Drawings Zygos Art Gallery Athens


Epochi Gallery Ioannina


Ora Art and Cultural Centre Athens


Athens College Athens


Sculpture – Drawings Center for Visual Arts Athens


Theodoros Papayiannis

Contemporary Sculpture with an Ancient Scent

Theodoros Papayiannis belongs to a family of artists who become more and more rare; that is to those who re-write the history of art starting from tradition in order to conquer with a painful enquiring procedure, their personal liberation. The dialogue between the artists and the expressive tendencies of their time does not comprise conformity, but an inner necessity. Theodoros Papayiannis comes from Epirus, a harsh land that, with its statuary highland forms and its stone architecture, that awakens the inward artistic tendency and dictates austerity and respect towards the use of the materials. This austerity and consistency is verified by the multiform work of Papayannis in its every phase and by the various materials that he is using. That is because the ingenious artist is keen to explore not only traditional materials (stone, marble, bronze) but also every kind of raw matter: wood, steel, terracotta, synthetic materials but also secondary objects which add their own story to the narrative of the work. An old photograph of youthful Theodoros, reveals his early artistic tendency. When he was younger than 13 years old he had already demonstrated his talent: a series of heads carved on stone, not yet masterful but very expressive, connote two basic guidelines of his future compositions: the anthropocentric character and the quest for expression.

At this point it is worth noticing another aspect of the poetics of Theodoros Papayiannis, which is not irrelevant to his origin from Epirus. Epirus and especially Ioannina are known for their handicraft tradition, a tradition which many craftsmen enriched with their work. From the abundant craftsmen that carved the grey granite in order to build houses and bridges, to the fine silversmiths who created the famous jewellery from Ioannina. The sculptor from Ioannina is one of the last masters of the handicraft tradition. He enjoys not only to carve his own works but also to ‘polish’ them with the mastery of ancient carving. In his last works it seems that he invokes the indigenous tradition of his land in order to ‘decorate’ his figures with the artistry of a silversmith.

The long apprenticeship, and the later work of Theodoros Papayiannis beside Yannis Pappas, a strict teacher with a strong work and a rich education, ensured a strong basis on which he could build his own work. A basically anthropocentric work with small deviations, like the birds, which do not break this rule essentially.

Theodoros Papayiannis shares with his tutor Yannis Pappas, the healthy habit of an artist: the passion for drawing. Innumerable drawings mark every stage of his life from the moment he chose the difficult destination of a sculptor. He studies first the human body at its every stance, at ease or in action, with the passion of a Leonardo Da Vinci. He studies the naked body as seen from models but also from humans in a private or a public place. He studies Greek antiquities with a pious persistence by travelling-worshipping all the places our ancestors sanctified. Sculptures, reliefs and architectural parts like pillars, anthemia, riffles, offer him the opportunity to study the sunlight on the ancient ruins, the dramatic dialogue between light and shadow. He creates icons, he feels textures, he enriches his visual memory with the an endless repertoire, from which lie further gets inspiration and lessons for his own sculptures, his own reliefs. The drapes, the game of shading, the decorative formation preserve the memory of these archaeological explorations with a pencil in his hand.

Like the sculptors of the old times Theodoros Papayannis does not denounce any work. As an expert in bust making, he will create many monuments and busts with honesty, sincerity and knowledge; elements which are often absent from similar works in the public space.

In his purely creative work we discern two basic directions from the early phase: the tectonic sculptures, the group of figures carved on marble and stone that preserve the memory of the rectangle shapes from which they originated. These post-cubist works attract their distant origin from Cubist sculptors like Zadkine or Lipchitz.

A second group of sculptures is inspired by organic forms and takes advantage of the possibilities of the ‘living form’. By choosing eroded stones and pebbles the sculptor utilizes their random shape in order to draw out, with minor, vital interventions, human figures with special expressiveness. In this group we recognize, as distant tutors, sculptors who established the tradition of the ‘living form’ like Henry Moore.

Birds claim an advantageous position in the themes of Theodoros Papayiannis. Their aerodynamic forms, their harmonious curves, the dialogue between convexo- concave masses, leads the sculptor into a condensed abstraction which preserves the dynamics of flying and the melody of lines. The glazing of the surface, the game of interchange between polished and abundant parts add their grace to these beautiful works, the most beautiful sculpture ever modelled with this theme. The caress of the surface of bronze, from the shiny reflection to the matte surface indicate the productive lesson of Brancusi.

At the same time, a new humanity appears in the work of the sculptor, a humanity that emerges from primordial, archetypal and archaeological memories of the Mediterranean. Initially these figurines have the dimensions of small scale sculpture, like the forms that constituted a source of inspiration for the sculptor: the sacred figurines of the post-Minoan and of the Mycenaean period. The terracotta figurines in the shape of Φ or Ψ which represent the Goddess with her hands up, as Stelios Alexiou defines this position in his homonymous study. Alone or in couples these closed forms are at their first phase known and familiar. The artist creates a series of small sculptures in which he often differentiates with a different alloy and steel colour the leaves, and in which the convexo-concave shapes create harmonious compositions. They all constitute some of the most charming small scale sculptures of modern Greek sculpture.

These forms will be magnified, will attain monumental dimensions and they will change character, in a series of new works which dominate the creation of the sculptor the last fifteen years: forms enclosed, direct, hieratic, symbolic, with a pliant and slender stature, developed to a supernatural scale which is emphasized even more by the small, formatted head. These figures remind us the deep Homeric forms of supplicants found on amphora of the Geometric period of Attica and of the primordial archaic statues like the ‘Lady of Auxerre” at the Louvre museum. Female and male forms arc distinguished by the superiority of the curve or by the clothing. Long cloaks for the males and elaborate gowns for the females. The decorative elements, the belts, ribbons, the chromatic interchanges arc not simply ornaments, they emphasise, they articulate, they organize the composition, they define the levels and the axis. The gestures have a ritual character: hands placed on the waist, on the head, hands that hold veils, that embrace, that greet.

The sculptor, an expert and a tireless explorer of new materials, invents a new method in order to give form and breath to this sacred humanity. He resorts to synthetic materials, to polyester but he subdues it to his own expressive will. The poetics of his work are interesting and original. After building the steel skeleton of his figure, he creates a terracotta cast that clothes the body of the work. This cast is filled with synthetic material. In its matter he has incorporated, colour along with other synthetic materials, like sand, ground, marble dust, etc. The colours, ochre, earthly, bright blue, grey, shine through the mater of the work thus giving it a serene character that broadens their austerity. The details, the jewellery and ornaments are incorporated in the material in various ways (stamping, inlaying, lining, etc.). The hieratic character of the forms imposes the ritual clothing with the rich and emblematic decoration. The positioning of these works into ‘regiments’ enhances their ritual character and transforms the space they occupy, into a temple. Depending on the way they are positioned in space, these figures sometimes form invocative litanies and some other times the choruses of ancient tragedies. The works are charged with a special character when the building that is hosting them has a monumental and ritual character like the Geni Mosque at Thessaloniki at the exhibition in 1995.

The destructions caused at the Polytechnic school during the celebrations of the heroic uprising of the students, some ten years ago. shocked the sculptor. From the ashes of the arsons he will resurrect a new totem it humanity made of materials sanctified by lire. He then accompanied with a shocking text, the first presentation of this tragic testimony placed at the main stair case of the main building of the Polytechnic school. The pole-like figures this time look like coming from the depths of Africa, carrying an inscrutable, magic power, like the according works and masks that set off at the beginning of the 20th century the revolution of modern art. The burnt pole, the cross- like arrangement of horizontal elements which form bodies and hands, the visible nails, the addition of emblematic elements, like the wreaths of dried bay, transform these works into a shocking and a purgative testimony.

Indigenous pro Hellenic tradition and primordial art arc evident in the last totemic sculptures of Theodoros Papayiannis, As the sculptor confessed, the core of the work was carved once again of burnt wood from the destroyed right wing of the Polytechnic school. This core was then clothed with metal nettings which complete the body of the work, articulating its parts. Often the wood is carved on the chest where an altar of offerings is created. On this altar the sculptor offers his fruit, like an ancient worshipper would have offered to the idol of his God.

The ritual character of the creations of Papayiannis have acquired are emphasised by the installations and the surroundings he creates. The environment the sculptor organized in 1998 at the Athens Art Gallery was homage to the daily bread. A number of obsidian chisels like the ones Greek farmers used in harvesting, is surrounded by sacks of flour and breads, all out of terracotta, all mastered with illusionary verisimilitude. In the centre of the mom a huge bronze flower pot placed on charcoals, reminds us of how they used to bake bread at the highland villages of Epirus. Theodoros Papayiannis confirms once more, his origin and reminds us where we have to quest the authenticity of his testimony.

The evolution of the work of Theodoros Papayiannis was favoured by the climate of Postmodernism that encouraged the return to local traditions and liberated the artist from the strict compliance to international trends. The origin of the artist from Epirus, the experiences of his childhood at the countryside, the treasures of his endless studies, the honesty of manual labour, the intact morality of man, explain the wealth, the variety, the authenticity and mainly the optimism of the work of Papayiannis. A work both ancient and contemporary that emits profound humanity.


Marina Lambraki-Plaka 
Professor of History of Art 
Director of the National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum