Constantinos Papamichalopoulos

Papamichalopoulos Constantinos
© Nikos Vatopoulos

Born in Athens in 1975, he studied Painting at the Athens School of Fine Arts under Rena Papaspyrou (1993-2003) and Engraving under Michalis Arfaras (2004-2011). In 2014 he obtained his MFA degree in the Digital Arts postgraduate programme of the A.S.F.A. As of January 2016 he is a PhD candidate at the Panteion University in Athens. In 1997 he was awarded the Jannis and Zoe Spyropoulos Foundation second prize award. In 2003 he received a commission by the Benaki Museum for a portrait of its founder, Antonis Benakis. In 2015 he was an artist-in-residence at the Amsterdams Grafisch Atelier. He was a contributing illustrator to “Babel” and “MovMag” magazines, as well as to the periodical publications “9” and “Bibliothiki” of “Eleftherotypia” newspaper. In 2000 his first graphic novel entitled “O Giaponas” (the Japanese) was published, in 2009 the sequel “O Giaponas – Deuteronomion” was also published, while “Epilarchia!” was released in 2011. In 2015 he published “k_porn”, three colouring books (“Aprés Dubuffet”, “Aprés Tanguy” and “Biomorphic”) and “The Japanese 3”. He is the cover artist of the “Athens Review of Books” and a freelance illustrator at “De Groene Amsterdammer”. He is co-founder of White Island Works. Various public and private collections both in Greece and abroad hold works by him. He lives and works in Athens.

Works

On Art and His Art: Constantinos Papamichalopoulos

The painter and printmaker Constantinos Papamichalopoulos states that the function of art is to demonstrate the regulatory framework of everyday life and to suggest ways of transcending it. He confides that, in his work, he is preoccupied with the differences between Eastern and Western art, as well as the relationship between folk art and high culture. Speaking of Sotiris Felios’s approach to his work, he brings up the intensely public nature of the collection, as exemplified by the exhibitions and actions that are organised. In describing his painting Nippon-Selim, he expresses his belief that an artist must have old sources of inspiration but new ways of expression, and underlines his admiration for Japanese art and the element of myth that characterises it.

Solo Exhibitions

2019

Zeus and Athena Archaeological Museum of Tinos Tinos

2017

My Strength Lies with the Love of the People Vorres Museum Paiania (curated by Giorgos Mylonas)

2016

Scenes from the Great Golden Room Westin Hotel, Astir Palace Vouliagmeni

2016

Talos Representations of the Artificial Man National Archaeological Museum – Café Athens (curated by Giorgos Mylonas)

2016

Biomorphics The Blender Gallery Glyfada

2015

The Great Golden Room Museum of Greek Folk Art Athens

2008

Art Space 24 Athens

2004

Tzamia-Krystalla Art Gallery Chania

2003

An Army of One Art Space 24 Athens (curated by Lina Tsikouta)

2002

Antennae Art Space 24 Athens

2001

Babel Gallery Athens

2000

Art Space 24 Athens

2000

Palataki, Cultural Centre of the Municipality of Haidari Haidari

Press

Nostalgia for the Future in the Vorres Museum’s Folk Art Collection

“It takes some nerve to confront significant works of art. If this occurs, it is the first big step to truly comprehend them”, Yannis Tsarouchis used to say. With this in mind, Konstantinos Papamichalopoulos converses with tradition in “Pyrgi”, the former home of Greek nobleman Ion Vorres, which houses the museum’s folk art collection. The painter is becoming in a way the collector’s fellow traveler with a painting installation comprised of twenty-five art works. This acquires special significance, as it is the first time in the history of the Vorres Museum, that a contemporary creator is invited to exhibit in the folk art museum.

“My strength is the love of the people” runs the slogan that prevails in many of the museum’s halls, from the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Greece, the iconic portraits of Greek monarchs to the numerous emblematic plates ceramic plates depicting members of the Glücksburg Dynasty that hang on the walls. This phrase, incorporated by Denmark in the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Greece – which justifiably influenced the nation until the 1974 State Referendum – becomes the starting point for Mr K. Papamichalopoulos to communicate with symbols of the past about the present.

After his exhibition at the National Archaeological Museum (in the summer of 2016, on the occasion of 150 years since its founding), this time Papamichalopoulos explores the role of the leader: sometimes as a crowned king, sometimes as a ‘comrade’ bearing a military uniform, and sometimes as a leader of a Bolivarian country, the leader symbolises the innermost desires of people as liberator and Messiah. Drawing illustrative elements from the long tradition of royal portrait painting spanning from the 15th century until our present, from posters of propagandist context, even from portraits of individuals such as Mussolini, Papamichalopoulos is reframing the concept of the leader. He transforms George the First, not to publicly renounce monarchy, but to question the divine right of the people’s leader. With his draughtsman’s skills, these atypical ‘self-portraits’ depicted presented in a golden background, when observed among the post-Byzantine icons of the Vorres Museum, they challenge the deification of the leader, criticising the consecrating image of those, who at some point, express the aspirations and hopes of the people.

In our days, when the rise of populism prevails, Papamichalopoulos’s testimony at the Vorres Museum obtains a timely feature. “In our case”, the painter confides, “we observe the prevalence of national populism in the context of totalitarian regimes, such as the Maduro regime. And whilst the experience of the 20th century – from Hitler to Mussolini, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot – has shown that these regimes had a lot in common, as far as the fundamental role of their leader is concerned, many Greeks insist to be persuaded by a millenarian, almost apocalyptic political speech”. Especially in the self-portrait of Papamichalopoulos with the space suit, it is hard to avoid the association with the dominant trend in today’s politics. As Gagarin was used by the Soviet regime as a mythical symbol with strong popular support, thus the creator is upgraded to a national idol, with the capacity of a cosmonaut. The remaining question is whether the motto “my power is the love the people” has been replaced by democratic institutions or it remains politically active as a disease, rather than hope.

The ships bear a similar role. The war ships from the beginning of the last century we observe in the Vorres Museum reflect the need of the newly founded Greek state to demonstrate its military power. Papamichalopoulos places fish carcasses beside them, like war machines, right out of Hieronymus Bosch’s world. The three monstrous warriors standing over the sea symbolise military force as part of the official state ideology. In this case, the painter apparently approaches the Japanese aesthetics, having in mind the posters depicting the Japanese militaristic machine crushing the American intruder in the Pacific.

Papamichalopoulos is interested in the Byzantine tradition, turning to external sources. “The case of Hokusai” he reveals “brought me back to the Byzantine tradition. He is the most genuine Japanese artist, because he emulated art techniques from linear perspective, unprecedented to the Japanese art, i.e. in situ painting. Hokusai, who is the trademark of Japonisme, did not follow his teacher by copying him, but painted by nature, a practice which was unheard of at the time. He sought to create a Japanese typology and was not deterred by the fact that the linear perspective was unknown; on the contrary he imposed it, embraced it and rendered it Japanese. We too adopt elements from all over, we are the tradition of innovation with an unimaginable assimilating capacity”.

Papamichalopoulos is actively following the artistic pursuits of contemporary Japanese artists (like in the work of Yamaguchi Akira for example). Of paramount importance in the development of his morphoplastic idiom were the two trips he made to the Asian country. Fascinated by Japanese tradition, he wanted to learn the language to grasp its depth, and he connected it, among others, with the love for pop culture, comics and video games.

And here we encounter another paradox: whilst the artist serves his painting with purely painting media – in sketching, in engraving and in traditional techniques – he immediately aligned with the quests of the digital age. The effect of video games has been instrumental in his pictorial style, as demonstrated in the exhibition “Great Gold Room” (The Bath House of the Winds of the Museum of Greek Folk Art, January – March 2015). At the current exhibition at the Vorres Museum, he ‘adds’ legs below the portrait of King George the First and presents him as a bionic hero, an anthropomorphic machine. Additionally, next to the glorious heroes of the Greek revolution or the royal images, he introduces delicate animal-shaped “ladies of the court” and grotesque military figures with a rooster or frog head respectively. He does not feel the need to belong somewhere and does not submit to whatever is considered ‘painting’. The ability to bring together seemingly incompatible things in an image, i.e. to see Byzantine craft in sci-fi images, joined with Japanese standards, is a result of his digital experience.

In the multifocal vision provided by our digital world, the artist draws from a massive library where he rediscovers a compilation of images, concepts and eras. His persistent tenure in new applications permitted him to creatively assimilate digital morphological achievements and to link them to the aesthetic principles of his western art history education and to Byzantine art paradigms. “Painting is not simply an art of the viewer’s gaze”, he says, “for the gaze itself is not innocent. It is taught to see in a particular manner. Painting is a way to see the world and to reshape reality.” And to explain this he gives two examples: “Degas supposedly experienced the end of painting with the advent of photography. Nevertheless, he used photography to create, to discover new poses, new ways of the body, impossible to be seen with the naked eye. When, let’s say, he created the ‘equestrian’ series as an amateur photographer, he used a technical means to redefine his painting, and to re-introduce it to the world. Ingres too, achieved superior portrait painting, by almost imitating the medium of photography”.

Papamichalopoulos clarifies matters with his views, which are essential to understand his artistic idiosyncrasy. He admires ‘Greek’ art, as expressed throughout the centuries from antiquity, the Hellenistic period, Byzantine tradition and folk art; however, at the same time, he rejects any effort to copy the past and to adjust to its models. Inspired by the great womb of creation, he draws whatever elements suit him. And he does this by citing Greek creators of the past, whom he chose to be his teachers, those that in his opinion represent tradition.

Tsarouchis, both with his painting and his literary work, was catalytic in the evolution of Papamichalopoulos; it’s to him that he attributes his beginning in painting. It’s not the soulful version of the “Tsarouchis” youth you observe in his work. The important aspect he perceives in Tsarouchis and which he identifies as ‘Greek’, is the teacher’s insightful remark that we (Greeks) stand “between East and West”. “If there wasn’t Kontoglou, we wouldn’t have had Tsarouchis. And Tsarouchis comprehended Matisse by studying Spatharis and Dedoussaros. Concurrently, he discovered what in situ painting is all about, when he saw the result of a very systematic, non-natural project, as was the watercolour-themed mosaic of the Medusa of Piraeus”, he explains, revealing how he is fascinated by the attempt to connect the popular with the scholarly element, but also by how Greek tradition comprehends Western painting. In a projective identification with the great master, Papamichalopoulos reveals the essence of his presence at the Vorres Museum: “I try to unite Greek images or techniques with views of digital art, such as video games. I do not feel uncomfortable in a folk museum, on the contrary, I feel that my effort to integrate my gaze in this tradition is very Greek. I am interested to be a part of the history of Greek art even if I were to reject Byzantine painting, like Theotokopoulos did. When he was purged from every influence, in an odd way he eventually became byzantine. The artist is trying to find common ground with this tradition or the inspirations of this tradition, to enter this ‘melting pot’, not to measure himself, but to offer a fresh impetus”.

Papamichalopoulos’s genuine intention to converse with tradition bears certain ideological similarities with the Vorres Museum creator. In its initial form, it started as a folk art museum. Ion Vorres saw high art in popular artefacts, an element that no one else could perceive. Hence he ingeniously re-adapted objects used in daily Greek life, changing their practical use – millstones that became tables, troughs that became flower pots, candelabra, etc. Following Ion Vorres’s example, Papamichalopoulos stands as a mature artist, being also deeply political. He assumes the motto “my power lies in the love of the people”, where “people” is the folk element, the living tradition in which he immerses himself. And he creates, not only for his generation, but with the feeling that the tradition he discovered and the contemporary artistic creation constitute a single, simultaneous act.

 

Giorgos Mylonas

* From the catalogue of Konstantinos Papamichalopoulos’s exhibition “My Strength Lies with the Love of the People”, Vorres Museum, Paiania, 2017.