Born in Rizovouni (Preveza) in 1959, he studied at the Athens School of Fine Arts under Yannis Moralis and Dimitris Mytaras (1979-1985). He has illustrated the following books: “I Porfyrenia kai to Mandolino tis” by Fotini Frangkouli (purpurella and her mandolin) 1995, “Kymino kai Kanella” (cumin and cinnamon, collective Work) 1998, “I Fidogenniti Vassilopoula kai Alla Paramythia” by Maria Mamaligka (the snake-born princess and other stories) 1998 and “To kaiki tou Thissiou kai alles istories gia mikrous kai megalous” by Elias Venezis (the Thission boat and other stories for children and grown-ups) 2006. Works by him are included in private and public collections. He lives and works in Athens and Galatas, island of Poros.
On Art and His Art: Κostas Papanikolaou
The painter Κostas Papanikolaou talks about his time at the Athens School of Fine Arts (1979-1985), his fellow students, his teachers, and his studies there. He mentions his first contacts with collectors in the mid-1980s, when he was still a student, and the role the painter and gallery owner Assadour Bacharian played for his generation, through the Ora Art and Cultural Centre. He recalls his first meeting with Sotiris Felios in the early 1990s, and mentions the large number of his works that has since been added to the collection, taken from almost every series of his oeuvre. Speaking of his love for the theme of boats and the shadows they cast upon the water, he underlines his determination to find painting in the images of the world around him, and not in the painting of the past. He goes on to confide his realisation that the subject matter of painting is painting itself, rather than the opposite, and remarks upon the abstract nature of the art of painting, and its relation to music, as well as to the element of reduction.
The Last Days of Pompeii •
The Sotiris Felios Collection. Kostas Papanikolaou: Re-visit •
16 Fokionos Negri•
(curated by Tatiana Spinari-Pollali)•
Fuga VI. Urban Landscape: Inside and Outside •
(curated by Tatiana Spinari-Pollali)•
I’ve Looked So Much... •
Archaeological Museum of Poros•
(curated by Tatiana Spinari-Pollali and Maria Giannopoulou, organised by Citronne Gallery)•
From Kaisariani to Poros •
(curated by Tatiana Spinari-Pollali)•
Thanassis Frissiras Gallery•
Ekfrasi – Yianna Grammatopoulou Gallery•
Ora Art and Cultural Centre•
Epoches Art Gallery•
The Painter Who Dreams of His Present
An urban hike or country stillness? Urban stillness or a country hike? A sensual present or an insouciant past? An insouciant present or a sensual past? I feel that these and other playful binaries buzz around, like bees or flies, in other words, like experiences that strive to be transformed into oil and egg-tempera paintings or frescoes, they bombinate around the painter’s head when he is standing in front of the canvas.
Rizovouni in Preveza, Eleusis, Exarchia, Galatas of Poros, Tinos, Kaisariani. This is the trajectory of the gaze, this is Papanikolaou’s anthropogeography.
The first thing that gets your attention as you browse through the works of the present collection (75 works spanning almost three decades, from 1985 to 2013) is an intense, circular sensation of light. Either in a building-less setting or in one covered in them, the painter declares himself captive, hypnotised, enchanted by limpidity, clarity, a pure first impression; an impression which is more linked to the light of another era, to the warmth of feeling, the carefreeness of words, poses and movements, rather than the midday sea light on some contemporary island or the afternoon light in some neighbourhood of Athens in the present day. In other words, the representational adventure of Greek light in Papanikolaou’s work (who is attracted to and emboldened by Theofilos, Maleas, Papaloukas and Tsarouchis) is above all an evocation and a return.
The painting subject, exchanging place with time, sometimes in reverie and sometimes in observation, becomes attached to the small things, to the unimportant things, to those things that lack stature.
A man, in front of a banana tree, slides a curtain open; seagulls fly around a fishing boat; on a pedestrian street passers-by move with non-crossing gazes; customers in a morning bar lean over the counter; a young woman reads a book; a girl with her hair pulled back in a bun is leaning against the window with the shutters half-closed; a naked woman is lying on an embroidered blue pillow; pensive or distracted, a woman on a balcony is leaning against a rug; a funeral procession on a seaside road; a small table with chairs at the sea-front; a sunbaked woman in a swimsuit; a naked female bust; a woman tying her swimsuit; sea-bathers; passengers on a boat; a woman drinking red wine in front of a fire place; a young fisherman on the pier with a bucket full of fish; a closed window with blue shutters; a lemon tree in the countryside, children playing on the playground looking utterly sincere, etc.
We note that the sea, the female presence and hiking are not just interfeeding experiences or an artist’s obsessions, they are the opposite too, the painter’s resistance to whatever brings him closer to an existential inability to satisfy himself or the fragmentation of contemporary life.
You reckon that his bodies, faces and figures, either when they roam around the urban matrix or are bathed in the open light, refuse to plunge into nothingness or the darkness of existence, they refuse to bend under the weight of everyday survival.
Indeed, Papanikolaou is trying to transport, to transform, to eliminate light (the light of childhood memory and, at the same time, Mediterranean identity), the wild present which, one way or another, overwhelms us and clasps us in a tight grip.
If his painting supports, effortlessly and discreetly, human measure, lost collectivity, attachment to the simple things, to things forgotten, to things overlooked, his ‘paintability’ incorporates and renews old gestures and techniques, it becomes involved in aesthetic quests across time. More than anything else, it urgently searches for innocence in the gaze.
Without a trace of paradox: the painter dreams of his own present, but also paints as if dreaming of what he paints. Therefore, memories and expectations in Papanikolaou, inside and outside the canvas, breathe in living painting time.
Yet his dreams are earthly, made of soil, touchable. This could be the most profound reason why his demons – personal or expressional – appear to be tamed, wistful, reconciled. While, at the same time, the only transcendence they allow themselves is linked to the glow of reality (which means there is no repudiation, no psychoanalysing, no renouncing of reality).
The images of my friend Kostas bear a similarity to his wide laughter, his concealed sadness, the way he drinks or tells a story, his moving bashfulness.
* From the catalogue of Kostas Papanikolaou’s exhibition “The Sotiris Felios Collection. Kostas Papanikolaou: Re-visit”, 16 Fokionos Negri, Athens, 2016.
The Painting of Kostas Papanikolaou
Kostas Papanikolaou received his education as a painter in the studio of Yannis Moralis at the Athens School of Fine Arts early in the 1980s. Today, now that enough time has elapsed to permit some initial conclusions, we can argue that he was one of Moralis’ last noteworthy disciples, that is, one of the School’s last students to be able to take advantage of their teacher’s significant reserves of empirical knowledge of painting. At that time, Moralis’ long-standing presence and artistic ethos set the prevailing tone for the entire School. In accordance with his example, which was internalised by all as an unspoken rule, the study of painting conformed to purely morphological demands; everything else was regarded as being essentially foreign, unfamiliar elements in art. The theme – nude, still life or landscape – was no more than a conventional pretext to study specific compositional, design and chromatic problems, providing opportunities for practice and nothing more. Behind Moralis, as the high canon or archetype, as we would say today, was the work of Cézanne, whose career as a painter and the lessons he taught legitimised all this lucid dedication to problems of form.
According to this teaching principle, which Moralis applied rigorously, one learned to paint, but not a word was said about the deeper reasons for this creative act, nor about the significance, ideological role, social value and utility of art, all of which were issues left absolutely to each student’s temperament and theoretical convictions. In short, at the School you learned to see and to paint; learning to think, to be aware of and to feel life was your own work. There was something cold, cerebrally dehydrated about all this restricting, form-dominated teaching, but at the same time, through its consistency, through its non-negotiable principle of clearly choosing the act of art over discourse and theory, it provided a solid and disciplined education, whose entropy was basically rational, determinist and realistic. At that time, these internal, active terms were almost completely invisible and hard for us to discern, but now that times have changed so radically, it is becoming increasingly obvious that, for those who assimilated them, they constituted a long-range heritage, since this apprenticeship in viewing reality analytically and reconstructing it methodically generated a particularly affirmative attitude and way of life.
In the years after leaving the School, it was not easy, especially for those who, having come from the countryside to Athens, claimed a place in the “art world”. It was hard to refuse the easy career promised by the “modernisation” of the post-avant-garde, conceptual art, happenings and video art that were imposed in the early 1990s in Greece as the officially accepted forms of art. Painting with egg tempera and oil on wood or canvas now seemed old-fashioned, anachronistic or, at best, a deviation. Under such disadvantageous
conditions, insistence on painting took on the nature of a test, as it required that those very few people capable of continuing its tradition creatively – who had the necessary interior awakening, a kind of inner faith in their own inherent abilities – be endowed with the special self-confidence that those who strove to go beyond the dominant culture always seemed to have, based on an established network of accepted values with which to express their personal truth about the world in their own way.
A few years ago, on the occasion of Kostas Papanikolaou’s most recent solo exhibition, I had noticed that he belongs to the small group of artists who managed to evade the sirens of corrupted postmodern ideologies, and who remained loyal to the informal theoretical line that would have painting integrated in a purely visual-aesthetic way, primarily through the eye, as revealing and unspoken knowledge of the world, rather than addressing people’s conceptual- rational abilities through scholarly thematic content, and thereby eliciting their approval. It would be unfair to disengage the terms of this attitude, the cultivation of his vision, the chromatic subtlety of his pallet and the structured composition of his works from this school and from his own continuous cultivation and practice of its principles. We are, however, bound to seek the courage and maturity of his development, as well as the thematic and emotional wealth of his painting, in his own innermost psychological and intellectual abilities, in the formation of his personality.
Papanikolaou is now a mature artist in the literal sense of the term. He can now paint works of great skill and thematic depth, such as Funeral, which I regard as a work that summarizes his abilities in an exemplary way. Notice the thematic richness and simultaneous figural flawlessness of this work. In front of us, an olive tree occupies the entire upper left hand part of the composition. It dominates the work with its robust, dark trunk and silver-green foliage; it stages the space dynamically, defines the scale of the magnitudes and at the same time suggests the somewhat remote, random position of the viewer-observer. Under it, on the coastal road in the background, a procession of cars, people and black-clad women, some scattered, some grouped, is moving slowly forward; their shadows are elongated and hard as the afternoon sun beats down on the grey asphalt. The procession proceeds sluggishly, becoming denser toward the bend in the road, which is hidden behind a hillock verdant with olive trees. Beside it, on the shore, some uninformed people are still enjoying their dip in the sea. A girl in a bikini is standing looking at the women in black. Behind the hill, the road continues its coastal route, with a clump of cypress trees marking emblematically the destination and the end of the procession. Wreaths are already leaning against the cemetery fence. The road continues on, winding around the coves and inlets. In the background, small rocky islets punctuate the enormous expanse of the sea up to a point high on the horizon that is coloured red by the sunset. To the right, at the edge of the composition, stands an apartment building in which its inhabitants continue their leisurely holidays. A carefree child is playing in the courtyard with his dog, a girl is under the pilotis rinsing the sea salt off her body, and a man on the third floor is looking far beyond the hills at the firemen and a Canadair firefighting plane trying to extinguish a fire somewhere. On the lower right, a girl is heading towards us. A ray of sunlight penetrates the shade of the foliage and makes her clothing gleam like gold. The total effect is full of small whimsical thematic episodes that, scattered and concealed, await the viewer’s notice and a second, closer look to narrate their disparate roles. The whole is fragmented into events that, significant or trivial, ordinary or extraordinary, sad or happy, are taking place at the same parallel moment, without any visible coherence. But everything is happening in nature, in the same space defined by the sky, the earth and the sea, at the same time, under the same sunlight, within this total phenomenon of life that flows continually before our eyes.
It has all been painted with a restrained palette dominated by the contrast of warm colours – earth tones, dark red and bright pink shades, burnt and raw umber – with cool blues and intermediate mid-grey tones. The composition is balanced in low-tone colours, from which yellow is emphatically and wisely absent; even ochre is used minimally, and the admixtures that would have produced greens are also rare. The warmth and vitality of the yellows would have changed the tone of the entire work drastically, depriving it of the melancholy with which the sunlight colours all of creation as it sets; yellow perhaps would not have permitted the serenity required by the last farewell to well up within us.
Papanikolaou paints this whole world as though he were a genuine impressionist. Indeed he paints only what he sees, only light and shadows, trees and people as they appear at sundown. He paints while adopting a stance that is stoically unconcerned, careful but not at all exploratory, a stance of recording dispassionately that does not permit any interest or personal involvement to be manifested. We can see the light but not the sun, the procession but not the funeral, we can see the trees and the cypresses but not the cemetery, the smoke but not the fire; we can see the young people and the children. What the painter has created in the end is a panorama of the random, the fragmentary, the fleeting and the ordinary: it is the world in its entirety, through the sum total of all these individual events; the painter recomposes the being of life in the endless alternation of sadness and joy, in its sociability and solitude, in the multiformity of existence, in its Heracleitan movement, and in its dialectical progress, which obeys the ceaseless flow of creation and destruction, death and birth, the end and the new beginning.
Evgenios D. Matthiopoulos Athens 22 April 2009