Creative Forces

It makes no difference if they were born on the island or chose to live and work here; Santorini’s artists remain for the inspiration, the light (and the audience) that drives them.


AK Art Foundation | A Family Affair

Christoforos Asimis is in his “work” clothes as he welcomes us to the dazzling white, minimalist space that is the AK Art Foundation. He’s wearing trousers and a sweater, splattered with paint from a half-finished landscape that captures the island’s pristine light. The painting is by no means “touristy”; there is something powerful which distinguishes it from the “souvenir art” found all over the island. It is as if the artist had endeavored to take people’s impressions of Santorini’s beauty and deconstruct them.

Exhibited in the gallery is another piece that attracts one’s gaze; an imposing, abstract painting on canvas from a new series of works by Christoforos’ son, Katonas, an artist and architect who studied in the UK. Katonas focuses on the notion of the condensation of time; he is inspired by Jacques Lacan, delves into the subconscious with abstract brushstrokes and striking colors, and endeavors to recreate the theta brain state, in which it is believed you can change reality and create absolutely anything.

All around us in the room are sculptures by Katonas’ mother, Eleni Kolaitou – evocative xoana (archaic female figures), life-like animal and bird figures, ships that immediately bring the Aegean to mind and handmade jewelry. Indeed, there’s little that the most artistic family on Santorini cannot do: in addition to Christoforos, Eleni, and Katonas, there’s also Marianna, Katonas’ sister, with a background in performing arts, who last year also held a painting exhibition.

They are all remarkable artists, joined by bonds of blood and love, working autonomously but becoming one another’s strongest critics when necessary, supporting and complementing each other. The colors, lines and “moods” of Santorini guide their hands. As Katonas says: “You always carry things from your birthplace, and these come out unconsciously in your work. Santorini is a place that provides stimuli, even when you are standing somewhere with your eyes shut.”

INFO

AK Art Foundation Fira–Pyrgos Road • Tel. (+30) 22860.215.06

ΑK Gallery Fira, tel (+30) 22860.230.41 • Οia, tel (+30) 22860.721.14

www.ak-galleries.com

“ What does he love about Santorini? ‘The allure of the landscape and the quality of its colors. Here, green combines with deep red, with ochre colors and with the blue of the sea in ways that just aren’t the same as in other places.’”

DIMITRIS KOLIOUSIS | The Icon Painter

Dimitris is an ascetic with a hard rock spirit. He lives in a trailer and enjoys the winter tempo on the island that he “adopted” 38 years ago, as soon as he stepped off the boat and set eyes on the stark landscape surrounding Armeni. In his rock-hewn workshop at Oia, he studies and creates, listening to The Clash and Jimi Hendrix. He plays the guitar and offers a glass of wine to likable visitors.

Self-taught, Dimitris paints emotionally evocative figures of saints on old pieces of wood that he processes for weeks: his materials are glue made from rabbit skin, asbestos-soaked cloth, gold leaf, egg temperas and shellac with wax. I ask him if an icon painter must be devout, and he replies with a question: “I have two friends. One is devout, always praying and a regular churchgoer, but his work is woeful. The other one drinks, smokes and swears, but his works are wonderful. Which one would you buy from?”

In a word, Dimitris believes that an icon painter is a conveyor of man’s collective faith and this is what guides his hand, irrespective of his undoubted talent. “There are many who are more talented than me, but I was fortunate; I became aware of my leaning at an early age and since then, thanks to my work, I’ve managed to raise three children …”

What does he love about Santorini? “The allure of the landscape and the quality of its colors. Here, green combines with deep red, with ochre colors and with the blue of the sea in ways that just aren’t the same as in other places.”

INFO | Tel. (+30) 22860.718.29

GRIGORIS KOUSKOURIS | The Marble Sculptor

The same tattooed hands that have become used to transporting 150-kilogram blocks of marble uphill, a few steps at a time (“and the car never nearby”), can, with surgical precision and using an assortment of chisels and files, carve elegant and modern creations, both utilitarian and decorative.

A fourth-generation marble sculptor, Grigoris is the great-grandson of the celebrated Michalis Kouskouris from Pyrgos on Tinos. He started sculpting at the age of 10 and by now has reached the point where he no longer needs to make initial drawings in order to create; the idea is transferred directly to the marble.

“I find it intriguing to take a block of such a hard material, without knowing what rift or grain it may conceal within, and do with it whatever you might imagine. And then there’s also the value it acquires over time,” he says, as his 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Chloe – who has already caught the sculpting bug – plays among the marble slabs and the family’s ceaselessly active dog, Tequila, scampers around our feet with a piece of marble permanently ensconced in her mouth.

“In Greece,” Grigoris continues, “we no longer appreciate the value of marble, perhaps because we always had it, from the Acropolis to our grandmother’s sink! It is also perhaps a matter of artistic education and sensibility. The English, the Scottish, the Americans, the French and the Belgians show much greater interest. I have seen visitors sit in the gallery for half an hour, caressing a smooth marble surface, until their wife complains, ‘You never pay that much attention to me!’”

INFO

SPIRA MARBLE ART GALLERY

Gallery: Pyrgos
• Tel. (+30) 22860.271.34 

Workshop: Mesaria
• Tel. (+30) 22860.332.69
www.kouskouris.gr
Tons and tons of marble makes its way through Grigoris Kouskouris’ hand every year. At left, one of his more utilitarian creations.

Earth & Water | The Clay Expert

A fifth-generation ceramist whose family hails from Naxos, Andreas Makaris is a recipient of five Greek National Pottery Exhibition awards. Ηe has been inspired by the colors of Santorini and the age-old art of ceramics for the past 30 years, ever since settling on the island with his partner and wife, Kristi Kapetanaki.

“Back then, things were different; the island was just a collection of villages. Greece was much cheaper. Americans would come and buy pieces of extraordinary beauty for very little. We were just happy to be working,” he says.

Today, they create both commercial and studio pottery, using a variety of techniques. “What’s most appealing about it is that you start with a basically worthless material, something so dirt-like that neurotic mothers berate their children for touching it. It may take many hours of work, but you can use this material to make something unique, that contains a part of your soul. But if you’re not careful, if you don’t love the material, by its very nature, clay will have its revenge.”

At 67, Andreas continues to work the wheel (a difficult art, often requiring up to a decade to master) and to instruct apprentices at his workshop. “At least 30 of my former apprentices are now professionals, and four of them have their own workshops right here on the island.” As he talks, he takes a lump of clay and, in a few minutes, creates a perfect slender pitcher nearly a meter tall. It’s a work of art from an award-winning artist, and he’s done it with the easy grace of a true master.

INFO

Earth & Water Art Pottery Studio
Megalochori • Tel. (+30) 22860.826.25
www.earthandwater.weebly.com

INFO

1260 Ceramic Studio

Megalochori • Tel. (+30) 22860.824.23 • www.1260ceramicstudio.com

1260 Ceramic Studio | A Love Story Carved in Clay

Giannis Vlantonopoulos first came to Santorini in 2007 to work under master potter Andreas Makaris. Two years later, Marina Taliadourou came to visit him, and they fell in love (with the island and each other) and became determined to set up a workshop and never return to Athens. They weren’t discouraged by the crisis, or by the sudden change in tempo for two young people used to a different pace of life in the capital.

The workshop was created in 2011 with, they reveal candidly, “zero capital,” and named after the highest temperature at which their ceramic creations are fired in the kiln. Since then, it has become a hotspot for friends, visitors and anyone interested in modern ceramics, particularly ceramics created with passion, imagination and consummate skill in the single-firing technique.

Marina and Giannis bring to their work a deep love for nature, for the properties of clay and for the art itself. “You can spend your whole life making ceramic objects without reaching the first rung on the ladder; it’s endless,” says Marina, showing me the works of a Japanese master of the raku technique she admires, on his Facebook page. Giannis points out just how wonderful it is to create a unique object using little more than earth, water and fire. “And the place itself provides plenty of inspiration,” he continues, as Marina nods in agreement, “with all its remarkable contours, with the caldera, the colors, and the culture that flourished here.”.

The Expert Copyists

Classically trained artists and long-time partners Aspasia Vovola and Dimitris Bellos aspired to create an accessible, multi-purpose cultural hub that would accommodate everything from theatrical performances to work by multi-discipline resident artists. They specialize in original-size replicas of wall paintings from Akrotiri, created through a time-consuming procedure that involves first “spoiling” the painted canvas and then preserving it with kourasani, the highly durable medieval form of natural plaster used in the monasteries of Mt. Athos.

The Landscape Painter

In 1981, Vassilis Kyrkos came to Santorini on holiday, from Florina in northern Greece, and felt that he could make a living here as an artist. He bought an old ruin and set up his first studio. Since then, he has painted Santorini thousands of times, using a multitude of techniques. He sells his art at prices ranging from €15 for copies to several thousand euros for original works on canvas, and also experiments with figure and portrait painting, capturing scenes of everyday life.

Τzamia+Krystalla Gallery

Originally established in Hania, Crete, as a small factory working exclusively with glass and crystal, the gallery opened in Santorini in 2008 and hosts paintings, ceramics and ceramic sculptures, objets d’art, gifts, souvenirs and jewelry by selected Greek artists.

Mati Art Gallery

Established in 1990, this is the main venue where visual artist Yorgos Kypris displays his work, inspired by fish, boats, seabirds, planets and more.

 The Wood Sculptor

Eduart Gjopalaj came to Santorini at the age of 14 to work on building sites, discovered his talent and began working on church icon screens. Ηis first wood sculpture workshop at Kamari became a success and recently, he acquired his own gallery, in Fira. This is a success story, dedicated with love to the olive tree, the local reddish eucalyptus, the linden and all the other sources of wood with which Eduart creates. His favorite subject? “Hands. They are the most difficult thing for any artist to do.”

INFO

Akron Art Center • tel (+30) 22860.820.02

Kyrkos Art Gallery  • Oia • tel (+30) 22860.713.25 

Τzamia+Krystalla Gallery • Fira, tel (+30) 22860.212.26

Mati Art Gallery • Fira • tel (+30) 22860.238.14

Eg Art Gallery • tel (+30) 22860.364.55


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