Life under the shade of the Acropolis
Yards with jasmine shrubs and vines, people living quietly, streets featuring tourist shops, and many cats all co-exist along a narrow alley just five minutes away from downtown Athens. Passing by a shop window displaying Cycladic-themed art, my attention was drawn to a colored room in the rear, where, next to a sink with glasses left to dry, a woman is hidden behind her art canvas.
In the past, Xanthi Ioannidou had made it a habit to pass by the Plaka district whenever she went into town to purchase painting materials for her art work. The area simply carried her away to other places, perhaps a Cyclades island, as a result of the ambience created by the Athenian spot’s whitewashed alleys. She eventually relocated her studio here and, over the past 15 years, has spent her days under the shade of the Acropolis painting at the studio-gallery she rents and relaxing with friends at its rooftop.
“We consider Plaka as a village. The people here know each other, exchange morning greetings, like in the old days,” noted Ioannidou. This neighborhood is nestled away protected from the city bustle, like a detached island, where time tends to move slower, at a casual holiday-like pace.
“When I paint in my corner, in the little kitchen, listening to classical music or [widely celebrated Greek composer Manos] Hadjidakis, I find complete balance, but never have sufficient time to become totally isolated. People are in and out of here,” remarked Ioannidou. “Every single day, we Plaka locals associate with tourists from all over the world and they pass on to us the carelessness of their holiday spirit. I constantly feel like I’m on holidays here,” she added.
Asked whether the energy is different when working from the Parthenon’s surrounds, the artist replied: “I feel as if a magnetic field exists here. I can’t explain it, but I sense an energy that draws me like a magnet to live, work and feel inspired here. I have made lots of tourist and customer friends and we organize music nights. Many play bouzouki, violin, piano, others sing. I provide this lovely rooftop and good wine.”
Ioannidou likes intense colors, which is why she adds a pop touch to Cycladic-themed figurines in her work. “They were created so long ago but look like they were created today – very abstract and modern,” she commented.
This artist is self-taught. She prepares her own canvases, featuring a unique texture, as well as her colors, egg tempera paints made the traditional way by mixing egg, vinegar and dust colors.
“If left alone, I could go on painting right through to midnight. My days go by with carelessness, which means they roll on pleasantly,” Ioannidou observed.
As for food, the painter said she has created magical things using just her little coffee heating plate at the studio. “Cooking, for me, is about love and devotion. This process, too, applies in art. One day a tourist came in, noticed my tiny kitchen, was excited by it, and I told him: ‘I cook art’. He stepped out onto the street repeatedly exclaiming: ‘I cook art’”.
INFO: Ioannidou Art Gallery, 1 Vackhou, Plaka
Photos by Clairy Moustafellou
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