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Indigeneity of colour, matter and light


Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they may say something.

Georgia O'Keeffe



When I reached that point, from where I now write – I call it “Inspiration” – I told myself: “This is it, this must be…”


Yiannis Pappas – First Notebook, June 1999

(Aegina Notebooks, Benaki Museum, Athens 2006)



Nektarios Kontovrakis’ painted oeuvre of the last five years, familiar landscapes of the island of Aegina, observed and imprinted with short yet compelling narratives, which preserve its backbone, the colours and scents of the landscape, rid of anything extraneous, brings to mind a very acute observation by Lucian Freud: “The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real”.


The longer you look at the gentle curves and the few pointed edges of the hills of the island of Aegina through the restless gaze of Nektarios Kontovrakis, the more you are refreshed in the warm or cold waters of the sea; the more you touch the damp earth and the ochres of his landscapes, the more you feel the dry pine needles pricking your bare feet; the more you breathe in the resin from the pistachio trees, the pungent scents of the fig-tree and the rosemary. The more you approach the shadows of his epically spare figures, which are at times reminiscent of ancient warriors and, on other occasions, of fertility goddesses, the more the very essence of the landscape becomes comprehensible – an animating spirit, which rises slowly through colours, textures and fragmentary images, echoing the thoughts of Clyfford Still: “I never wanted color to be color. I never wanted texture to be texture, or images to become shape. I wanted them all to fuse together into a living spirit”.


The landscape of Aegina, markedly similar to that of Athens, yet, at the same time, paradoxically far distinct; haunted for centuries by myths and heroes; settled for decades by revered giants of Modern Greek painting and sculpture, preserves a translucent lambent face, a tender starkness of volumes, formed from immaterial primordial components, which continue to render it unique. Nektarios Kontovrakis, painting at his most mature prime, investigates this landscape and records it assiduously, dissolving it once more into its component parts, with expressionist momentum and lambent and fluid exaltations of colour; calling on poetic abbreviations of greys and pinks; inventing waves of pale blues and greens; decrypting small explosions in the afternoon and wet drops of night-time silence.


In Kontovrakis’ painted adventures, an exquisite economy of mediums and hypnotic style, where fluid textures and overflowing individual earthly spaces dominate and provide traces of Aegean landscapes by Papaloukas; therein nestle the leaf-rustling olive grows, which preserve something from the abstract Aegina interior landscapes by Reggos, bringing to mind the fertile grey-brown soil and the archetypal feminine forms by Nikolaou. Painting without a break since childhood, Kontovrakis invents a spare visual arts language, with concise descriptive realistic narrative that does nothing less than encounter the transubstantiated breath of a landscape: in observing this landscape, which unfolds before a viewer’s eyes, its realistic condition stops having any significance. What remains, essentially is a poetic and eloquent essay about it.


Throughout his paintings, Kontovrakis proves to be an authentic colourist: his drawing bold and gestural, with a feeling for volumes, which are built up gradually in stark zones, rhythms and dapples, nullifying any form of embellishing exposition. 

In his work densities of matter and deliberate voids converse with each other; reflections of the hill on the sea and bright lambent forms of white plaster fuse; the slightest displacement of every shadow and the imperceptible change in the shade of each component of a place are recorded; the penetration of day into night and the small night-time fireworks of light are inscribed. He chooses expressionist abstraction, which gradually is transformed into tangible rhythmic quality, taming the large dimensions of his canvasses, which constitute a difficulty but also a challenge in the use of his exhaustive medium, leading the specific dexterously to become abstract, the naturalistic to a spontaneous expression, which penetrates the core of extraneous reality, proposes to the eyes an engrossing mano a mano struggle between the light and the medium of painting.


The sculptural values and compositional clarity, which characterise Kontovrakis’s painterly oeuvre, also run through the artist’s sculpture: A primordial universe composed of restless poultry and small wild goats made of plaster and clay, was born over the past few years in the artist’s studio. The artist explains that he began working on his sculpture in 2006, seeking a radical distinction and contrast with the process of painting and choosing on occasion to dedicate periods of time solely to the quest to explore this different plasticity. His archetypal forms, which emerge from the fields of Greek myths and ancient shards, while maintaining recognisable features of a spontaneous Greek folk birthright, are shaped by hand and smelted in metal, with the same impetus with which the painter's brush attacks the canvas, awakening the landscapes of Aegina from their silent snooze.


Then, in the same manner in which the artist’s painting takes shape, the forms become truths, experienced and reinvented and reinterpreted, while the ephemeral nature of a gaze encounters all that is constant, in a process, where, according to Heidegger, the web of the creation “preserves the thought and the action of those who built it, preserving a trace of the age that created it and bridging the concept of matter and space with the idea of humans, history with memory.


Iris Kritikou

January 2013





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