COAXING MAGIC FROM MARBLE
Animal, vegetable or mineral? That was the initial query for contestants in a radio programme called Twenty Questions when I was a child. From there the panel went on to guess the mystery object. A formula that was cut and dried.
But not all objects are so readily assessed. There are rare creations that might be under a spell, morphing within the solidity of marble or wood; striving to emerge, flowing and reaching with empathic magic towards symbolic clarity.
Sculptor Maria Ghisi, who lives in Athens, is a remarkable exponent of this other-worldly integration. In happy harmony with her materials, from marble, alabaster and ivory to boxwood, clay and precious stones, she weds profound emotion and insight with a painstaking skill, inspired by the audacious concepts of Netsuke – miniature sculptures carved in 17th century Japan from which to hang things on the sash of a man’s kimono. They instilled the essence of time and place with unpredictable mergings of man, beast and plant.
“I have so many ideas”, she admits as she moves seamlessly among her ” family” of dogs, parrot, tortoise and turtle. She combines humour, warmth and a near obsessive search for significance as she dexterously integrates, wrestles and coaxes magical meaning from materials in her atmospheric workshop round the corner. “I start on an idea straight away but work on others at the same time. I don’t create just beauty, there is always meaning and symbolism.”
For many years – fifteen spent in London, where her work was readily acknowledged – she has successfully exhibited, taught and lectured and is an expert restorer of antiques, including Netsuke and Asian miniatures. And she has had impressive solo shows.
She wrote an erotic fairy tale: Enchanted Touches of Co-existence (touch me, be me) and illustrated it with an exhibition of 27 works at the Adam Gallery in Athens in 2009.
This is a tale of magically intense encounters – a metamorphosis of precious stones and minerals. It is the birth of love through touch and co-existence with intimations of inevitable sorrow, then re-birth and the dissolving of spells by the sun. There is a sense of intimate repetition – marrying the power of precious stones with the miracle of integration, revealing man’s longing for the ability of the inanimate to be transformed into bizarre and beautiful forms of c-existence.
In an enchanted forest a magical feather creates a flower bird with ruby eyes; a work integrating tulip, white woman and black feather. Elsewhere there is a bird with a wounded wing perceiving a seeping sorrow. The wing touches the branches of a eucalyptus tree and a deep love is born. With a sense of irrepressible movement within the resistence of stone, Maria’s marbles compel and exemplify this longing for total integration.
And in 2011, she exhibited works related to the blue butterfly haiku verse of Zoe Savina and verse by Eyvah T. Dafaranos at the Gounaro Museum, Athens. Maria declared, ” I am sliding in the world’s ephemeral and perishable matter. I flirt with the momentary present.”
She explains,” Zoe unified my creatures flying with the sound of her blue butterflies and the voice of her verses. Her butterflies have the power of speech. And the verses of Eyvah Dafaranos express with peculiar poignancy a sense of glory of beauty and her pathos of life. The heart of this poet is full of the deep consciousness that our lives as we live them are unnatural movements, broken rhythms, faltering and indistinct yet we carry in our hearts dimly the knowledge of the perfect rhythm that life could incarnate.”
But times are hard and Maria is suffering the fallout.
“People are no longer able to buy or if they really want a piece, demand that I sell it for a rock bottom price. They don’t appreciate the hours of thought and hard work needed for each sculpture,” she admits. “Of course there are collectors with the means to buy but I had one who commissioned eight pieces and in the end only bought one.”
Such discouragement has not impeded her flow of ideas. She moves through dream and the potency of myth and has long been haunted by the image of a bird. This appears and is transformed constantly. “Ever since I can remember my imagination has been haunted by winged figures,” she admits.
She weaves the subtlety of Japan with insights into the Greek past – two intensities that converge with passionate conviction.
Het current project is “Soul Instruments”; sculptures inspired by musical instruments reaching beyond the limits of realism.
“This is a symbolic consensual journey of the soul, a loss of freedom to experience life by entering the body with music. It starts in the dark of the profane world and gropes towards light. The bodies of the instruments represent objective portrayals of potentialities – the urgent desire for discovery and change.”
She researched ancient Greek primitive and medieval stringed instruments to expand her insight. “I want to convey emotional experience and lead someone to what I have found in myself and personify freedom,” she asserts.
Particularly appealing is an Arabic two stringed guitar. One string is thought of as male, the other female. This is striving towards love as the two come together.
She uses onyx marble for the body, Sri Lankan ebony and purple heart wood for the strings attached by silver wire. The instrument terminates in a mother bird with its young. It eyes are black agate. Says Maria, ” When we listen to the sound of a stringed instrument, our mind registers the art, the hand, the string. While looking at a person our spirit registers the body, the soul and the shadow.”
There is a tale that a street singer in Morocco said, when asked why his guitar had only two strings, “To add another string would be to take the first step towards heresy. When God created the soul of Adam it did not want to enter his body and circled like a bird round its cage. Then God commanded the angels to play on the two strings that are male and female and the vibrated feeling or the soul, thinking the melody was in the instrument which is the body, entered it and remained within it. For this reason two strings – male and female – are enough to deliver the soul from the body.”
The texture of the material is a vital aspect of Maria’s creativity which includes exquisite carving. “When I touch the material while polishing I remember a lover’s hands and this helps me through the long hours of smoothing. Marble is highly crystalline and shows the flow of patterns resulting from the swirling down of the calcite solution I use.”
An eagle or hawk was incorporated in these instruments and for Maria the bird’s wing is particularly significant. “This is a metaphor for me – a rare transcendent beauty that becomes meaning. As I said, ever since I can remember my imagination has been haunted by winged figures. The function of the wing is to take what is heavy and raise it up into the region where the gods live. Of all things connected to the body it has the greatest affinity with the divine.”
Now Maria is creating her own interpretations in miniature of Cycladic bowls, with the shape of a wave and vases; a range that is accessible and appealing. Also interpretations of ancient coins that may be used as paperweights.
– exhibition at Sabbionara Gallery, Hania, July,2016
Hercules Papadakis is a man for all seasons. While prejudice and petty restrictions proliferate, he responds with openness and warmth to nature, the plight of people under stress, the talent of others and to potential awaiting expression.
Artist, photographer, playwright and poet, his feelings flow with unpretentious relevance through his works in the exhibition IDEAS UNLIMITED at the Sabbionara Gallery, Hania. He fearlessly defies limitation. He sees society shrinking – free thought, action and idea prone to wither in the wake of increasing constriction. But he is creatively positive. “I hope the exhibition shows how ideas can be unlimited and expressed in many ways and mediums. Ideas have no borders,” he says.
Also showing in this exhibition, with equally positive interpretations, were Maria Malaxianaki (Ma.Ma) with works inspired by dance, and Linda Talbot, whose series “Succubus” is based on the mythical demon-woman who seduced and demolished men.
The work of Hercules – an Athenian now living in Hania, challenges the cossetting of convention with mixed media, skilfully recycled and constructed.
He explains, “Since I was a child I liked to mix materials and make new compositions with natural elements, collecting rocks, dried plants and shells from the sea.”
In this exhibition he shows “Thalassa” – his series prompted by the movement of the sea. He says, “I chose this after being inspired during one of my meditation weeks, living outdoors. This is the first of my “elements” trilogy because of the sea’s symbolism; change, liquidity, movement and unpredictability. This was my first idea because my country and the whole world lives in this situation more and more. And because of this symbolism, I decided to follow it with “Sky and Earth”, then “Wind and Fire.” I’d love these to be three dimensional and I intend to use natural materials for these too.”
He uses his photographs with found objects, from clothing and stones to glass and bits of sponge. As a graphic designer, he makes computerised changes to his photos and designs but only marginally because he loves the precision of nature.
Most beaches in this series are found around Hania and many works use frames within the composition to focus on one aspect. He explains, “I make some frames from natural materials. Others are photographed by me and put through a graphic process.”
In his other series “Beyond Limits” one delicate frame notably accompanies a sea daffodil. “This was an old frame I found in a rubbish tip. I photographed it because I liked it.”
Outstanding in this second series is a flying figure in a swirl of colour by the sea. “This is a woman dancer, lifted on her partner’s arms. I loved the freedom of the movement and I decided to make a combination with the freedom of the sea waves. It contains love, trust and balance,” he says.
He considers the role of art in changing people’s outlook.
“Our societies through the ages have been trained and tested in various conditions. I’ve seen how this acquired knowledge has led to limitations. I believe art can give people the experience of unlimited possibilities and exemplifies the ways of expression. It is a release but it takes time.”
He also gives workshops on personal development, which tackle these issues. And he belongs to Hania’s International Poetry Society which explores personal and social issues.
Hercules designs and makes clothes too, from T shirts to fine shawls. Once he designed a set of men’s underwear and experimented with T shirts using leather, buttons and string. “I use all kinds of fabric. I use economical materials, re-using and recycling. It’s important they have already completed one cycle and I give them another with certain interventions. I print my artworks on them so one can enjoy wearing them. I do this on furniture too.”
Concluding, he says, “ I love nature, its expressions and the effect it has on people and their relationships. So in my art I’m involved with the blessing that everyone may receive by observing nature and in my workshops I study the relationship of man with himself, his body and others, as well as the physical health that comes from the harmonious flow of all these.”
In Maria’s work, women are dominant, doubtful or suggesting disdain, trapped in compositions that tease and intrigue. Where one figure might end, another emerges within an interwoven pattern that is tireless; lilting into ultimate cohesion. All imagery is linked by an intricate language of line.
Maria is an excellent exponent of Japanese Butoh dance, which influences her art. In paint and pen, her works are untitled yet eloquent, whether conceived in bright colour or starkly black and white. The exploratory potential of line leads to rhythmic complexities and potent visual challenge. She is spontaneous yet disciplined; images undulate and weave with emotion and fleeting thought.
Combinations of line and clearly or dimly perceived form, may be ambivalent, sometimes humorous, interacting with the viewer’s imagination. This is not a statement of the obvious but the exploration of enigmatic exchange with hints of dance enhanced by her use of teasing tangents. And, appropriately each work flows with the lyricism of her stage craft.
She begins with an instinctive wash of colour.
“I have no plan for a picture,” she admits. “I start with shapes and an image instantly appears. It might be a figure, a house, an animal. I follow the shape and it changes. I follow that so it changes again. Sometimes I leave a picture unfinished for months, come back too it and it changes yet again.”
Each segment of design is assiduously patterned; spirals, loops, geometric elements, swirling in an obsessively decorative dimension.
“I work basically for pleasure but sometimes in a meditative mood,” she explains. There are two works consisting of countless gold and silver squares, an evolution of repetitive calm yet imbued with life.
She says,“When I’m working like this I am totally in the moment. I’m unaware of past and future – completely involved. It brings me to a place where there is no distance or time or space. When I dance I’m in the same frame of mind.”
She has the gift of combining originality, tenacious technique and lyricism, creating a powerful personal dimension.
Maria gave a special performance of Butoh during the exhibition.
The Succubus was not a temptation to be entertained. Dreamed up by misogynists in the medieval church, she could glibly seduce men, only to maliciously destroy.
In her collection of collages “Succubus”, Linda Talbot depicts her in many guises, from an apparition in a rose garden to a wandering woman of the desert.
She may appear in a swirl of clamourous colour to lure a lone walker. She throws an orgy in a swimming pool. She demolishes an unsuspecting anatomist.
She is often marred by some irregularity; the lack of a finger, different coloured eyes, sudden invisibility and one of Linda’s has a weird “familiar” (as a witch had a black cat). She is irresistible but somehow “off centre”.
The show became a full blown arts festival with song, dance, poetry, a fashion show and a book launch. Medicine was collected for Doctors of the World and food for Hania’s Social Kitchen. Proceeds from prints and cards went to a fund to help refugees and others in need, including The Ark of the World, a shelter for mothers and children in Athens.
This show then transferred for a week to St George’s Gate in Iraklion.