Maria Fragoudaki: Art and Superheroes

SOUTHAMPTON, NY – Chemists, accountants, and businesspersons who spend a lot of time in museums and galleries might have a painter or sculptor inside of their inner selves struggling to be born. Take Maria Fragoudaki: a gifted young Greek artist whose career change has revealed her to be one of her country’s rising stars.

Growing up, conditions were good, but with Greece and Cyprus in crisis, she sends a message independent of her thought-provoking work: In addition to looking out for young scientists and entrepreneurs, Hellenes around to world should also pay attention to budding Greek artists – they too are national resources.

Another lesson is not to get upset if your children like comic books more than the Greek tragedians. Figures like Superman and the Incredible Hulk lurk in Fragoudaki’s work

She had a major exhibit this year in Mykonos from May to October called Aegean Island. “It featured more of my abstract work. I was saving all my superheroes for New York,” she said.

Non-Greeks are paying attention. Fragoudaki is getting exposure in the Hamptons and Manhattan.

This autumn she had an exhibition titled “Superheroes” in One Art Space, in Manhattan and after that her work was featured at the 4 North Main Galleries in Southampton.

Since she was 18, she has lived more outside than inside Greece, but she strives to maintain her connections; she aims to exhibit there once or twice per year.

“Connections are important. You can be in another country and you want to do well, but you still have the connections with Greece,” she said. Her grandparents are from Chania, Crete and the island of Cephalonia.

Fragoudaki first went to London when she was 18 and has spent eight years there. She studied chemistry, pharmacology and business management, and then worked there – but she was drawing and painting all her life.

She finally reached a point where she chose art as her career.

She does not look close to her age of 30, which she said can be a problem professionally, but she has solid, perhaps genetic reasons for believing in herself.

She has two younger sisters, 20 and 21. When she was asked if they too were artists, Fragoudaki said “secretly. Like me. Until 2008 I did not show my work to anyone because I was just painting for myself.”

Her grandfather is a winemaker in Cephaolonia. She believes he inspired the flow of her creative juices. “He is very artistic.” Her other grandfather was also artistic, designing and making jewelry, but she did not know him well.

Her mother is a child psychologist and her father is an economist – yes math pops up in her art too – but he used to draw as a child and is a collector. Both were very supportive of her art and the decision to do what she loves.

Her first exhibit was in Athens’ Skoura art gallery and contained all abstract art. “There was a lot of red, a couple of black and white pieces, and hot yellows.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – OLD ART, NEW ART

Then she moved to New York, where she passed from reds to blues but her work developed in many ways, and its form changed greatly.

She arrived two years ago to undertake some courses at schools including Parsons School of Design, NYU and the School of Visual Arts, and she participated in art residencies.

The Southampton show was a joint exhibition with her fellow SVA resident Matt Moffet from Tulsa. OK.

Fragoudaki was fascinated by what she saw in New York’s galleries and what she learned in seminars. She noticed immediately that the residencies began to effect many changes in her work.

“Each day during my residency we were visited by a different curator who critiqued our work. They said things like: ‘it’s too decorative’ or ‘that’s terrible; do something else,’ or ‘It’s great! Continue,’” she said.

“They told me not to be afraid to reveal what is inside me, not to be afraid to shred or burn the canvas,” and start again, and not to worry about the final result.

She worked on one piece for two months and she liked the final result very much. It is a dramatic collage titled “Sometimes I Cannot Control Myself.”

Viewers find visual and emotional complexity in her art.

The initial idea for the collage was to create something from the world of comics. She played with the idea of the Incredible Hulk and as she went through the above process she also drew on her love of photographing construction sites.

She said the Hulk character has self-destructive elements, and she noted that there are some construction sites where you are not certain whether they are under construction or destruction. In the piece Fragoudaki combined comic book images with her own photos.

Another thing that happened during her residencies was that she overcame both shyness and what she called snobbishness. In this case, she had felt she was painting oriented and that she was above making collages, but she began to love them.

This year she began to experiment with using texts on the canvas. “I like it and I will do more of it. “

One example is “My attitude depends on how you treat me.” She said it is something that the Hulk says, and she found that people react powerfully to it.

“So many people come in and tell me they want to buy it for their wife or husband. People really connect to that, but I don’t know if it is always true.”

Asked if that reflects the determinism of most chemical reactions, Fragoudaki said there is an element of that, but it wasn’t the conscious reason. She just needed a Hulk connection, “but now that you mention it I will think about it.”

In other pieces she uses the exactly contradictory phrase: “Sometimes I cannot control myself.”

Her newest painting, which debuted in the Hamptons, is an abstract titled Rush Hour. “I was on Park Avenue and I saw all these taxis,” that formed a yellow blur.

She will continue with collages, and says she still has some abstract works within her, but her environment and life issues clearly impact her work.

THE NEW GREECE: A WORK IN PROGRESS.

Fragoudaki acknowledged that the Greek economic crisis finds its way only her canvases. Indeed she just made a conscious decision to include a personal element in every work.

Naturally, she worries about her homeland. Contradictory media reports make it difficult to tell whether Greece is coming out of crisis or sinking deeper. “Unconsciously, I have it on my mind all the time.”

One thinks about the construction/destruction sites in her works.

“I always want to be positive so I don’t want to believe that Greece will be destroyed. I don’t want to think that, and I don’t believe that. It is a very slow process but we will gradually find our way,” she said.

She is also optimistic because “I believe there are really talented people in Greece in all fields, especially the younger people,” and she things 80 percent of the people who are leaving will be back.

Fragoudaki’s work can be seen at: www.mariafragoudaki.com.