The Old School of Kastro on the island of Siphnos housed the exhibition ‘Blue and the Fishes’ last year – this August ‘Blue and the Stones’ will be featured.
«Έχουμε Θεό, ζώντα, παρόντα, και αγαπώντα – we have a God who is living, present, and full of love».
The most remarkable places on Earth evoke and plant in us more than memories and feelings – when we leave we take along wisdom and a new view on life. And the artists among us encounter more than just persons, places and things – they find and express the very souls of towns and meadows, alleys and valleys, seashores and islands. Such an insight emerges in conversations with the painter Angeliki (Kelly) Papaevangelou on the island of Siphnos in the Cyclades.
Of course, her vision and passion are embodied in her paintings – we view them now and Siphnos beckons as we prepare for this year’s return to Greece.
Kelly’s art exerts a pull on us that is subliminal, however, because her canvases are not filled with the island’s enchanting vistas like the medieval town of Kastro or the graceful finger of land stirring the Aegean Sea that is the home of the Chrysopighi monastery, or even the views of the Siphnian sky whose sun warms the body by day and where the moon brings peace to the soul at night.
The paintings featured in last summer’s exhibition titled ‘Blue and the Fishes’ offer portions of the island’s spirit, sips of that divine light, tastings of the natives’ ‘philoxenia-hospitality’ – just the way the island’s world famous cuisine does, both in their own way making us hungry for all of that. And because through Kelly’s hands very human elements have melted onto her canvases – like the butter of a Tselementes recipe – so they cannot justly be called abstract – because they are alive.
That is also so because her paintings are not flat surfaces – she loves to give them texture. You can touch the ripples of the sea and the mounds of earth, Siphnos’ facets and substance – the philosophers’ ‘ousia’ comes to mind.
And artists are nothing if not philosophical – through light and color, but also the words of painting titles. The one titled ‘What If’ – some viewers call it a sunrise, others a sunset – is inspired by that favorite phrase of hers because for Kelly (she leans towards the ‘sunrise’ interpretation) it evokes the joys of the unexpected, of a brand new day: “What might happen if… A touch of surprise. Anything can happen… something new is emerging and comes to the surface,” she said. Indeed, what is more magical than… possibility?
One of the most fascinating aspects of conversations with artists about the birth of their works is the sense of ‘final causality’ in their endeavors, art, artist, and material being mystically drawn to the form that ultimately emerges.
The life of the artist also leaves its mark on the canvas – and in photographs.
On the day I visited the Old School of Kastro – for me, filled with memories of my late father who went to elementary school there – that housed the exhibition – I was immediately drawn to one image as I walked through the humble yet noble doorway. “I named it ‘Mother Sea’,” Kelly said, “because it is my mother Victoria Papaevangelou’s favorite color. We are five siblings – and I dedicated it to her. A mother’s love is always unlimited love – like the sea. ‘Prosfora – Giving’. The essence of a ‘mana’, the mother, is to give, not only to her children, but to all.”
THE SUPERNAL LIGHT OF SIPHNOS
The piercing blue of the Aegean sky in summer was visible though the open doors and windows, an eternal backdrop for the artwork suspended on the pure white walls. Like the lifeforms of the sea, works of arts evolve. They are living things, objects that come to life in the minds and hands of artists, as Kelly demonstrates. Pointing to another painting, she said, “this was a completely different painting in the beginning. The color was fuchsia and blue, and I kept playing with it and it metamorphosed into this… and I named it ‘What if’ – but until it reached that point I was ready to throw it into the garbage… then I said to myself, relax, Kelly” – and what was supposed to happen, happened.
“All of these paintings are those which reached a point where they gave me tranquility and joy… in this case, evoked by sea and horizon.”
One striking painting glows in blue and silver. “I dedicated this one to my sister, titled ‘Zoe’, which means ‘Life’ in Greece.
‘Turquoise Amour’ also draws the viewer. “I love this association – it is from when I go diving, under the sea, and I open my eyes, and I see this magic that gives me strength.” A diver, she agrees that what is experienced beneath the waves is light that is alive, that you feel and not just see.
The one titled ‘God’s Silver’ was also born of a mystical color she encountered. “That silver, if you come here in the morning – that is the sky and the sea,” the Aegean that embraces her beloved island of Siphnos every day. “This is Siphnos’ ‘lambirisma’, the silver shining that sparkles here for a large part of the day.” Naturally, she fell in love with Siphnos and bought a house in Kastro.
Kelly’s artistic impulse is felt strongly, but there is also a more subtle force active in her work, a hint of the Divine, in His Love – but not only – there is also the power of God expressing itself in nature, the sublime that blends with the beauty that is also part of Siphnos’ charm – some parts as rocky and barren and angry as any Greek landscape, others, most green and inviting.
The conversation shifts to the source of the force. “The most important person in my life was my grandmother Anastasia – she was one of the first women to become a notary in Greece.” It is a most unartistic profession, but in her Yiayia’s efforts, there was nobility. “She was honored by the Academy of Greece for her book, ‘50 Years in the Cells of the Imprisoned.’ With special permission from the Ministry of Justice, she and her friends would visit the prisoners – many mere girls – with the heaviest criminal sentences. Her faith in God was very strong, and her endeavor was how she lived the words of the Gospels, which was conveyed to her children and grandchildren. She would say, in words that were not just a motto but a maxim in her life: “Εχουμαι Θεω, ζωντα, παροντα, και αγαπωντα – we have a God who is living, present, and full of love.”
Gratitude is another element in her work and life. “All my paintings are also expressions of gratitude,” which brings us to her father Thomas. “He is the most adorable man and father figure – he adores his children and his wife, and he is a very humble man.”
Another fascinating image is ‘Baby Blue Love.’ “I was so fed up with professional frustrations” – she too is a notary, with a law degree from the University of Lille – and wanted to create something that was far from all that. To the viewer, ‘Baby Blue Love ’ feels like life itself, the universe – Baby Blue is figuratively a baby being born out of the infinite white…the pure potentiality out of which everything emerges. Kelly captured the moment when out of the infinite mind of God – something concrete is born.
And then at the exhibition – ‘out the blue’ so to speak, there is… pink! She associates the pink painting with her birthday-month of March, and that painting in particular with her friend who had just given birth to a baby girl. “So my mood was ‘pink’ – and the sea then seems sweet to me after the winter, so I call it ‘Sweet Spring Sea’. It was a risky work because it’s the only painting of this collection that is not blue. Blue is my thing – but I had to go beyond it. It was fun, however. I did it over a weekend. Monday morning at 6 AM, I opened my curtains in Vouliagmeni and I saw a sky exactly this color because the night before there was the pink full moon.”
The exhibition also included some evocative paintings of fishes by Giorgos Christophilopoulos and enchanting photographs by Gogo Georgouli. “She is a treasure!” said Kelly.
Indeed, some might imagine that a photographer requires less imagination than a painter – but they would be wrong. Imagination is a vision that precedes both the strokes of the brush or the snapping of the shutter.
Born and raised on Siphnos, Gogo developed a passion for travelling when she was 16. “When you travel, you have to bring back memories. I needed to find a way to do that” – and her photos bring the magic she discovers to our eyes.
This year’s exhibition will reprise some paintings and present new ones from August 5 -22. It is titled ‘Blue and the Stones – inspired by the delightful medieval architecture of Kastro.
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