NEW YORK – The Consul General of Greece Amb. George Iliopoulos noted during his introduction on February 9 of painter Calliope Iconomacou and the exhibition of her art titled “Yiayia, Tell Me Your Story” that he likes to host events that attract people to the consulate for pleasure and not only because they have problems to resolve.
In this case, pleasure and fascination are evoked by the portraits of hauntingly beautiful women representing every region in Greece and reflecting the Greek immigrant experience – from both sides of the ocean.
The invitation called the exhibition “an artistic view on the story of Greek women’s immigration” and Iconomacou gathered the images of the faces and the life stories, like so many flowers from a meadow in full bloom, entirely from her imagination.
For example, “Mary of Cappadocia” represents the children of the Asia Minor Catastrophe.
With the fictional biographies posted next to the pictures Iconomacou created a novel in color and feeling.
Viewers are immediately affected on several levels. First, they bond emotionally with the faces set in backgrounds of crimson, blue, and gold. One of them is sure resemble a relative or dear family friend.
The viewer’s eyes and minds are also seized by concentrically set geometric forms, perfect squares, rectangles and circles, their symmetry framing and reflecting the most powerful and unforgettable elements in the portraits – the eyes.
Their “matia” are perhaps what is most memorable about the grandmothers who doted upon us, transcending our memories of wrinkled smiles and connecting us with their youth – and eternal youth.
Iliopoulos was pleased to host the exhibition, which runs through March 4 and is open between 9 AM and 2:30 PM Monday-Friday “not only because the artist is very Greek but because it connects very much with every one of you…who have your own grandmothers to tell you stories.”
Iconomacou told TNH she also chose the theme because of the migration crisis, which triggered “childhood memories of my aunts in American crossing the ocean to meet with my grandmother in Laconia and Kythera.”
As a child she could sense the feelings of her aunts and their impossible hopes that the visits served to complete the family’s puzzle or repair the torn fabric – an impossible dream given the geographical separation.
Through the exhibition, she said, “I wanted somehow to pick up the pieces…as I tried to understand the feelings of these women I realized that this is an issue that concerns the entire Hellenic nation as every family has its own unfinished puzzle.“
Fabric is more than a metaphor.
It is the first time she has used cloth as a medium – she used traditional Greece lace both for the way it absorbs the ink and for its symbolism as a traditional material “that covers and protects.”
“Mantilla is something very common and necessary for grandmothers,” and is a part of their families’ memories of them.
A graduate of the Athens Superior School of Fine Arts, Iconomacou is descended from generations of artists. Her mother is an architect and her father a civil engineer, and although she is now intrigued by math she disliked it – except for geometry as the pictures hint – as a student.
Philosophy has also inspired her, sometimes providing the spark that fires a particular creative effort, sometimes causing her to lose herself in her current projects, especially as she contemplates life and the world.
She studied painting at the studio of Nikos Kessanlis, who studied in Paris. “He brought back a new spirit to Greece that insisted that a work art must be founded on a concept….behind the appearance of the colors must hide a message, an idea,” which affected her profoundly.
Her artistry is most evident in the paintings’ eyes. Some girls’ eyes make an impact by being altered from reality in subtle ways, others are more obviously enriched. But even the conventionally drawn eyes pose a strange attraction – the answer then becomes clear: one of their elements is reflected aspects of the picture as a whole.
When one learns that the artist’s favorite philosopher is Plato – she also admires Umberto Eco – one senses one of the sources of her inspiration.
It is the essence of the humanity and the historical – not personal – stories of girls that she projects into her viewer through the eyes that are the windows into their souls and the geometrical shapes that suggest the simplicity and purity our grandmothers’ love.
Iconomacou somehow infused into the paintings not only the deep, rich colors but that “sense of expectation” she felt as a child as the family awaited the visitors from America.
Archbishop Demetrios was at the opening reception, perhaps drawn because he knew Iconomacou’s father from university, but he was impressed by the art and enjoyed the personal tour he received.
Iconomacou thanked Consul General Iliopoulos and his wife Anthousa, and Ilias Katsos for their support and help in organizing the exhibition.
Some of the paintings are viewable at facebook.com/calliope.iconomacou