Born in Pireas in 1952, he was an Athens School of Fine Arts student under the tutelage of Giorgos Mavroidis (1970-1974). He pursued his studies in Lyon and Paris (1978-1981) and then joined Leonardo Cremonini’s studio at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts as observer. He returned to Greece in 1982 and settled in Athens. Along with Irini Iliopoulou, Giorgos Rorris, Edouard Sacaillan and Maria Filopoulou they set up an informal artistic team which endorsed the ‘return to paintability’. It was in 1982 that he featured his works in his first individual exhibition in Athens and he has since had another five solo shows along with numerous group exhibitions. His works are found in the National Gallery of Greece, the National Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation, the Frissiras Museum and the Kouvoutsakis Art Institute as well as in private collections in Greece, France and Belgium. He resides and works in Athens.

Solo Exhibitions

  • 2006 Athens Art Gallery, Athens, Greece
  • 1995 Galerie Flak, Paris, France
  • 1992 Athens Art Gallery, Athens, Greece
  • 1987 Municipal Gallery of Larissa, Greece
  • 1985 Argo Gallery, Athens, Greece
  • 1982 Syllogi Gallery, Athens, Greece

Group Exhibitions (selection)

  • 2013 The 80's Generation - Contemporary Greek Painting from the Sotiris Felios Collection, National Gallery - Alexander Soutzos Museum - Sparta Annex, (Coumantaros Art Gallery), Sparta
  • 2013 Somatographies - Contemporary Greek Painting from the Sotiris Felios Collection, National Gallery - Alexander Soutzos Museum - Nafplion Annex, Nafplion
  • 2012 Ellenico Plurale - Dipinti dalla Collezione Sotiris Felios, Complesso del Vittoriano, Rome, Italy (curated by Giuliano Serafini)
  • 2012 Between Reality and Fantasy. Works from the Sotiris Felios Collection, Giorgio de Chirico Art Center, Volos, Greece (curated by Irene Orati)
  • 2012 Face to Face - a collector and the artists, Frissiras Museum, Athens, Greece (curated by Vlassis Frissiras and Christina Sotiropoulou)
  • 2011 Bodies – Places. Contemporary Greek Painting from the Collection of Anthony & Asia Hadjioannou, Greek Cultural Foundation, Berlin Branch, Germany
  • 2011 Ptolemaida Spring 2011-Figurative Painting, Paleontological and Historical Museum of Ptolemaida, Greece (curated by Tatiana Spinari)
  • 2010 Deconstructing the Canvas, Conceiving the Image, Greek Painters from the Anthony & Asia Hadjioannou Collection, Municipal Cultural Centre of Thessaloniki, Greece (curated by Iris Kritikou)
  • 2010 Contemporary Greek Painting part of the Sotiris Felios Collection, Sismanoglio Megaro, Istanbul, Turkey
  • 2010 Human Measures, CulturalCentre of the Municipality of Athens “Melina”, Greece (curated by Iris Kritikou)
  • 2009The Perspective Of Time. Pictorial Histories Paintings From The Sotiris Felios Collection, Benaki Museum, Athens, Greece (curated by Irene Orati)
  • 2009 Greek Colour. Sixteen Contemporary Artists, Greek Ministry of Tourism, Sotheby’s, London (curated by Mariza Kalogeropoulou-Fassianos)
  • 2009 Contemporary Greek Art, Hellenic Museum, Melbourne, Australia
  • 2009 Watercolors of the Greek Landscape, Contemporary Balkan Art Gallery, Lemnos, Greece (curated by Iris Kritikou)
  • 2009 It Happened in Athens, Cultural Organization of the City of Athens and ‘Mikri Arktos’ Publishers, Athens, Greece (curated by Iris Kritikou)
  • 2009 Ambassadors of Contemporary Greek Art, Three Generations of Painters, exhibition at the Hellenic Museum, Greek National Tourism Organization, Melbourne, Australia
  • 2008 Athens Printmaking Center. The History of an Atelier, Athens Municipal Gallery, Greece (curated by Nelly Kyriazi)
  • 2008 Aegina and the Painters, Cultural Centre of the Municipality of Athens ‘Melina’, Greece (curated by Iris Kritikou)
  • 2008 Experiencing Greece: travels through an enchanted landscape, Hellenic House, Ministry of Tourism, Greek National Tourism Organization, Beijing, China (curated by Iris Kritikou)
  • 2008 Greek Art Today 2008. Eight Contemporary Artists, Belgravia Gallery, London, UK (curated by George Stathopoulos)
  • 2007 Aspects of the Figure, Semantics of the Landscape, Antonis & Azia Hadjioannou Collection, Municipal Gallery of Chania, Greece (curated by Iris Kritikou)
  • 2007 Greek Art Today - Twelve Contemporary Artists, Belgravia Gallery, Mayfair, London, UK (curated by George Stathopoulos)
  • 2007 Birthplace, Alpha Trust, Benaki Museum, Athens, Greece (curated by Iris Kritikou)
  • 2007 ‘Always watching, always wakeful, the eyes of my soul…’, Sketching Dionysios Solomos, Moschandreou Gallery, Messolongi, Greece (curated by Iris Kritikou)
  • 2007 Visual Arts in Greece 2007, Ministry of Culture, State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, Greece (curated by Haris Kambouridis)
  • 2006 Reflections from Greece, The National Arts Club, New York, USA (curated by Katerina Koskina)
  • 2006 In the Month of Hecatombaeon, Marina Keas Gallery, Kea, Greece (curated by Iris Kritikou)
  • 2005 In Arte Veritas, Ploes XI, Kydoniefs Foundation, Andros, Greece (curated by Athena Schina)
  • 2005 Sacred and Profane. Aspects of Women in Contemporary GreekPainting, Municipal Gallery of Hania, Crete, Greece (curated by Haris Kambouridis)
  • 2005 Ode to Motherhood, Byzantine Museum, Athens, Greece
  • 2005 C.P. Cavafy, Benaki Museum, Athens, Greece
  • 2004 In our Image after our Likeness, Frissiras Museum, Athens, Greece (curated by Marina Chalkia)
  • 2004 Reflections from Greece, Absolute Americana Gallery, St. Augustine, Florida, USA
  • 2004 Agonon Polis, Technopolis-Municipality of Athens, Greece (curated by Athena Schina)
  • 2003-04 The Olympic Spirit and Contemporary Greek Art, traveling exhibition (curated by Peggy Kounenaki)
  • 2003 Pictorial Affinities, Skoufa Gallery, Athens, Greece
  • 2003 New Iconolatry, Kapopoulos Fine Arts, Athens, Greece (curated by Haris Kambouridis)
  • 2002 Anthropography I, Frissiras Museum, Athens, Greece
  • 2000 2000 Tins, Piraeus Street Lithography Studio, Athens, Greece (curated by Alexis Veroukas, Niki Nikonanou, Nikos Stefanou)
  • 2001 Figurazione Europea, Galleria Forni, Milan, Italy (curated by Alessandro Riva)
  • 1997 Ten Greek Figurative Painters from the Collection of the Kouvoutsakis Art Institute, Knokke Casino, Galerie Jan de Maere, Belgium and the Thessaloniki Municipal Gallery (curated by Thalia Stefanidou, in conjunction with Thessaloniki Cultural Capital of Europe 1997)
  • 1997 Masters and Students. A Proposal for Reading, Astrolavos Gallery, Athens, Metamorphosis Gallery, Thessaloniki, Greece (curated by Manos Stefanidis)
  • 1997 Visual Arts Tribute, Panhellenic Cultural Movement, Technopolis, Municipality of Athens, Greece
  • 1996 Tribute to Periclis Pantazis, Averoff Museum, Metsovo, Greece (curated by Olga Mentzafou-Polyzou)
  • 1996 Homage to Paul Verlaine, French Institute of Piraeus, Gallery 24, Athens, Greece
  • 1992 Europart, Geneva, Switzerland (collaboration with the Athens Gallery)
  • 1991-94 Contemporary Greek Painting. Vlassis Frissiras Collection, Pierides Museum, Glyfada, Greece (1991); Athens Municipal Cultural Center, Athen, Greeces; Municipal Gallery, Rhodes, Greece; Art and Concert Hall, Hydra, Greece (1992); Byzantine Museum, Zante, Greece (1993); Neoria, Hania Crete, Greece; Yeni Tsami and Vellideion Cultural Center, Thessaloniki Port Authority, Thessaloniki, Greece (1994) (curated by Takis Mavrotas)
  • 1990 Vers un Nouvel Humanisme: Jeunes Peintres Grecs à Paris, Espace des Esselières, Paris, France (curated by Marina Lambraki-Plaka)
  • 1988 Painting for a Table, Athens Municipal Gallery, Greece (curated by Manos Stefanidis)
  • 1988 Greek Painting 1968-1988, Musée Royal des Beaux Arts, Brussels, Belgium, organization National Gallery-Alexandros Soutsos Museum
  • 1985 New Greek Painters. Trajectories. Athens Cultural Capital of Europe, Pierides Museum, Greece (curated by Dora Iliopoulou-Rogan & Manos Stefanidis)
  • 1975 Panhellenic Exhibition, Zappeion, Athens, Greece

In the Shadow of the Parthenon

Report from … Athens*

How does a modern-day artist go to work in the city dominated by the Parthenon?

‘We live with it,’ says Stefanos Daskalakis, an established Greek painter living in Athens, ‘but it’s no longer an obstacle.’

The heroic spirit of Ancient Greece, nevertheless, is still evident – whether in the subject matter of the art itself or in the way it is viewed and presented. The figurative paintings of Stefanos Daskalakis seem haunted by heroism. It’s heroism down on its luck – perhaps just a yearning memory of heroism – which gives gravitas and emotion to work based on close observation of the figure. He can be seen at Sismanoglio Megaro (the Sotiris Felios collection) in Istanbul until 12 December, an exhibition which will travel to Venice in June, and at the Kouvoutsakis Art Institute in Athens – Felios and Kouvoutsakis being two private collectors with a passion for promoting Greek art.

A weightiness pervades Daskalakis’ paintings – and it is not just that his subjects are often voluminous women painted on large canvases. It’s like the weightiness of Greek urban folk music: “You don’t need a voice,” someone tells the singer in a Greek film, “you’ve got sorrow inside you, and pain.”  Daskalakis is highly trained as a painter, in Athens and Paris, but is not afraid to address the same raw feelings in his work. Ioanna, Despina, Myrto – the models he works from again and again – look as if they are going through hell, but this only emphasises their human dignity, and a kind of enduring heroism that makes life’s degradations seem more monumental.

Viewed for a moment simply as genre painting, these portraits say something about Greek society that is interestingly different from, for example, Lucian Freud’s bleak view of contemporary London. Discovering that Daskalakis prefers to paint actors because, he says, they understand what he is after, puts another light on the work. Theatricality is in the emotional poses that his models strike, in their facial expressions, and in Daskalakis’ dramatic method of lighting, where heavy pools of shadow lie behind the characters.

The women are presented like broken champions. The flesh is tired – so tired your feet feel sore just looking at the bulky older woman wearing the pointed shoes of a young fashionista. In another painting she appears perched on a stool in an uncomfortably short skirt, a tiny handbag held in plump fingers with red polished nails, but the intelligence in her level gaze challenges the artist/viewer to pity or ridicule her.

Daskalakis was assistant and sometimes model to the famous Yannis Tsarouchis  for nine years until his death in 1989. Tsarouchis’ painting, he says, “synthesized the Greek tradition – Ancient, Byzantine and Primitive – along with the search for modernism”. In early 2010, Benaki – a privately funded museum in Athens – hosted the first large Tsarouchis retrospective to celebrate 100 years since his birth, and it sells a giant catalogue of his work.

Tsarouchis had a pivotal influence on the art community of Greece and on wider Greek society, both as a painter and through his charismatic ability with words. His work expresses the heroic ideal of ancient Greece and the Renaissance and Baroque movements in the form of young men, while emphasising their weaknesses. Elegant composition, vigorous lines, fresh colour, lush paint: these make the first impression on seeing a work by Tsarouchis. But it only paves the way to a little frisson, if not shock at the realisation that these muscular boys with handsome faces and gleaming chests, lounging on beds, half-naked or wearing cute sailor outfits, have vulnerable, uncertain faces, broken limbs or bandaged hand. Some are adorned with ridiculous fairy wings. Like boys in a gay body-building magazine or from a poem by Constantine Cavafy, they resemble mythical heroes. His work is on permanent exhibition at the Yannis Tsarouchis Foundation in Athens.

Another kind of heroic aspiration is felt when you enter the Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art created by collector Dakis Joannou. Housed in a former sock factory in an affluent suburb of Athens, Deste is a kind of Saatchi, in that it is based on one person’s taste in art and his ability to buy it. Like Saatchi, it brings local and international art to the public eye and has a generally enabling influence on contemporary art. It offers a prize biannually to an emerging Greek artist, funds lavish art projects, and opens its art library and archive of Greek artists to the public.

Mainly though, it creates themed exhibitions drawn from Joannou’s collection, like the current Alpha Omega (open until December 29). But here – at least in the case of this exhibition – the enterprise trips itself up, perhaps by taking itself too seriously (as heroes sometimes do). Despite helpful curators, a hefty catalogue and a quantity of exhibited texts, the connection between the blown up philosophy on the wall and the playful character of most of the work is mystifying, and doesn’t do either any good. For instance, Jeff Koons’ painterlyTree, Paul McCarthy’s cynical installation White Snow, Maurizio Cattelan’s floating donkey and disembodied saluting arms, and Triple Candie’s witty ingroup Maurice Cattelan is Dead may or may not relate to multiplicity and the cyclical nature of the universe. Either way, the texts are too sonorous for the art, and end up undermining it.

A room devoted to three beautiful paintings by Chris Ofili is an exception. You can pin a lot onto Ofili without risking pretentiousness because big mystical issues really do seem to be at the heart of his work, and he has the rare ability to turn them into good art. Christiana Soulou is showcased as a new Greek artist, but her light pencil drawings based on the Tarot are subtle almost to the point of invisibility.

Continuing the heroic theme, this past summer the Benaki Museum staged an exhibition of the naïve painter Theophilos (1867-1934). A total eccentric, he saw himself as Alexander the Great. He walked around dressed up like him, complete with helmet and spear, and painted himself in the role.

With the massive support of private funders like Deste and Benaki – and there are several others, including the Contemporary Greek Art Institute (Nees Morfes), the Frissiras Museum and the stunning Onassis Cultural Center that opened on Dec.7 – Greek art itself is likely to become increasingly visible in the wider world.

Anne Sassoon
* This article was published on the www.artcritical.com website on Wednesday January 5th 2011.

Stephanos Daskalakis. Painting As Image And As Matter

Ever since the 1970s, painting, and especially representational painting, has periodically created dominant trends in contemporary art thus renewing and strengthening its position among the other modes of expression in the visual arts. The past decade has seen a similar burgeoning of interest in painting. Issues such as the new role of painting and its counter-proposal to the intense conceptualism prevailing in art are matters of concern to the field of contemporary art. Within this context, the work of Stephanos Daskalakis has become timely. But apart from his choice of this particular medium, there is an additional, independent interest that is centered on the way the artist works. Daskalakis is one of the few painters who work from a live model, be it a portrait, a human figure or a still life. In short, he uses a traditional method of painting that very few contemporary artists employ systematically.

In his work, the observation and significance of a tangible and present reality during the act of painting is a prerequisite and part of the creative process. Setting up the model in the studio and the appropriate staging of the picture also require the physical involvement of the artist.

Daskalakis believes that his practice of painting from a live model may constitute a form of resistance to the exaggerated conceptualization characteristic not only of contemporary art, but of life in general. In a period that he describes as excessively “intellectual”, he resists types of painting and ways of working that activate and cultivate the senses above all. His painting is not confined to a visual result but also provides a tactile stimulus. In his interesting, thoughtful views on art, Daskalakis frequently returns to the idea of the “material entity of painting”, to painting as an object and not only as a picture. As early as 1987, he noted in the catalogue of his solo exhibition (at the Larissa Municipal Art Gallery – G.I. Katsigras Museum) that “perhaps the visual arts should be less of the eye and more arts of touch”. In fact, he describes the glance that “touches the objects and feels the light sitting on the surfaces of things in physical way”.

The successive layers of paint in his works, especially the later ones, as well as his expressionist idiom reflect this emphasis on substance and matter. Quantities of paint applied to the canvas build up an impasto painted surface that has “flesh” and bears the memory of the painterly act. Thus the visual and tactile aspects of the painting co-exist.

In still lifes – images with fruit and nuts strewn on the floor are typical – the tactile element and materiality contend with the picture of decay and abandonment. Clearly influenced by the vanitas of Dutch painting, these works hint at the struggle for existence against the wear and tear of time.

In his nudes or full-length portraits, his recent work, skin takes on texture and an almost sculptural quality.

Despite the significance Daskalakis attaches to matter and reality, it is not his intention to represent it. The ordinary, everyday people he sees walking down the street may inspire him, but his aim is to record not reality but rather non-material elements: the personality, a mental or emotional state, but also purely painterly elements such as properties of light and colour. The physical presence functions as a kind of challenge: it sets limits and in this sense is a form of resistance, an obstacle. According to the artist, it is this resistance that produces the intensity in his painting that he so he strives for in his work. It is achieved by strong shadows, by the light that is frequently depicted entering diagonally (the artist always uses artificial rather than natural light, which changes according to the time of day) and by impasto. In some full-length portraits, the angle of vision that seems to be higher up intensifies the dramatic element and creates the impression of a vortex.

In most of his works, one has the impression of movement, of an uncertain and fluid state, of an underlying and sometimes threatening atmosphere. The dark and violent element in painting fascinates Daskalakis. Among the classical painters he admires most, he singles out Nicolas Poussin for his way of combining a state of calm with a mysterious atmosphere of underlying tension in his paintings.

Yannis Tsarouchis (who wrote a brief note in the catalogue of the Daskalakis’ first solo exhibition in 1982) was also a significant figure for him. At a time when abstract art dominated, Daskalakis regarded Tsarouchis’ devotion to the idiom of representational painting with admiration.

Together with some other representational artists of approximately the same age, Daskalakis carries on this tradition of representational painting. At the Athens School of Fine Arts, he studied in the studio of George Mavroides. In Paris, where he went after Lyon, he continued his studies, selecting the studio of Leonardo Cremonini, where other Greek representational painters of his generation also studied. Daskalakis’ painting was moulded in an age of a return to realism (in the sense of the term as representationality). The international trend reacting against the dominance of formalism and manifestations of art like minimalism was visible in the 1970s and counter-proposed representational painting. Early in the 1980s, when the artist returned to Greece and had his first solo exhibition, neo-expressionism was the focal point of contemporary art. In his first works of that period he painted large sacks of merchandise used, for example to store flour or rice. The theme was a pretext for Daskalakis to occupy himself with light, matter and the qualities of painting, issues that have preoccupied him unceasingly ever since. His concentration on just a few themes – interiors, still lifes, portraits and the human figure – suggests the priority he attaches to the attributes of painting rather than to thematic breadth.

Even though he is a representational painter, Daskalakis does not distinguish abstraction from representationality when he analyses the attributes of painting. The challenges and issues intrinsic to painting remain the same in both cases. A representational work includes the abstract technique because every part of the painted surface can be isolated and constitute an autonomous abstract composition. In the end, however, the value of a work is not judged by isolated details, but by the whole, and by the way in which the volumes, the dabs of paint and the material between them are bound together.

The artist’s judgement that a work is complete is a critical decision that determines the final result. Although he believes in coincidences and in the possible rapid completion of a painting, Daskalakis works every painted surface persistently and painstakingly. He “tortures” the composition, lays down one layer of paint over the other, but often ends up destroying the work with his own hands whenever he deems the result unsatisfactory. This arduous process also explains his relatively few solo exhibitions.

A painting on which an artist has devoted hours of work is what, in Daskalakis’ view, is most likely to endure, to withstand different approaches and to look interesting when seen from both close up and far away. Despite this, he believes that a work is always open. What comes to an end is not the composition but the limits and capabilities of the painter. The challenge of painting and the adventure of the act of painting are inexhaustible. The work of Stephanos Daskalakis is a constant exploration of this painterly language and an exercise of the eye in investigating the wealth contained in views of things.

Alexandra Koroxenidis

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