Born in Athens in 1958, she studied painting under Panagiotis Tetsis and mosaic under Giannis Kolefas at the Athens School of Fine Arts (1977-1982). She furthered her education on a scholarship from the Greek State at the Hangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in China, where she received a postgraduate degree in the techniques of traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy (1983-1985).Her first solo exhibition was held in Beijing (1986, Beijing Artists’ Gallery). Along with painting, she is also involved in book illustrations and book cover design. From 1985 until the present day she has participated in a significant number of group exhibitions in Greece, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, China, Egypt, India et al.


Solo Exhibitions

  • 2016 Skoufa Gallery, Athens
  • 2014 Alpha C.K. Art Gallery, Nicosia
  • 2013 Technohoros Art Gallery, Athens
  • 2013 TinT Gallery, Thessaloniki
  • 2013 Oionos Gallery, Karditsa
  • 2011 TinT Gallery, Thessaloniki
  • 2010 Galerie Theorema, Brussels
  • 2009 Galerie Aliquando, Paris
  • 2008 Festam Festival, Toulouse
  • 2007 TinT Gallery, Thessaloniki
  • 2007 Galerie Aliquando,Paris
  • 2007 Oionos Gallery, Karditsa
  • 2006 Nees Morfes Gallery, Athens
  • 2003 TinT Gallery, Thessaloniki
  • 2002 Mylonoyanni Art Gallery, Chania
  • 2002 Ariadne Art Gallery, Heraklion, Crete
  • 2000 Nees Morfes Gallery, Athens
  • 2000 TinT Gallery, Thessaloniki
  • 1997 Terracotta Art Gallery, Thessaloniki
  • 1996 Nees Morfes Gallery, Athens
  • 1995 Terracotta Art Gallery, Thessaloniki
  • 1995 Ariadne Art Gallery, Heraklion, Crete
  • 1995 Mylonoyanni Art Gallery, Chania
  • 1992 Astrolavos Gallery, Piraeus
  • 1992 Ariadne Art Gallery, Heraklion, Crete
  • 1991 Nees Morfes Gallery, Athens
  • 1990 Mylonoyanni Art Gallery, Chania
  • 1989 Chryssothemis Gallery, Athens
  • 1987 Nees Morfes Gallery, Athens
  • 1986 Beijing Artists’ Gallery, Beijing

The Raft of Painting

An artist’s attempt to address through his work the tragicness of a painful current reality entails many dangers. The greatest of all is not that the artist’s venture might be considered as a means of exploiting the relevant publicity, but, rather, the potential weakness to transform the real event he is referring to into a self-luminous artistic creation.

The already emblematic image of refugees in boats, the human cluster floating at the mercy of the water, became the harrowing occasion of reality which led to the creation of the present works by Maria Giannakaki, since last summer.

Giannakaki found painterly support in two monumental works of the 19th century which addressed the same subject, people’s despair at sea: The Raft of the Medusa (1819) by Géricault and The Shipwreck of Don Juan (1840) by Delacroix. Géricault’s work depicts the raft with the shipwrecked from the “Medusa” frigate, which sank near the coast of Senegal in 1816: the diagonals of bodies and ropes form a triangle of compositional agony, which peaks at the sole figure that stands waving at a passing ship far away. Delacroix’s work, with clear references to the aforementioned painting by Géricault, refers to the wreck of Don Juan and his companions, inspired by the poem having the same title by Byron: the almost parallel position of the boat with the horizon seems to be washing up towards us the survivors of the wreck, at the very moment of a draw that will show who will be the prey among his companions, creating the feeling of an insurmountable inertia.

In between these two paintings drift in a dramatic manner the hope for rescue and the abandonment of the human figure to the unknown—the same pendulum where Giannakaki placed all her current work. By paying a painterly tribute to the two great ones of the past, she honours, by means of her own painterly idiom, those who are now helpless in the water. In the light of the exhibition title’s pun, mare nοstrum – mare monstrum, Giannakaki’s works concern the atrocious reality of the Mediterranean which is no longer a shared, warm embrace.

Giannakaki’s familiar love for the Oriental sense of graphism on paper and rice paper, together with the Western tension of colour autonomy, create clusters of intertwined figures floating with trust on seas of abandonment in Prussian blue. The detached space and the absence of specific time in her painting constitute here the natural field in which children appear again as protagonists, a basic element in Giannakaki’s imagery. With lifejackets in garish red, children’s figures manage to survive from the relentless water formed by undulations of Sino-Japanese origin, and are wrapped in aluminum blankets made of gold leaf—precious icons of little saints.

Giannakaki paints torn between the self–sufficiency of drawing and the expressiveness of colour that amazes her. She reserves the accuracy of realism for the faces of the figures she paints, which emerge from auras of abstract painterliness while, at times, transparent figures made of airy lines next to full figures resemble other worldly attendants. The explosions of ink and the blots of watercolour do not ‘mean’ yet they signify, with their attitude, the painterly tension of the image, which identifies here with its atrocious content. Human heads leaning backwards, gaping mouths, figures turning towards the sky, are painted with exquisite colours and carefree lines on silk fabric and handmade paper, dressing with preciousness the drama they depict. Thus the tension of a poetic paradox is born that pervades these works —beauty that battles against its very object. The images of “Mare Monstrum” oppose the tragicness of the subject they address by dedicating to human pain the beauty of painting.

Giannakaki does not narrate—she describes. And that is a quality of photography, upon which she draws the fragmented character of her works, that seem to be made of dispersed memories of dreams. The ruin-like approach to the image, which she recognised in Sino-Japanese painting, joins hands in her work with the aesthetics of the non-finito: her compositions are conceived and executed locally, from the formation of a face and the expansionism of a colour blot. In this way, the domination of the void is reinforced on the surface of the work and what manages to survive is unexpectedly showcased. Wretched bodies rise luminous from a light that shines from above and outlines of tormented figures become sculptures of indivisible human rocks on the empty sea horizon. A sublime monumentality is rendered here, which, nevertheless, negates itself before the view of a half-naked child’s torso grieved by the delirium of lines and colours of a painterly seabed.

Maria Giannakaki’s current works do not constitute a political or humanistic statement, but a profoundly painterly act, which has the power to shake by means of its medium —with an emotion that is aesthetic, not sentimental—the way in which we have become accustomed to the view of refugees at sea.

Giannakaki does not clash —she sympathises— employing an autonomous artistic proposal as her weapon, her only weapon. The “Mare Monstrum” works manage to rescue the greatness of human dignity through the image of an inhumane reality. Maria’s raft is her painting.


Elizabeth Plessa
* From the exhibition catalogue Maria Giannakaki 'Mare Monstrum' (Skoufa Gallery, 2016).