Born in Rizovouni (Preveza) in 1959, he was an Athens School of Fine Arts student under the teaching of Yannis Moralis and Dimitris Mytaras (1979-1985). He featured his works for the very first time in Athens back in 1986; to date he has had seven solo shows as well as taken part in many group exhibitions. His works are included in private and public collections. He illustrated the following books: I Porfyrenia kai to mandolino tis by Fotini Frangkouli (Purpurella and her mandolin, 1995), Kymino kai kanella (Cumin and cinnamon, Collective Work, 1998), I fidogenniti vassilopoula kai alla paramythia by Maria Mamaligka (The snake-born princess and other stories, 1998) and To kaiki tou Thissiou kai alles istories gia mikrous kai megalous by Elias Venezis (The Thission boat and other stories for children and grown-ups, 2006). He resides and works in Athens.
- 2013 Tassos Mantzavinos - Kostas Papanikolaou, Citronne Gallery, Poros, Greece
- 2011 Citronne Gallery, Poros
- 2005 Thanassis Frissiras Gallery, Athens
- 2000 Zoumboulakis Galleries, Athens
- 1996 Zoumboulakis Galleries, Athens
- 1994 Ekfrasi Gallery, Glyfada
- 1992 Ora Cultural Center, Athens
- 1986 Epoches Gallery, Kifissia
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
- 2012 Ellenico Plurale - Dipinti dalla Collezione Sotiris Felios, Complesso del Vittoriano, Rome (curated by Giuliano Serafini)
- 2012 Between Reality and Fantasy. Works from the Sotiris Felios Collection, Giorgio de Chirico Art Center, Volos (curated by Irene Orati)
- 2010 Contemporary Greek Painting part of the Sotiris Felios Collection, Sismanoglio Megaro, Istanbul
- 2009 Greek Landscape Painting from the 18th to the 21st Centuries, B. & M. Theoharakis Foundation, Athens (curated by Haris Kambouridis)
- 2009 The Perspective of Time. Pictorial Histories Paintings from the Sotiris Felios Collection, Benaki Museum, Athens (curated by Irene Orati)
- 2008 The Sea. Four Painters, Citronne Gallery, Poros Christmas with Papadiamantis, Gallery 24, Athens
- 2007 Portrait, K. Gavras Gallery, Athens
- 2006 A Summer Encounter, Gallery 24, Athens
- 2004 Helleniades, Lausanne
- 2004 In our Image after our Likeness, Frissiras Museum, Athens
- 2004 Encomium to the Olive Tree, Athens Academy, Athens (curated by Louisa Karapidaki)
- 2002 Hydra. Visual Impressions, Historical Archives-Hydra Museum, Hydra (curated by Irene Orati)
- 2002 Exhibition House, Falatados, Tinos
- 1998 Greek Landscape Painting from the 19th-20th Centuries, National Gallery-Alexandros Soutsos Museum (curated by Angela Tamvaki)
- 1997 Focuses of the Gaze, Contemporary Art Center, Larissa (curated by Athena Schina)
- 1996 Tribute to Periclis Pantazis, Averoff Museum, Metsovo (curated by Olga Mentzafou-Polyzou)
- 1995 Mediterranean, National Gallery of Tirana
- 1993-4 The Tree. Source of inspiration, occasion for creation, Averoff Museum, Metsovo, Center for Contemporary Art, Nicosia (curated by Yannis Kolokotronis)
- 1993 The Sea, Art and Concert Hall, Hydra
- 1992 Contemporary Greek Artists, European Cultural Center, Delphi (curated by Pierides Museum)
- 1991-4 Contemporary Greek Painting. Vlassis Frissiras Collection, Pierides Museum, Glyfada (1991); Athens Municipal Cultural Center, Athens; Municipal Gallery, Rhodes; Art and Concert Hall, Hydra (1992); Byzantine Museum, Zante (1993); Neoria, Hania Crete; Yeni Tsami and Vellideion Cultural Center, Thessaloniki Port Authority, Thessaloniki (1994) (curated by Takis Mavrotas)
- 1991 Miranda Gallery, Hydra
- 1991 Ora Cultural Center, Athens
- 1989 Portraits, Athens Municipal Cultural Center, Athens
- 1988 Ten Young Painters, Fix Icehouse, Athens Painting for a Table, Athens Municipal Gallery, Athens (curated by Manos Stefanidis)
- 1987 Miranda Gallery, Hydra
- 1986 Social Reality and Greek Painting Today, Fix Icehouse, Athens
- 1985 Graduates of the Athens School of Fine Arts, Andros Museum of Modern Art-Vassilis and Eliza Goulandris Foundation, Andros
The Painting of Kostas Papanikolaou
Kostas Papanikolaou received his education as a painter in the studio of Yannis Moralis at the Athens School of Fine Arts early in the 1980s. Today, now that enough time has elapsed to permit some initial conclusions, we can argue that he was one of Moralis’ last noteworthy disciples, that is, one of the School’s last students to be able to take advantage of their teacher’s significant reserves of empirical knowledge of painting. At that time, Moralis’ long-standing presence and artistic ethos set the prevailing tone for the entire School. In accordance with his example, which was internalised by all as an unspoken rule, the study of painting conformed to purely morphological demands; everything else was regarded as being essentially foreign, unfamiliar elements in art. The theme – nude, still life or landscape – was no more than a conventional pretext to study specific compositional, design and chromatic problems, providing opportunities for practice and nothing more. Behind Moralis, as the high canon or archetype, as we would say today, was the work of Cézanne, whose career as a painter and the lessons he taught legitimised all this lucid dedication to problems of form.
According to this teaching principle, which Moralis applied rigorously, one learned to paint, but not a word was said about the deeper reasons for this creative act, nor about the significance, ideological role, social value and utility of art, all of which were issues left absolutely to each student’s temperament and theoretical convictions. In short, at the School you learned to see and to paint; learning to think, to be aware of and to feel life was your own work. There was something cold, cerebrally dehydrated about all this restricting, form-dominated teaching, but at the same time, through its consistency, through its non-negotiable principle of clearly choosing the act of art over discourse and theory, it provided a solid and disciplined education, whose entropy was basically rational, determinist and realistic. At that time, these internal, active terms were almost completely invisible and hard for us to discern, but now that times have changed so radically, it is becoming increasingly obvious that, for those who assimilated them, they constituted a long-range heritage, since this apprenticeship in viewing reality analytically and reconstructing it methodically generated a particularly affirmative attitude and way of life.
In the years after leaving the School, it was not easy, especially for those who, having come from the countryside to Athens, claimed a place in the “art world”. It was hard to refuse the easy career promised by the “modernisation” of the post-avant-garde, conceptual art, happenings and video art that were imposed in the early 1990s in Greece as the officially accepted forms of art. Painting with egg tempera and oil on wood or canvas now seemed old-fashioned, anachronistic or, at best, a deviation. Under such disadvantageous
conditions, insistence on painting took on the nature of a test, as it required that those very few people capable of continuing its tradition creatively – who had the necessary interior awakening, a kind of inner faith in their own inherent abilities – be endowed with the special self-confidence that those who strove to go beyond the dominant culture always seemed to have, based on an established network of accepted values with which to express their personal truth about the world in their own way.
A few years ago, on the occasion of Kostas Papanikolaou’s most recent solo exhibition, I had noticed that he belongs to the small group of artists who managed to evade the sirens of corrupted postmodern ideologies, and who remained loyal to the informal theoretical line that would have painting integrated in a purely visual-aesthetic way, primarily through the eye, as revealing and unspoken knowledge of the world, rather than addressing people’s conceptual- rational abilities through scholarly thematic content, and thereby eliciting their approval. It would be unfair to disengage the terms of this attitude, the cultivation of his vision, the chromatic subtlety of his pallet and the structured composition of his works from this school and from his own continuous cultivation and practice of its principles. We are, however, bound to seek the courage and maturity of his development, as well as the thematic and emotional wealth of his painting, in his own innermost psychological and intellectual abilities, in the formation of his personality.
Papanikolaou is now a mature artist in the literal sense of the term. He can now paint works of great skill and thematic depth, such as Funeral, which I regard as a work that summarizes his abilities in an exemplary way. Notice the thematic richness and simultaneous figural flawlessness of this work. In front of us, an olive tree occupies the entire upper left hand part of the composition. It dominates the work with its robust, dark trunk and silver-green foliage; it stages the space dynamically, defines the scale of the magnitudes and at the same time suggests the somewhat remote, random position of the viewer-observer. Under it, on the coastal road in the background, a procession of cars, people and black-clad women, some scattered, some grouped, is moving slowly forward; their shadows are elongated and hard as the afternoon sun beats down on the grey asphalt. The procession proceeds sluggishly, becoming denser toward the bend in the road, which is hidden behind a hillock verdant with olive trees. Beside it, on the shore, some uninformed people are still enjoying their dip in the sea. A girl in a bikini is standing looking at the women in black. Behind the hill, the road continues its coastal route, with a clump of cypress trees marking emblematically the destination and the end of the procession. Wreaths are already leaning against the cemetery fence. The road continues on, winding around the coves and inlets. In the background, small rocky islets punctuate the enormous expanse of the sea up to a point high on the horizon that is coloured red by the sunset. To the right, at the edge of the composition, stands an apartment building in which its inhabitants continue their leisurely holidays. A carefree child is playing in the courtyard with his dog, a girl is under the pilotis rinsing the sea salt off her body, and a man on the third floor is looking far beyond the hills at the firemen and a Canadair firefighting plane trying to extinguish a fire somewhere. On the lower right, a girl is heading towards us. A ray of sunlight penetrates the shade of the foliage and makes her clothing gleam like gold. The total effect is full of small whimsical thematic episodes that, scattered and concealed, await the viewer’s notice and a second, closer look to narrate their disparate roles. The whole is fragmented into events that, significant or trivial, ordinary or extraordinary, sad or happy, are taking place at the same parallel moment, without any visible coherence. But everything is happening in nature, in the same space defined by the sky, the earth and the sea, at the same time, under the same sunlight, within this total phenomenon of life that flows continually before our eyes.
It has all been painted with a restrained palette dominated by the contrast of warm colours – earth tones, dark red and bright pink shades, burnt and raw umber – with cool blues and intermediate mid-grey tones. The composition is balanced in low-tone colours, from which yellow is emphatically and wisely absent; even ochre is used minimally, and the admixtures that would have produced greens are also rare. The warmth and vitality of the yellows would have changed the tone of the entire work drastically, depriving it of the melancholy with which the sunlight colours all of creation as it sets; yellow perhaps would not have permitted the serenity required by the last farewell to well up within us.
Papanikolaou paints this whole world as though he were a genuine impressionist. Indeed he paints only what he sees, only light and shadows, trees and people as they appear at sundown. He paints while adopting a stance that is stoically unconcerned, careful but not at all exploratory, a stance of recording dispassionately that does not permit any interest or personal involvement to be manifested. We can see the light but not the sun, the procession but not the funeral, we can see the trees and the cypresses but not the cemetery, the smoke but not the fire; we can see the young people and the children. What the painter has created in the end is a panorama of the random, the fragmentary, the fleeting and the ordinary: it is the world in its entirety, through the sum total of all these individual events; the painter recomposes the being of life in the endless alternation of sadness and joy, in its sociability and solitude, in the multiformity of existence, in its Heracleitan movement, and in its dialectical progress, which obeys the ceaseless flow of creation and destruction, death and birth, the end and the new beginning.
Evgenios D. Matthiopoulos Athens 22 April 2009