CULTURE

A century of Greek engraving

As contemporary artists increasingly look to technology for new techniques and aesthetic effects, the use of more traditional media and techniques is becoming rarer or, in many cases, is being transformed and updated to a more modern style. This can also be said of engraving, a technique that demands much knowledge of craftsmanship as well as being an intricate process. The ways in which artists have made use of engraving over time is the subject of «Greek Engravers in the 20th Century,» a book that has been jointly published by the Cultural Foundation of the National Bank and Alpha Bank. The book follows the course of Greek engraving during the 20th century and uses as a foundation both banks’ rare and rich collections of engravings. Both collections are continuously being enriched and contain pieces that represent the entire course of the art of engraving up until the present. The book, which is structured chronologically, shows a number of specimens of engraving by contemporary artists – among them Alexandros Psychoulis, Florentia Economidou, Edouardos Sakayan and Stefanos Zannis – but notes that most of these artists have now turned to other, more technological techniques. Aesthetics change over time, as do artistic media and techniques; this is one of the most interesting things to be learned from the book. An essay by art historian and engraving specialist Irini Orati takes the reader through the history of 20th century Greek engraving and briefly reveals the conditions during which engraving flourished. Orati explains that Greek engraving emerged sporadically in the early 20th century for book illustrations but that much later – between 1925-1935 – became an autonomous medium. Lykourgos Kogevinas, Angelos Theodoropoulos and Dimitris Galanis, especially, were among the pioneers who helped pave the way for engraving as an independent medium. Kogevinas and Galanis both lived in Paris for several years where they produced engravings to illustrate albums on Mt Athos and natural history, respectively. Some of those illustrations are reproduced in this book. One of the most seminal figures in the history of 20th century Greek engraving is Yiannis Kefallinos, the man who basically trained the first generation of engravers in this country via his post for more than two decades as a professor at the Athens School of Fine Arts. He began work there in 1933, a year after the school opened its Department of Engraving. Some of Greece’s most important engravers had been students of Kefallinos, including Vasso Katraki, Christos Daglis, Costas Grammatopoulos and Tassos. Like many of their contemporaries, they chose social issues as subject matter and during the German occupation in WWII used engraving as a form of protest. Remembered for the heroic and allegorical content of their work, this group of artists paved the way for the subsequent generations, particularly in the 1960s when engravers tuned in to the abstract mode that was prevalent in painting. One artist who helped «modernize» engraving was Costas Grammatopoulos, who became a teacher at the School of Fine Arts in the late 1950s. Thanassis Exarchopoulos, who was also a professor there in the early 1980s, was another major influence in the development of engraving and was one of the first to print on large surfaces. By the 1980s engraving had fully flourished as an independent technique with multiple forms; this attracted the attention of painters and other artists who had originally been working in different media. Many of those artists occasionally still work with engraving, although the younger artists have shifted away from the technique toward more electronic and technology-based media.