Yiannis Gaitis: Lover of life, women and, above all, painting

Looking at childhood photos, she appears the perfectly combed cute little girl, held in the arms of her parents, Yiannis Gaitis and Gabriella Simosi. Growing up in a house full of paintings and sculptures, where visitors included collectors, gallery owners, artists and museum directors, architect Loretta Gaiti Charrat has endless memories of her parents, two people passionate about art. Gaiti Charrat recently spoke to Kathimerini on the occasion of the publication of a catalog of Gaitis’s complete work. The volume was completed following 10 years of research and hard work by Gaiti Charrat. The result is «a tribute to my father,» she says. Your father was a prolific artist. How did you manage to gather the majority of his works in one volume? Unfortunately, I was not in a position to gather every one of them. The catalog features paintings, sculptures and installations from 1954 up until 1974, about 1,700 entries. Yiannis Gaitis used to say that he had executed about 4,500 works but this figure included objects such as prints, toys, chairs, theater costumes and garments he had designed along with Yiannis Tseklenis. My aim was to locate and include all the works that show his development as an artist, aiding readers in understanding who Gaitis was. What were the greatest difficulties you faced over these 10 years? Most of all, the distribution of his works, they were scattered all over the world. In the beginning, the research was very difficult, especially in Greece, where we have no experience of artists’ catalogs – Gaitis’s is the first of its kind to be published here – collectors are highly suspicious. They are not always willing to open their doors, show you the work and let you take a photo. In France, on the other hand, collectors and art owners are more willing to collaborate. After the initial stages, however, research was easier. What did you learn about Gaitis the artist and the man during the decade-long project? I began working on this full-time in 1984, just before a major retrospective of his work held by the National Gallery. Unfortunately my father passed away a few days before the opening, he didn’t get to see the end result. When I visited the museum, what I saw on display was an important part of his work. I was deeply moved and very proud. Until then, I was used to his signature male figure which appeared for the first time in 1968, when I was 10 years old. I wanted to gather all his creations and offer them to him, even posthumously. This gift, of course, is not dedicated solely to him, but to all those who came after him, eager to learn something about the artist. His entire progression is in this book. At the same time, I discovered a number of things about his character. It became even clearer to me how much in love he was with life, with art, how much he loved women, how the idea of friendship was a dominant principle throughout his life. He had endless sources of energy and vitality. He was very sociable and very simple at the same time. Of the 1,700 works included in the catalog which one is your favorite? I couldn’t possibly pick one. I like many of them and now, following the completion of the catalog, I’ve become really greedy. I think that each of us is touched by different things. Going over this panorama of his work today, what do you consider his greatest innovation as an artist? Both his personality and the means of expression he wanted to use began to emerge through a series of sculptures he executed from 1949 to 1954. In the 1959 «Fillomata» collection, this becomes even more evident. What kind of images do you remember of your father? I vividly remember the smell of paint and turpentine together with an incredible source of power stemming from within him. I also recall his instinct, the way he held the paintbrush and sketched. I remember him sketching in front of collectors, making in situ presentations of his work. He was given commissions and he would execute them before our very eyes. He was passionate, in love with art and completely dedicated to painting. I was hugely relieved when the catalog was finally published. It had a gestation period of 10 whole years and I think that the final result reflects the effort. My new aim now is the Gaitis Museum on the island of Ios.