An artist mixes different influences in her sculpture

Innovation is an idea greatly valued in art but some people claim that with so much having been done already, there are seldom new ideas but just reinterpretations of existing ones. The sculpture of Sofia Vari is an example of a body of work that mixes recognizable influences from 20th century art into a distinctive blend. Her sculptures and paintings, on view at her one-woman show at the Benaki Museum, evoke the style of cubism, the sculpture of Henry Moore and primitive, totemic sculpture. In a way, the sculptures are the contemporary artist’s tribute to modernism and abstraction. «Art never comes out of nothing; art comes out of art. I am very proud that my art comes out of something that I have loved, that I have studied, I have looked at and which I am not trying to copy but to assimilate into something else. I hope that when one first sees my work, they find something that they like. Then when they see deeper, they can see where it is coming from, but this should happen on a second level,» Sofia Vari told Kathimerini’s English Edition during her visit to Athens on the occasion of the exhibition. Vari is interested in the very ingredients of sculpture, in volume, shape, mass and material. Her concerns are purely formalistic and if that makes her work more modern than contemporary, it is something that she willingly accepts. «I am modern but I am not totally contemporary. I do not do installations, I do not try to shock and destroy the space around me just to exist. This is not my ideology. I think that art today is something to give beauty, balance, harmony, in a way to give some peace to the people who look at it,» says Vari. A striking beauty, now in her early 60s, Sofia Vari is a Paris-based artist who travels a lot with her companion in life, the artist Fernando Botero, and spends much of the year in Italy (Pietrasanta, a Tuscan village where she founds her sculpture) and Mexico. The daughter of a Hungarian mother and a Greek father, Vari forsook her family name, Kanellopoulos, and nicknamed herself Vari after the region outside Athens where she had spent her early childhood. Guided by the romanticism and stubborness of an adolescent, she wanted to earn her reputation, not inherit it because of her family’s name and connections. But one’s background is always there. Today, Vari is an artist internationally known and a cosmopolitan, well-connected woman. Her opening at the Benaki was one of those social events in Athens. Vari’s first figurative works were gradually replaced by abstraction. «As I am obsessed with geometry, with harmony, with volumes and rhythm, figuration limited me, so I began to eliminate what I thought was not important,» she says. Although her sculptures are often given the playful titles of human characters (Madame de Pompadour, Paloma, Arlequin), Vari says that anthropomorphism is not her objective. «It is like music, you put a note and this inspires you for a second note and the two notes brings the third note.» Interestingly, Vari began her career as a painter but soon moved on to sculpture. Now, even when Vari paints, she does so as a sculptor. The shapes in her large, colorful mixed-technique aquarelles at the Benaki Museum almost seem as if they have come out of the canvas itself. Bordering on the three-dimensional, they suggest that this is an artist whose chief interest lies in freestanding sculpture. The paintings presented in the exhibition grew out of Vari’s recently renewed interest in color. As a sculptor, Vari felt that she had missed the handling of color and reverted to painting to test color’s potential. This led her to incorporate color into her sculptures. Bold hues of red, greens, or blues (all colors used for airplanes but applied with a brush through a special technique) are cleverly applied to small parts of the sculpture. The use of color and and the way that the bold hues – which Vari says express her more contemporary side – contrast with the black bronze that takes up most of the sculpture’s surface help bring out volume and create an interesting play between receding and protruding shapes. Vari has also experimented with different forms. She has created some monumental public sculpture but has also made jewelry. Specimens from a limited edition she made for Baccarat are also on view at the Benaki Museum. «Portable sculpture» is what Vari calls her jewelry, which she says came about completely by chance from the small plasteline maquettes of sculptures she makes when traveling. But for Vari, monumental sculpture is not synonymous with scale. «Monumental does not mean big. A very small sculpture of 60 millimeters can be monumental and a 6-meter sculpture can look very small. It is a question of proportion.» Vari says that this is something she learned by looking at Mayan sculpture, a source of inspiration she blended with the other influences out of which her sculpture has grown. Sofia Vari’s exhibition is on display at the Benaki Museum through May 2.

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