Artist bids farewell to Mrs Tependris, charming and neurotic grand dame

Every so often, artist Konstantinos Kakanias comes up with a new adventure that storms into the life of Mrs Tependris, his imaginary muse and fictional character that he has made the protagonist of his elegant drawings for more than a decade now. Last fall, Mrs Tependris, enthused by the forthcoming Olympic Games, arrived in Athens in order to compete in the Games which, needless to say, she organized just for herself. She simply had to experience the Olympic spirit and in turn, Kakanias had to dedicate a whole exhibition at the Foundation of Hellenic World to that noble cause. Always indulging in a grand mission or some «urgent» cause, this self-absorbed, neurotic but adorably energetic character is now the midst of her latest adventure. Tired by the extravagances of city life, not to mention the physical exertion that nevertheless earned her almost 40 Olympic medals and by extension, Olympic fame, she has now retreated to «The Embryo of the Desert,» an ashram and spiritual retreat somewhere in the Arizona desert. She is now faced with a new, utterly pressing but surely passing challenge: Can she lead a life in retreat, a life away from materialism and attuned to spirituality? Mrs Tependris will not, of course, become lost in philosophical queries but will, on this occasion of existential confusion, turn to her past and ruminate on all her glamorous affairs, her friendships with Jackie Onassis, Maria Callas, Katina Paxinou, etc. To depict his heroine’s latest life-phase, Konstantinos Kakanias thought of «entering her brain» to untangle some of the chaos and psychological confusion. In his small, but cleverly designed, installation at the Kalfayan Gallery in Thessaloniki (the artist’s first exhibition in the city), Kakanias has painted, drawing after drawing, a flashback into Mrs Tependris’s life. Kakanias has covered the window display of the gallery with opaque paper on which he has drawn the trademark profile of Mrs Tependris with her pointed nose and grande-dame hairdo. «Am I art?» she wonders in a caption that both expresses the heroine’s vanity, and can be seen as self-mockery and an underlying irony at the expense of the art establishment (Mrs Tependris has also been an avid contemporary art collector). Through Mrs Tependris’s eye, one can look inside the gallery. Once inside, the visitor comes across drawings which are intended to represent fragments of her memories and to capture instances from her past. In another part of the installation, a partition covered by the huge image of a human brain makes up a separate space which represents the inside of her head. A rumination of sorts on Mrs Tependris’s adventurous life, the exhibition also comes as the symbolic end to the Mrs Tependris cycle. In what is probably an attempt to tread new artistic ground and not become too closely associated with Mrs Tependris, Kakanias says that he plans to give his heroine a big break. He will turn to large, non-narrative paintings (psychological, abstract landscapes is what he calls them) while he is also toying with the idea of working with «found objects.» It is not an easy decision to take, particularly since Mrs Tependris, something of the artist’s alter ego, has earned Kakanias a distinctive reputation and a loyal following from the world of art, illustration (Kakanias’s drawings are usually compiled in humorous albums) and fashion, which is where much of Kakanias’s experience was acquired: A California-based artist, he trained at the prestigious Parisian Bercot fashion school, worked for Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Lacroix in Paris, and has had his illustrations published in Vogue, Vanity Fair, Interview, The New Yorker and The New York Times. Mrs Tependris will, however, never disappear from his repertoire. Kakanias says that he may continue making drawings on her «life,» but will not publicly show the works. In a way, Mrs Tependris is too much a character of contemporary life for the artist to let go of her completely. Although definitely not the average working middle-class woman, this is a character everybody can relate to. She is light and fun, amusing in her fixations, with lofty ideas, strong but ephemeral obsessions and driving neuroses, which, instead of throwing her into periods of depression, make her crave new adventures with the energy of a youngster. Not a warm or profound character, Mrs Tependris is nonetheless charming. She is the embodiment of all contemporary neuroses, of egocentrism, of what Kakanias calls «attention disorder» and consumerism. Above all, she is chic – which is also what everybody wants to be – not just in the sense of being fashionably dressed or having a trendy lifestyle, and definitely not in a wannabe sense, but chic in a grander way, which makes her a philhellene (in a patriotic bout, she has relived the Greek War of Independence), or an Olympic athlete; chic in being slightly retro but contemporary all at once. Mrs Tependris would probably be an excellent heroine for a film script. But then again, perhaps not, for if she were to become real, she would lose something of her elusive, cartoonish nature, her chic, mysterious and charming aura. Mrs Tependris will probably resurface, making a dramatic entree with another new discovery of hers. In the meantime, Kakanias will seek his inspiration elsewhere. Having completed the fresco painting of a chapel for the wedding of Carolina Herrera, he is currently busy painting the royal suite at the King George Hotel in Athens. He also has plans to write an autobiography, in the form of a collection of short stories on real-life encounters. Knowing that Kakanias is one of the socially best-connected artists, with access to the most varied social milieus, this sounds a bit like his heroine’s flashback in the Kalfayan Gallery exhibition. Something of a farewell to the public life of Mrs Tependris and the beginning of new plans for artist Konstantinos Kakanias, the exhibition is also an expression of the artist’s imagination and deft drawings skills. At the Kalfayan Gallery (43 Proxenou Koromila, Thessaloniki, 2310.225.523) to November 27.