Puppet theater set designs see the light

It was a chance and emotionally charged discovery: Just a few days ago, Evgenios Spatharis, one of the biggest figures in the Karaghiozis shadow-puppet theater, was tidying up when he found a box of 12 large set designs by his father, the late Sotiris Spatharis, who pioneered the Karaghiozis theater in Greece. The works were canvases that his father had painted and used for performances. Each of them was placed behind the berdes (the panel that separates the viewer from the puppet-master) thus providing a different set with each scene change. They are large works – each about a meter long and a bit larger in width – that depict Karaghiozis’s huts or the so-called sarayia of the Pasha and were all found in quite good condition. «They are masterpieces of this folk style that reminds one of the paintings of Theophilos, whose art I used as a model myself. The works are landscapes, they have much color and no perspective,» Spatharis said. Judging from the color, Spatharis thinks that his father probably painted the works sometime in the 1950s. «That was when latex colors first came out in Greece, the colors that were used for painting interiors. Colored paint enabled artists to paint their sets and use canvas instead of paper, which was the case before,» Spatharis said. Paint brought puppet theater set design closer to painting and replaced the frailer material of paper with canvas, which was far more durable and easy to carry when touring. «In the beginning, the figures and sets were made out of cardboard, which we cut out so that the light came through the openings and created a light and shadow effect. Then leather came into fashion but neither I nor my father used it because we thought it did not fit the style of puppet theater. We also used cellophane and I was the first to use a special kind of plastic,» Spatharis said. Asked about his new «acquisitions,» Spatharis said that he would like them to go into the hands of collectors. The works are to be displayed in a show to be held at the Downtown gallery in late May. Gallery owner Nikos Stathoulis, who has organized a show on the paintings of Evgenios Spatharis before, plans to juxtapose the newly found works of Sotiris Spatharis with a selection of those by his son, in what will be a first joint presentation of works by father and son. A representative and large selection of the art of Karaghiozis puppet theater by both Evgenios and Sotiris Spatharis is housed at the Museum of the Municipality of Maroussi. The collection was donated by Evgenios Spatharis about eight years ago. Spatharis also owns a large, rare collection of figures and set designs from different kinds of shadow puppet theater around the world, including Chinese, Indonesian and Javanese. The collection is only accessible to specialists in the field. The display opens May 25 at the Downtown gallery in Athens (20-22 Aghion Anargyron, Psyrri, 210.324.4717).

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