A tribute to a classic sculptor

In one of the numerous memoirs that the late Yiannis Pappas wrote systematically toward the end of his life, the artist compares talent to a singing bird that sits on an artist’s shoulder only to flee some seconds later. Talent, Pappas writes, is not a steady or permanent gift. Based on that conviction he then praises the value of hard work, talks about the importance of observation and embarks on an extensive analysis of the various stages that go into the making of sculpture. Written in a somewhat retrospective, confessional mood, Pappas’s writings are filled with candid, sentient observations. They indicate self-criticism and reflect a balanced and down-to-earth, yet restless, personality. To the reader, they provide access to an artist’s entire mode of thinking and method of working, a «behind-the-scenes» view that a finished work of art in itself rarely betrays. This intimate perspective into the work of Pappas is the prevailing mood in a tribute to the artist currently organized by the Benaki Museum. The tribute consists of an exhibition (designed by Lili Pezanou) of preparatory drawings, maquettes and modes that Pappas made for his equestrian statues, one of his favorite subject matters, and «The Cahiers of Aegina,» a compilation of the artist’s late memoirs in a single volume. The tribute is meant to remind the public of the important donation that Yiannis Pappas made to the museum while still alive. Three years before he died, Pappas announced that the entirety of his self-owned work would go to the Benaki and also expressed his wish to have his studio and working premises in Zografou converted to a workshop for young artists. After his death, the artist’s son began a renovation project on his father’s sculpture and offered the studio to the Benaki Museum as an exhibition space for the artist’s work. At the beginning of February the premises will be opened to the public, though the funding for the extension of the premises and the construction of a workshop is still pending. A celebrated sculptor Both the Benaki exhibition and the publication of the artist’s memoirs reveal a more private view into his work, yet Pappas became known – at least to the broad public – for his public sculptures, mostly large statues of well-known Greek personalities. One of his earliest works, which was actually exhibited in the Parisian Salon d’Automne in the early ’30s (Pappas studied and lived in Paris for a full decade), was a bust of the painter Andreas Vourloumis. Life-size statues of the sculptor Christos Kapralos and of the painter Yiannis Moralis followed a few years later. Pappas matured as an artist at a time when, largely because of the war, commemorative sculpture was enjoying great popularity. Throughout his career he received successive, public commissions. His career in Greece took off in the early 1950s. Pappas was in Alexandria, Egypt, at the time. Having fought during the war, he was posted by the Greek Royal Navy in Alexandria. His friends in Greece persuaded him to return to Athens and join the staff of the School of Fine Arts. He was soon to become the school’s director for almost a decade. The statue of Evangelos Averof-Tositsas in Metsovo was one of his first commissions in Greece. The statue of Eleftherios Venizelos in the Greek Parliament, of Pantelis Prevelakis at the Rethymnon Municipality, of Odysseas Elytis in Dexameni Square in Kolonaki or of Ioannis Capodistrias at Panteion University are just a few of his better-known works, all located in central points throughout the city. Although Pappas made large public works, he was worried that sculpture runs the risk of being appreciated for its descriptive and commemorative aspects rather than for its formal qualities. Strangely, this is why he thought that a painter can communicate with the public more effectively. In his memoirs, Pappas writes that works of sculpture are usually seen for what they represent; for example, in the case of a statue, for its resemblance to the person it depicts. Yet, as the artist himself writes, what makes a work of sculpture transcend its own time is its quality as a composition of shapes, a play of forms and volumes. Both the exhibition with the equestrian statue drawings and the publication of his memoirs express the artist’s incessant exploration into the essence of sculpture, its language and creative quality. Yiannis Pappas sought to capture the unchanging quality of sculpture, the rules that apply to sculpture through changing times. He has therefore rightly gained the reputation of being a classic sculptor. «Studies for Equestrian Works» is on at the New Wing of the Benaki Museum (138 Pireos & Andronikou, 210.345.3111) through February 26.

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