Drawing out the imaginary

Global politics and current social issues are where many contemporary artists are focusing their attention, while many are increasingly drawing on new media technologies to expand the language of art. Yet, «The Afternoon of a Faun,» the title of a group exhibition currently being held at the Eleni Koroneou Gallery, shows a growing trend for turning away from both the contemporary and high-tech reality towards myth, imagination and the timeless. The curator of the exhibition, Aphrodite Gonou – a London-based art historian and art advisor – has grouped eight international young artists together (Lali Chetwynd, Jeff Davis, Kaye Donachie, Sebastian Hammwohner, Thomas Helbig, Andrew Mania, Alisa Margolis and Simone Shubuck) who, in her opinion, share a common aesthetic language. According to Gonou, they all seek to challenge the analytical discourses of what prevailed in the art of the 1980s and ’90s. The title of the Mallarme poem which Gonou has chosen as the exhibition’s title (as well as having inspired Debussy’s prelude and Nijinsky’s ballet), is meant to draw a parallel between the symbolist, post-romantic mood of late 19th century art and poetry, and the evocative, mystical mood of the contemporary works that are showcased. As in symbolist art, the world of logic is replaced with that of the subconscious, of dreams, hidden desires and life’s dark, uncontrollable side. In Lali Chetwynd’s small-scale paintings, invading bats allude to reality’s dark side, to horror and the grotesque, but with some wit and irony. Sebastian Hammwohner makes large, charcoal drawings of abstract shapes that allude to the mystery and sublime grandeur of nature that is typical of German Romanticism. Simone Shubuck draws fairy-tale-like landscapes filled with imaginary animals and decorative patterns reminiscent of Gustav Klimt’s art, while Alisa Margolis draws her inspiration from 17th century Dutch flower paintings. Man’s vulnerability to the greater powers of nature or magic comes up repeatedly in the exhibition. So does the human power for attaining unexplored mental states. Escapism from the real world and man’s quest for a timeless utopia are underlying themes. They are what inject the exhibition with an esoteric, psychological mood, with a melancholic yet slightly ominous feeling. State of sleep Like in «The Afternoon of a Faun» exhibition, a solo show by artist Maria Giannakaki, currently being held at the Nees Morfes Gallery, takes the viewer to the art of the past and the world of the subconscious. Giannakaki uses glowing, deep hues of blue and red to create semi-abstract paintings that depict half-finished sleeping figures emerging from a nebulous, sensually colored world. The paintings are drawn on Asian silk textiles, a material which enhances the warm, sensual quality of her work. Giannakaki, who back in the 1980s spent time in China learning the technique of traditional painting, is heavily influenced by Asian drawing. The fluid lines, strong «Oriental» colors and particularly very Asian sense of the void (as in parts of the painting that connote space) which appear in the artist’s work hark back to traditional Chinese art. Giannakaki’s work combines Asian exoticism with elements taken from different aspects of Western art: some figures remind one of a Gauguin or Toulouse-Lautrec painting, while the state of sleep that is the exhibition’s theme evokes the mystery of symbolist art. Both Giannakaki and the eight young international artists of the exhibition curated by Gonou takes the viewer to a timeless, mysterious world, a world of dream and fantasies that stands in juxtaposition to our contemporary, fast-paced world. «The Afternoon of a Faun» at the Eleni Koroneou Gallery (5-7 Mitseon, 210.924.4271). Maria Giannakaki at Nees Morfes (9 Valaoritou, 210.361.6165). Both to April 15.