A proud renovator of Cypriot art

Anyone who, in an «art for art’s sake» frame of mind, might be tempted to think that art is independent of social realities and politics only has to glance at Cypriot art to realize the exact opposite. For some reason, Cyprus’s turbulent history perhaps, the country’s culture is integral to its history, and its history is constantly reflected in its art. Turkish and British rule, the country’s independence in 1960, followed by the disastrous Turkish invasion in 1974, have all been decisive in shaping the development of 20th-century Cypriot art. In the course of just a few decades, Cypriot artists underwent cultural isolation, reverted to their traditions to generate a distinct artistic identity (mainly in the mid-1950s) and were also faced with the challenge of assimilating Western modernism. Part of the interest of a retrospective on Cypriot artist Nikos Kouroussis at the Melina Mercouri Cultural Center, is that it helps recall the various undercurrents out of which Cypriot art evolved. Counted as one of the renovators of Cypriot art, Kouroussis belongs to a second generation of Cypriot artists who helped keep the art of their country in touch with the international artistic developments of their time. Like many of his contemporaries, Kouroussis went to art school in Britain where, at Saint Martin’s College, he trained alongside the renowned sculptor, Philip King. Kouroussis himself did mostly large-scale works, often public sculpture (of which «Space-Time-Matter – Homage to Zeno of Kitium» at the University of Cyprus is one of the better known) and became one of the first Cypriot artists to work systematically on installations, a practice that can be traced to his extensive work for the theater set design. Many of his works at the exhibit evoke this set design aesthetic. But as in the artist’s other works, their most important aspect is the attempt to bring together tradition and modernism. This merging of Western art with tradition and history actually informs a large part of Cypriot art and expresses a need for a way out of cultural isolation while maintaining a sense of cultural distinctness. This sense of urgency gradually swelled, beginning in the early 1960s. It was back then that Christophoros Savvas, a seminal figure in bridging the gap between the artistic generations before and after the country’s independence, together with his friend, British artist Glyn Hughes, founded the first gallery in Cyprus. (Savvas also helped found the Pancyprian Art Lovers Society.) Like Andreas Chysochos and Stelios Votsis, Savvas helped intellectualize art by introducing theoretical issues and experimenting with abstraction. Just as Kouroussis owes much of his work to their achievements, they had continued on the path first trodden by an earlier generation of intellectuals, such as Adamantios Diamantis, Telemachos Kanthos and Solomos Frangoulides. These were among the first artists who helped lay the foundations of contemporary Cypriot art. It is in this context of a continuous evolution that the work of Kouroussis should be appraised.

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