A disillusioned pioneer’s art

I was 5 years old when I first saw artist Grigoris Semitekolo’s workshop during a visit with my parents. I stared in awe at his paintings of eerie landscapes but mostly at a series of life-sized sculpted dolls on the balcony. It all seemed like a magical place out of some fairy-tale. On my second visit, 30 years later, the dolls were no longer on the balcony, but both the artist and his wife, pianist Nelly Semitekolo, remained as warm as they had been the first time I met them. This second meeting took place on the occasion of Semitekolo’s retrospective exhibition at the Nees Morfes Gallery, running until Saturday, which enables young people to get a taste of the work of an artist who was a pioneer of his time. A performer, an artist and a thinker, Semitekolo never sought to become commercial and has faithfully maintained that stance to this day. His experiences and his character would not allow him to act differently. Born in 1935, a student of Panos Sarafianos and Yiannis Moralis and a close friend of composer Yiannis Christou, who passed away at a young age, Semitekolo lived at a time when artists featured prominently in social struggles and art was connected to revolution. «Today most artists are only interested in making works that will sell, not in expressing what is inside them. For them, creation is based on the recognition of collectors and those who have money. In the old days, we made works for the people and people bought art even if they did not have money,» said the artist. Semitekolo’s paintings remain dark and bright at the same time; they are evocative and imposing. They depict skilfully painted futuristic landscapes and buildings. Art and politics Time in his workshop seems to have stopped in the 1970s, at a time when collective visions started to become blurred. The wall is decorated with photographs of Che Guevara – «the most important man I have ever felt» – Aris Velouchiotis riding proudly in Ioannina, a book with texts by Magritte and a monograph by Vermeer. Yet Semitekolo is not a resigned victim of nostalgia but remains a harsh judge of daily life. «Art always reflects politics. I have the feeling that today we live in a miash-mash, without political words by any of the parties. The left does not exist any more, I don’t count on it at all. The only thing that remains is having loved ones that you can have real conversations and true contact with, to be able to ‘breathe.’ I feel like I have come home to find it demolished and I have nowhere to go…» The absence of political and other stimulus has made Semitekolo turn away from performance and focus on visual arts since 1990. «There is no longer the inspiration and the circumstances for that kind of expression. Besides, I did my first performances with Christou, who managed to extort all these things from inside me and we did these ‘re-enactments,’ projects that had not been done before, together.» His 1969 performance «The Pianist» is also being screened at the Nees Morfes Gallery; many students from the School of Fine Arts watched it emotionally at the recent opening. Semitekolo’s hopes rest with these students, as well as with the French students who took to the streets about a month ago. «It is difficult to hope. My only advice is for people to do their job well, no matter what it is, and to retain an internal resistance to today’s quashing world.» Nees Morfes Gallery, 9a Valaoritou, Kolonaki, tel 210.361.6165.