CULTURE

An artist’s ties with Hydra

HYDRA – In the area of Kaminia, a small harbor, just a 15-minute walk that winds from the main town of Hydra along the coast, a lovely stone house with large arcades at ground level stands on a small hill looking out at the sunset as it turns the sea golden. Home to the painter Chistos Karas, it was built in the late 1980s by the very stones that were dug from the property. «It was like a flower that sprang from the earth of Hydra, from its land. When I realized this, I decided that this house should belong to the island. In this life, nothing really belongs to us anyway,» Christos Karas, a true gentleman now in his 70s, said. Besides serving as the summer house for the artist and his family, the building will also be home to the newly established «Christos Karas – Hydra» foundation. The ground-floor area which is now the artist’s studio will be transformed into a gallery that will include works by Karas (40 paintings currently comprise the foundation’s collection). The artist would also like to include works by other artists of his generation: his close friends Costas Tsoclis, Thodoros and Pavlos are artists among this so-called Sixties Generation which is credited with establishing modernism in Greece. Apart from the «museum,» the foundation will also embrace various other artistic projects that will be held at venues on the island. The foundation’s establishment was announced during a two-day celebration on the island attended by hundreds of people and the mayor of Hydra. (The mayor also announced his plans for a new gallery of contemporary art for the island and presented Karas with an honorary plaque.) To mark the occasion, an exhibition on the work of Karas was presented at the Historic Archive-Museum of Hydra. The foundation is a manifestation of the artist’s longstanding emotional ties with the island, his way of leaving his imprint on an island which, although not his birthplace, has been an important part of his life. Christos Karas first visited Hydra in 1948, at the invitation of the painter Pavlos Pantelakis who was soon to head the Hydra department of the Athens School of Fine Arts, a branch which is still active. Karas was one of the first artists to follow the summer courses at the Hydra branch. Ever since his days as a student at the School of Fine Arts in Athens in the early 1950s, he has spent practically every year on Hydra. Pantelakis as well as the subsequent director of the school, Pericles Vyzantios, were his «teachers.» Back then, Karas was part of a newly formed artistic community that gradually expanded to include international artists, many of whom acquired homes in Hydra. Karas soon left to study in Paris but when he came back in the mid-60s he suggested that the Hydra branch of the School of Fine Arts open its program to foreign artists. The contacts and friendships that would grow out of this would perhaps help Hydra acquire an important collection of contemporary art. Though the venture never materialized, Karas never really abandoned the idea. Although the art collection of the Christos Karas foundation only includes works by him, Karas hopes that other artist friends will donate works to be exhibited on the premises. He also hopes that this initiative might set an example for future, public donations. By organizing the exhibition of his work at a public, historical venue such as the island’s Historic Archive-Museum, Karas reveals his intention to make the venture public and broadly known. The paintings on view represent different periods in the artist’s work. They display the artist’s taste for bold, strong colors (a fiery red is one of his favorite hues) and surrealist-like imagery. Most are recent works. Karas is a prolific painter whose career began with early figurative works, moved to collages in earthy tones during the years spent in Paris (most of his work from the time was destroyed) and soon developed into an abstract, expressionist style. In the early 1970s Karas spent a few years in New York, working in a surrealist-like style. This was also the period of his so-called magic realist paintings. Space-age themes and motifs taken from technology also came into his work. Karas usually makes large paintings, using oil pigments rather than acrylics. The artist says that oil paint takes a long time to dry yet, unlike acrylic paint, their color does not change in the process. Karas builds his compositions using many different layers of paint (which is why his paintings may take several years to finish), a technique which makes color even more vivid. His work is a combination of figuration and abstraction. The human figure, flowers, warriors, the female body, pigeons and trees are among the recurring motifs. Karas says that he is interested in capturing contemporaneity, for example the feeling of isolation and the lack of communication which he feels has become a large part of our lives. The 40 paintings at the Historic Archive-Museum of Hydra are representative of his recognizable style. More of his work will be shown at the Karas Foundation in the near future. Works by Christos Karas at the Historic Archive-Museum of Hydra (in the port of Hydra, 22980.52355) through October 31.