An artist’s drawings on childhood traumas and the ills of adult life

In his well-known essays on Dostoevsky, da Vinci and Michelangelo, Sigmund Freud interpreted a work by each artist based on biographical information or hypothesis about the artists’ lives and upbringing. By doing so, he showed that art can be a mirror of the artist’s psychology, his inner conflicts, fears and desires. From a psychoanalytic, Freudian approach, the recent works of Konstantin Kakanias, on view at a double one-man show at the Kalfayan galleries in Athens and Thessaloniki, are the inner state of the artist disguised in visual imagery and symbolic content. Resembling the surreal language of dreams, his drawings tell stories of inner tension, trauma and repressed emotions. «Split» – the title of the exhibition – is divided into two parts: «Split (Lower and Lower),» which is being shown in Athens, comprises large black and white drawings featuring a boy caught in nightmarish scenes of violence and death. The theme is childhood traumas and a scarring upbringing. In «Split (Higher and Higher),» which is the Thessaloniki version, the works are again about violence and pain. But instead of children, the protagonist is the light-headed and vain grande-dame Mrs Tependris, the artist’s fictional heroine that has featured in most of Kakanias’s work. The sexual innuendos that are also to be found in the Athens exhibition works are prevalent, yet because this is the adult world that is depicted, the images appear less shocking. Mrs Tependris is seen taking drugs or engaging in sexual acts. One can even say that there is something bitterly amusing about these drawings, particularly because of their indirect references to Hollywood (which is where Kakanias is based) and to the eccentricities of a show business-driven life. «Split» means to address a split personality. The Athens exhibition represents the tormented, introverted being and focuses on the unconscious mind and traumatic childhood experiences. The Thessaloniki exhibition is about the conscious mind and adulthood. It depicts an equally troubled personality, but a more extrovert one. In part, this divided personality is meant as a reflection of the artist and his work. Known for his drawings that feature the amusing adventures of Mrs Tependris, Kakanias tells stories about the pitfalls and delights of glamour, consumerism and contemporary lifestyle. His work contains humor and sensitivity but is sometimes criticized for its persistent focus on Mrs Tependris and her superficial adventures. However, there is another side to the work of Kakanias which goes back to the dark, eerie installations that were shown more than a decade ago at the Rebecca Camhi gallery. Which of the two is the real Kakanias? Where does the surface meet a more profound view of contemporary reality and how do matters of taste – in which Kakanias is well-versed – combine with a more intellectual side? These seemingly opposite extremes, the dark and the more superficial, are what make the work of Kakanias and his persona as an artist unique. Moreover, those that have closely followed the work of Kakanias are most likely to say that either aspect of this «split personality» are opposite sides to the same truth. Behind the amusing stories of Mrs Tependris there lies pain and a concern with life’s deeper existential questions. Both sides capture profound aspects of human nature. However, «Split» is not intended solely as a reflection on the artist and his work but also on how social conventions and conditioning stifle one’s individuality and limit one’s potential for happiness. One of the works in the Athens exhibition (drawings in gouache and ink that are presented as an open book) is inspired by C.P. Cavafy’s «The Regiment of the Senses,» a poem in prose which attacks moralism as hypocrisy and exalts the pleasure of the senses. The drawings contain scenes of violence and have an erotic content. In the large, black and white works, an imaginative, dreamlike landscape featuring tall trees with sprawling roots seems like the visual metaphor of the unconscious mind. It is the image of a subterranean world, protective like a womb but at the same time nightmarish like the underworld. Young children are hidden in hollow trunks or depicted in violent scenes. Swans and deer impart a fairy tale-like atmosphere and further accentuate the contrast with the overall sense of eeriness. The drawings tell a story of psychological violation and a troubled upbringing. It is a reminder of the importance of early childhood for the development of one’s personality and adult life. Both exhibitions address trauma and the ills of society. The drawings may differ in style and atmosphere, but they all contain darkness and social criticism. They also illustrate the artist’s excellent skill at drawing, his imagination in story-telling and his capacity to talk about human existence with both humor and gravity. At the Kalfayan gallery (11 Haritos, 210.721-7679) in Athens, to Dec 8 and in Thessaloniki (43 Proxenou Koromila, 2310.231.187) to Dec 15.