The modern vision of an artist

For an artist, living in Paris during the 1930s must have been a fascinating experience. World War II, which drove many of the most distinguished artists away from Europe to the USA, had not yet broken out and Paris was enjoying its reputation as the foremost artistic center. Driven by a desire to witness this lively artistic scene, artist Celeste Polycroniadi (1904-1985) left for Paris when she was 26 years old. She spent four years in the French metropolis and would have stayed longer had family reasons not made her return to Athens. Surrealism, which was one of the most exciting artistic movements of the time, had a significant impact on her work, not just her early paintings but also those she painted as an older artist in the 1970s. A broad, rich selection of her works from the 1940s to the early 80s are presented in an exhibition that pays homage to this woman artist who is considered one of the pioneers of abstraction in Greece. The exhibition is taking place at the Nees Morfes Gallery, one of the oldest institutions in Athens to promote the most innovative artistic currents. Beginning in 1960, Nees Morfes held eight solo exhibitions on the work of Polycroniadi. A book on her work has been published by the gallery on the occasion of the exhibition. Polycroniadi worked in different media: She produced paintings, ink drawings, made illustrations of poetry, and worked in sculpture and ceramics. Initially self-taught, she honed her knowledge during her studies in Paris in painting, fresco, mosaics and ceramics. Back in Athens, Polycroniadi became involved with the artists’ group Omada Technis and directed the Studio gallery in which she organized the first exhibition on the expressionist artist Yiannis Bouzianis, one of the most innovative painters of his time. She also produced various «unicum» books, many of which were bought by Antonis Benakis. Her drawings for Baudelaire’s «Fleurs du mal,» which are included in the exhibition, comprise a later, fine specimen of Polycroniadi’s work in the medium. Her black-and-white ink and pencil drawings depicting the afflictions of war – mostly mourning women – also make up an important portion of her work that is amply represented in the Nees Morfes exhibition. In 1946, Polycroniadi left for New York when her husband, the writer Panos Karavias, was appointed UN correspondent for the Eleftheria newspaper. It was a period when the European surrealists had made a huge sensation and the American, abstract expressionists were emerging as the new force in American painting. Combined with surrealism it made an impact on the work of the Greek artist. The Japanese painter Yasuo Kuniyoshi whom Polycroniadi met in New York was another influence. During that period, Polycroniadi worked mostly with sculpture. She came back to Greece in 1953. During the late 1960s and 70s she produced works depicting machine-like structures. A large selection of these are presented at Nees Morfes gallery. They are the mature works of one of the pioneering abstract painters in Greece, a little-known artist but important for the development of modern art in this country. Celeste Polycroniadi, at the Nees Morfes gallery (9A Valaoritou, 210.361.6165) through April 12.

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