Looking back on a long career

The lights are dim, making the figures on Yiannis Migadis’s paintings seem like a memory. All the topics dealt with by the artist are on display at the Benaki Museum in Kolonaki until November 9. Born in 1926, Migadis went to the Athens School of Fine Arts, where he studied under Constantinos Parthenis. After graduation, he traveled to Paris to attend the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs. He has focused on simple and familiar topics and his colors are soft. He has also worked in theater and cinema as a set and costume designer. On the occasion of his retrospective, titled «The Color of Memory,» Migadis spoke to Kathimerini. What does it feel like to see the different stages of your career in this tribute? It moves me to come across old works again. I am thinking that I have spent so many decades painting. At the same time, I am also sad that some of those paintings are no longer in my possession. I loved what I drew and painted. What pleases me most about this exhibition are the positive comments from colleagues. People’s compliments are always important, but praise from a fellow artist makes more of an impression, because he is in the process of creation, just like me. What are your memories of Crete, where you grew up? Crete has marked me. I have traveled and lived in different places, but none of them has registered inside like my homeland. I spent the best years of my life there, despite the war. When I arrived in Athens at 19, I enjoyed the School of Fine Arts. That was when I visited Hydra and Myconos for the first time. What struck me is that some of the school’s great talents never became painters. Those of us who struggled remained in the field. What about your friend Yiannis Tsarouchis? I met him at that time and I was impressed by his personality, his work, the colors he used in his paintings. We talked a lot and I learned many things. He was a wise and clever man, with a sense of humor. He knew how to humor himself and those around him. All of the school’s painters were excellent at that time; they were genuine. Those were good years, artistic and bohemian. Then something happened and everything changed, including people’s behavior, society, economics and politics. Nothing is the same and I have distanced myself from it all. I don’t even go to the theater much anymore. How did you come into contact with the theater? I got into it from early on, because I was lucky enough to be discovered by Karolos Koun. He was very passionate about his work, dedicated and obsessive. It was like breathing to him and that was what he wanted to transmit to his students. Those who couldn’t understand that left. What was it that made the 1960s so different in Greece? It was the vision; we felt that we could do things. The times shape the people. If I were 35 years old today, I would be entirely different. Back then we had important people beside us. There is quality and talent today, but people are searching; they haven’t found their way. They have grown up in a time of greed and indifference; children grow up in supermarkets and fast-food outlets. Were you influenced by your era? I wasn’t particularly looking for anything and I think that all of my works reflect who I am. That is why I haven’t copied or imitated anything. I feel serene. I know some people like my work and others don’t. I often tell myself I am not contemporary enough. Some of your portraits give the impression that their subjects will live forever. Was that your goal? These portraits began from some old photographs I came across. As I was looking at them, I thought, almost in shock, that all those healthy, happy, beautiful and well-dressed people don’t exist anymore. I was always thinking about death. Today, people are bitter about everything. They have a right to be; they question everything. So maybe it is time we went back to some old values and look at art with new eyes. I believe that in the future we might see a turn in humanity regarding artistic creation, among other things.