Written by Dr. Athanasios Christou
The early 20th century artists continue to provide important and substantial art even after the war. Despite the meagre means, the bad financial situation and the few buyers, Corfiot creators prove their productive presence in the course of representative arts on the island. Aggelos Kontis’s expressionistic style along with his use of colours ,Nikos Zervos’s rural tendencies,Ten Floria’s embodiment of the innovative European elements, Aglaia Papa’s abstract tendencies and marvellous portraits are some of the attempts which are imposed almost throughout the 20th century. Aggelos Kontis and Nikos Zervos, except for their abundant artwork, hold office at the Art School of Corfu, a teaching position through which they are able to influence the younger generations. Therefore, it is no accident that landscape painting through the medium of watercolours, remains the main theme of painting found in Corfiot artwork. This does not imply of course that no other types of painting are attempted. The generation of the Inter-War years has to demonstrate great artists, many of whom live and work to this day. Earnest Carter (1924-1992) , Stephanos Sghouros (1924), Dimitrios Anthis (1925-1991), Sapfo Kyriaki- Zisopoulou (1928), Aghis Ksomeritakis(1928), Spyros Kardakis (1931), Theofilos Kedah’s (1938) and Spyros Karydis (1938) are among others artists who perpetuate the artistic course of Corfu. Without suggesting that there were no tendencies making daring steps towards new movements , the majority of this particular generation is mostly stimulated by the Corfiot landscapes and it is precisely that which forms their centre of attention. It is the first Inter-War generation which is going to invert some of the conventional forms of tradition and proceed to new quests. As a result it will enter new artistic phases. It is the generation which during the last quarter of the 20th century, proves the diversity of Corfiot Art as well as the embodiment of new phases both thematically and stylistically. Some of the artists born then, will revitalise landscape painting, often maintaining the use of watercolours as a medium. Examples of such can be viewed in the works by Giorgos Koulouris (1945), Spyros Sourtzinos (1948) and Petros Stravoravdis (1949). Others will prefer a type of painting which escapes the realistic representation. Instead it is more orientated towards the recording of the psyche. Examples of such may be viewed in the works by Spyros Alamanos (1947), Stephanos Mihalopoulos (1949), Spyros Troysas and Peneloppe Voltera. Finally, there are those who form a more personal style such as Spyros Pierris (1943), Aggelos Yerakaris (1952), Giannis Michael and Tasos Alamanos (1953) and those who remain attached to realism such as Rena Crouazie (1945) and Ilias Yannilas (1953). As it would be expected, it is difficult to draw a complete report on artists currently active in Corfu. It is even more difficult and problematic in one’s attempt to do so with the artists born after 1960. The reason why, is that some of them are only entering the threshold of their artistic creations while others have only shown a small sample of their potential and time has not yet defined their personal style. We also cannot ignore the many and promising artists who live and work in Corfu, even though presenting their work here has not been possible. A mere reference of these artists’ names would also be in vain since the filter of time has not yet defined their course. And yet, without aiming to imply that the Corfiot Art scene does not have great expectations from its young artists, we cannot but give tribute to certain artists such as Dimitris Miliotis (1961), Nikos Kokkali (1966), Marilena Koskina, Giorgos Pennas, Elena Aggelaki, Kosta Tombros, Eva Karydi, Dora Kedarhou (1970), Tania Aghathou and Emi Avora ( Amy Stavoravdi).
As of the beginning of the 20th century it became clear that sculpture in Corfu was entering a period of decline, which persisted after World War II. The very few Corfiot artists dedicated to sculpture rarely set up their workshops in their home town. They usually worked in Athens but remained in contact with Corfu creating sculptures for public spaces.
The most prominent Corfiot sculptor of this period was undoubtedly Achilleas Apergis (1909-1986). With a body of work placing him in the vanguard of his generation, he started in the 1960s creating works featuring new materials, an abstract character and, often, a constructivist inclination. However, in all but one of the sculptures he created in Corfu, Apergis followed traditional rules. The busts of Konstantinos Theotokis, Konstantinos Zavitsianos, Dionysios Solomos, Iakovos Polylas and Spyros Samaras adopt the main characteristics of realism and manage to convey the inner force and truth of the figures they represent. On the contrary, his sculpture in the Old Port square of Corfu town is a study in abstraction, where volumes, planes and surfaces complete his plastic language.
Spyros Goggakis (b. 1923) has produced sculptural works, mainly busts and tomb monuments, which also adopt traditional forms of expression. The Stefanos Padovas bust (1982) clearly reveals his attachment to a realist vocabulary, while his tomb monuments, including those on the Gremos (1975) and the Koulouris (1973) graves at the Corfu municipal cemetery and on the Dimitrios Gousis grave (+1985) at the Agia Kyriaki cemetery in Lefkimmi, focus on achieving a physical resemblance with the deceased person and, often, on highlighting idealistic elements.
In addition to the above artists, who are based in Athens, some other native sculptors work in Corfu producing mainly tomb monuments, including Ioannis Kostagiolas for the Plaskasovitis and the Papantonatos graves and Panagiotis Sourtzinos for the Vaianos and the Kouris graves. Sculptural work is also produced by other artists, who are mainly devoted to painting but occasionally engage in sculptural endeavors. Filippos Makotsis produces small-sized sculptures with a distinct realist character. At the “Upper Square” of Corfu town Rena Crouazie created the Monument of the Union, with the insignia of the seven islands carved in relief, a work that interacts with its surrounding space. Finally, Eva Karydis is the creator of the Ioannis Kapodistrias bust at the airport and of the Georgios Rallis bust in the square, both dominated by realistic elements.
Besides Corfiot sculptors, other artists have also produced sculptures for public spaces and cemeteries during this period; Nikolas Pavlopoulos created the Patriarch Athenagoras bust (1978); Ioanna Spiteris the Kasfikis grave (1949); Giannis Georgiou the bust at the war memorial in the village of Benitses (1980), the Ioannis Arvanitakis bust in Varypatades (1988) and the monument on the Andriotis grave in Agios Mathaios; Theodoros Vasilopoulos (1989) the Andreas Andreadis bust; and Giorgos Megoulas the Monument to National Resistance and the statue of Kostas Georgakis, both in 1993.
Nikolaos Ventouras (1899-1990) produced part of his work before 1940 and it was characterized, as already mentioned, by his attachment to landscape painting and an emphasis on realist pursuits. After World War II, without ever abandoning his favourite subjects, Ventouras mastered a highly personal morphoplastic idiom, passing from the quick assimilation of expressionistic types to the eventual adoption of abstract forms of expression. He used an expressionist idiom, which, nonetheless, was characterized not by its violence but rather by its poetic nature. He often rendered his themes using just a few linear elements, which, however, speak more eloquently than any detailed description. Restricting the use of intermediate colour tones and rejecting anecdotal themes, focusing on the simplicity of the depiction and devoted to the essential, Ventouras achieved exquisite results in works celebrating both the rural and the urban landscapes. Gradually, he adopted abstract expressions, in many of which colour played an important role. These efforts in the field of abstract expressionism marked the end of his pursuits. His legacy is a pioneering body of work rich in expression and essential in content.
A major figure in the art of engraving is Aria Komninos. Driven by her inner needs and by conscious choices, she traces a course characterized, above all, by the power of her expression and the quality of her depictions. A conscious choice, totally revealing of her artistic creation, is her almost exclusive devotion to wood-engraving. This is the means that enables her to express herself through the black-and-white contrasts or the big blocks of certain, very characteristic and, at the same time, purely symbolic colours. Without losing contact with the visual reality, she uses figurative elements in her compositions, often in a fragmentary or elliptical way, giving multiple meanings to her figures. And despite recurrent themes in her work, including the bird, the leaf, the vase, the bottle, the female figure, she never contents herself with a sterile repetition, but uses them to feed a world rich in meanings and symbolisms, thoughts and emotions, interiority and truth. Her suggestive space, often without depth, elliptical and schematic, is another element contributing to this. Extremely talented in drawing, she does not limit herself to just showing off her skill, but uses it to achieve the immediacy and essence of her themes, to reveal what is hiding underneath. The monumental dimensions of her engraving work, laboriously achieved and requiring much effort in their expression, enable her to fulfil her intentions and fully convey the richness of her voice and the power of her inspiration.
Two other Corfiot artists, Spyros Pogiagos (1925-2005) and Georgios Kefallinos (b. 1931) are also exclusively dedicated to engraving. The former started to work in the 1940s, in the beginning adopting the technique of relief engraving and gradually switching to intaglio engraving, in which he produced some of his most typical works. He was undoubtedly familiar with Nikolaos Ventouras’ work, sharing with him the same themes. His relief engravings are characterized by a rather lyrical atmosphere, while the works he produced using the dry-point technique feature a detailed description. His intaglio works mark a departure from realist elements and show the evocativeness of the poetic character of his compositions, which is supported by the use of colour. Kefallinos, a self-taught engraver with a clear predilection for wood-engraving, starts his artistic work based on a realistic idiom often combined with elements drawn from popular culture. The use of a non-realist colour scheme in some of his works offers new expressive perspectives. During his last period, the artist adopts distinctly abstract forms of expression, characterized by a restriction of anecdotal themes and the lyrical use of colour, the balance of the composition and internal rhythm.
Many other Corfiot artists, mainly painters, produce work in the field of engraving as well, including Georgios Koulouris (1945), Spyros Alamanos (1947) and Angelos Gerakaris (1952). In his nudes, Koulouris expresses himself in a simple, almost ascetic manner, emphasizing the plasticity of his figures. In his landscape engravings, despite his attachment to realism, he does not confine himself to a simple depiction, seeking each landscape’s particular identity. Alamanos is particularly interested in the physical and urban landscape, as well as in the human figure. In some of his works symbolic references and the expression of internal concerns are dominant, while in others the use of geometric shapes leads to abstract depictions characterized by their power of synthesis and expressive content. Gerakaris also abandons realist description in order to emphasize the inner content of his figures. By reducing complementary themes, highlighting psychological states and by his fluid outlines, he is interested in the essential rather than in appearances.
Many contemporary Corfiot artists are engaged in engraving, some of them already in their maturity, others just beginning their creative course. Among them Dimitris Miliotis (1961) and Maria Spyrou (1969) whose efforts show a real potential. Miliotis is interested mainly in the human body and his engraving work is based on a combination of colour values and rendering of volumes. Spyrou, combining linear motifs with colour schemes, adopts abstract forms of expression, in works characterized by a symbolic nature and an expressionistic language.