Charmed lives in Greece

VERYDEARNICO
Personal letters, photos, objects, drawings and paintings at the exhibit “Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor: Charmed lives in Greece”

A small but fascinating exhibition is currently on at the Benaki Museum, in Athens, of the kind that really should happen more often. “Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor: Charmed lives in Greece” explores the friendship and shared love of Greece and everything greek, of three important creative figures in the post-war years, spanning over half a century, during time spent on Hydra, Corfu, Crete and in Kardamyli, Mani, between the Greek painter Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika and his British friends Patrick Leigh Fermor and John Craxton.

Ghika first met writer Patrick Leigh Fermor and painter John Craxton in London in 1945. Leigh Fermor, or Paddy to his friends, was already at home in Greece. Also known as “The Man who Walked” – for having walked through much of Europe at age 18, in the ’30s – he had ended up spending a long sojourn in Greece, to which he returned as a Para major in World War II. A public school drop-out, a peripatetic polyglot, a back-packer before it was even a notion, and a war hero on Crete, where he masterminded and executed the kidnapping of the German commander, his writings on Greece show an astonishing understanding of the place and people, and a willingness to explain them to the world that is both illuminating and unapologetic.

Soon he would cross paths with many of Athens’ intellectuals, both the locals as well as their Anglo-American associates: Durrell, Seferis,Henry Miller, George Katsimbalis (the Colossus of Maroussi), Steven Runciman to name but the most prominent. In a way, it was through this circle that Greece was able to re-imagine itself in the post-war years. The Saronic isle of Hydra played a key role, as the ancestral home of Ghika and a dazzling hotspot for local and foreign intellectuals. Paddy called it a source of joy, and used his friend’s house as a refuge for a couple of years while writing his tome on Mani.

Ghika has been called a cubist, but I have always thought his work only became cubist because his island was. There is a lot of light in his work, and a delicate atmosphere. I suppose what he shares with other cubists is the way he creates a visual vocabulary. There is lore there, but without the folkiness. Craxton shared a similar sensitivity, and the interplay between the two painters is evident.

Later Leigh Fermor created his own private paradise in Kardamyli, Mani, a place I visited while he was still alive, though I did not catch a glimpse of him. Ghika was so enchanted by the place that he would paint landscapes there, and also provided some of the art that decorates the house that Paddy and wife Joan built together. John Craxton was Joan’s close friend, and when he visited he instantly fell in love with Greece. Craxton also followed this pattern of first using Ghika’s Hydra house as a haven until the time he discovered his own slice of heaven, in Hania, Crete. Their 50-year friendship proved enduring and creative. Shared by family, friends and guests from abroad these houses were idylls, and individual private universes, and arenas for the meeting of minds. When the family property on Hydra was destroyed by fire, Ghika transformed an old olive press into a home, in Sinies, Corfu to enjoy with his friends.

BOOKS
My dog-eared PLF travel book collection, cover art by Craxton

 

The exhibition was funded by the Leventis Gallery here in Nicosia, where I saw it. It is currently on at the Benaki Museum in Athens, and I believe will be in London this fall. Well worth a visit.

Until 10.09.2017

http://www.benaki.gr/index.php?option=com_events&view=event&id=5172&type=1&Itemid=163&lang=el

 

 

 

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Born Talented!

BORNTALENTED

We are all born talented.

I am not even going to qualify the above statement: I don’t care how talented, or whether there’s some hierarchy; creativity is part of human nature, some might say our most defining trait. We are not born skilled, this is why education is needed.

I am having these thoughts as I watch my students take their last exams. With one eye on the blue Mediterranean — 27°C today and the beach just a stroll away! and the other on their concentrating faces, if I could distill an essence, it would be this: Stay Original!

Art education helps in this, when it instills the things it’s supposed to:

  • Refusal to accept the first solution as the best solution. This is the quintessence of a creative life. To approach the same problem from another angle, and another, and another. Not just the opposite of Learning by Rote – it’s very annihilation! Amen.
  • Organisation of projects and of self, understanding that creating is a process, and planning it out– what a life skill! I know many adults who will never grasp this. Courage in self-presentation and therefore accountability: if you are going to show your work and/or speak about it, you need to be able to justify your process. The rewards of accepting good or bad criticism are invaluable to a person’s emotional intelligence and growth.
  • Eschew the Copy-Paste Mentality. It’s almost embarassing to repeat this, because it really should be covered by the other two points, but we live in a world where access online is practically a human right, and we need to understand the responsibilities that follow. The internet is a tool; we are the craftsman. We cannot blame it, disclaim it, or abuse it. Everyone goes online for help, verification, inspiration. We are still responsible for how we present to the world!

Graduates! Though they may try to stifle you, mislead you by example, swamp you with questionable facts and methods: Stay true, stay original, stay creative!

What an intense month it’s been (obviously not in my blogging activity, as you may have noticed)! I know I should be blogging about summer, and the beach, but soon enough. I’ll get to it!

Mother’s Day

MOTHERSDAY

With a distance of a number of decades, here’s my tribute! One is something I made in kindergarten. The other, considerably more recent…

 

School project: recycled materials

HORSES1

Ages 17-18 (Third year of Lyceum)

Sping has been super busy -as usual- full of projects, paperwork as well as the Easter break. Catching up just as it is about to expire, here is one of the things that has kept us busy: a project we had been working with in my class of seniors (17-18 yrs).

Our piece began as an attempt to cut down costs: we couldn’t afford supplies, but wanted something large and three-dimensional. Using recycled materials isn’t just better for the earth, it’s cheap, and the materials are readily available.

Drawing from previous experience, we came up with the idea of creating animals out of plastic bottles and papier mache. We were given the subject “Bridging Cultures”,  for which horses and their relationship to humankind seemed the obvious leap (no pun intended). Gradually we thought of a board to anchor the pieces to, so the idea of a modified chessboard came about, with horses form Art History painted in the squares. We kept the pieces to a minimum, with a castle (or rook), a pawn and a queen.

HORSES2

The art history influences were: cave paintings, pottery from the Archaic period in Cyprus and Greece, the Parthenon Marbles, Byzantine icons, Nordic carvings and Degas! The model for our Rook (formerly a large juice container) was Kolossi and other Cyprus castles. Our Queen was inspired by various paintings, and was meant to allude to any one of the queens of Cyprus, actual or legendary.

Plastic parts were put together with duct tape. Recycled printer paper was glued in strips to create volume, magazine paper and tissue paper for more delicate work. Tissue paper is excellent for creating a “skin” on top of the finished horses. The painting was done in acrylics, our only luxury!

QUEENIES

 

Spring in Cyprus

MARCHSALUTATIONS

March is, proverbially, never absent from Lent. Easter Sunday is a movable feast, and Lent’s start and finish vary accordingly, but March is always in there, somewhere, on that you can depend. The smell of bitter-orange blossoms outside Nicosia’s medieval churches, as evening falls, is one of childhood’s oldest memories, and one I associate with Fridays, when the Akathist hymn is sung. Also known as the Salutations to Mary, they are the most feminine of ancient rites, melodious and exuberant, crammed with ancient poetry, a relic of Orphism and the classics.

The Salutations are sung on Friday, the Goddess’s day. In an older and hypothetically less macho time, Friday seems to have held a special place, which is why it is named after Frija, Freya or Frigga, the Norse Venus, in northern climes. In Romance languages the day is named after Venus: Dies Veneris, Venerdi, Vendredi. The noun veneration and the verb to venerate also come from this concept, which reinforces the idea that Friday was the original Holy Day!

SPRING

Compare and contrast:

Hail, O Star revealing the Sun. 
Hail, O branch of the unwithering Vine. Hail, O Land yielding the untainted Fruit. 
Hail, O Field bearing abundant compassion. Hail, O Table laden with an abundance of mercies.
Hail, for you make the meadow produce contentment.
Hail, acceptable Incense of intercession. Hail, Oblation for all the world.

– attr. Romanos the Melodist: Salutations
to the Theotokos, 
6th c.

Γαῖα θεά, μῆτερ μακάρων θνητῶν τ᾽ ἀνθρώπων, παντρόφε, πανδώτειρα, τελεσφόρε, παντολέτειρα, αὐξιθαλής, φερέκαρπε, καλαῖς ὥραισι βρύουσα, ἕδρανον ἀθανάτου κόσμου, πολυποίκιλε κούρη, ἣ λοχίαις ὠδῖσι κύεις καρπὸν πολυειδῆ, ἀιδία, πολύσεπτε, βαθύστερν᾽, ὀλβιόμοιρε, ἡδυπνόοις χαίρουσα χλόαις πολυανθέσι δαῖμον, ὀμβροχαρής, περὶ ἣν κόσμος πολυδαίδαλος ἄστρων εἱλεῖται φύσει ἀενάωι καὶ ῥεύμασι δεινοῖς.

All-Fertile, All-Destroying Gaia,
Mother of All, Who brings forth the bounteous fruits and flowers,
All variety, Maiden who anchors the eternal world in our own,
Immortal, Blessed, crowned with every grace,
Deep bosomed Earth, sweet plains and fields fragrant grasses in the nurturing rains,
Around you fly the beauteous stars, eternal and divine

– Orphic Hymn to Gaia, 6th c. BCE
(T
ranslated by Virginia Stewart)

I am she
that is the natural mother of all things,
mistress and governess of all the elements,
the initial progeny of worlds,
chief of powers divine,
Queen of heaven,
the principal of the Gods celestial,
the light of the goddesses:
at my will the planets of the air, the wholesome winds of the Seas,
and the silences of hell be disposed;
my name, my divinity is adored throughout all the world in divers manners,
in variable customs and in many names

– Lucius Apuleius: Metamophoses
or The Golden Ass, 2nd c.

Kids’ Parade

 

carnivalFirst Sunday of Carnival is Kids’ Day. Come join the parade, in Nicosia or Limassol!

masque1

masque3

 

Positive-Negative Masks

masks4

If you live in a part of the world where Carnival is celebrated, you’ll know that this is the time of year we think about disguise. Young and old dress up and go out playing pranks on each other, much like Halloween, except in Feb-March! Carnival is like a last hurrah before Lent, the austere seven weeks that precede (and prepare for) Easter. The spirit of Carnival is decidedly pagan in its origin though, very dionysian in its exuberance.

Especially if you happen to live a city that is carnival-crazy, as I currently am, it’s a good time to experiment with the idea of identity with students. Get them to jot down some ideas about what disguise really means: do we reveal something more than our day-today persona when we adopt a disguise?

kids

These notan-like masks were made by kids in the 13-14 age group. Half the mask was cut out of a dark (in this case black) piece of card. The pieces were carefully cut whole with a cutter, and saved in a plastic sleeve until time came to paste. Important: lines must be thickened to shapes so we can cut them out, and this is the greatest challenge (I’ve taught a version of Notan to different ages for 12 years.)

When all the pieces have been cut, it is time to glue them onto the background. This should be double in area. For instance, if the dark piece is A4 then the lighter, background piece of paper should be A3.

masks2

Sketches are a must, not just because it builds good habits, but because the concept of positive-negative can take some getting used to.

masks3

Key vocabulary: symmetry, reverse, balance. Bright, contrasting colours can be used as well, to great effect.

masks