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 Áíôéãüíç ÊáââáèÜ

 ‘chthonic serpents and sacred trees’

  5-28 ÌáÀïõ 2011




 On Thursday, 5th of May, at “FIZZ GALLERY”, opens the solo exhibition of Antigoni Kavvatha: “Chthonic Serpents and Sacred Trees”.


Antigoni Kavvatha creates “Chthonic Serpents and Sacred Trees” –the title of her exhibition in Fizz Gallery– with an exquisitely sensitive and simple yet elaborate design which explores the tonal contrasts of black and white. Motivated by a recurring fascination with nature as well as life and the hereafter, the artist builds upon the spirit of her earlier work entitled “Tracking Erebus”. Then, Kavvatha portrayed the world of shadows; now, she has arrived at the gates of Hades, meeting his guards, sacred serpents and other mythical beasts.  To depict this dark world, she reveals different facets of forest scenes; trees and trunks hibernating or victimized by arson, lightning, and drought.


Antigoni Kavvatha analyzes the chromatic contrast between black and white amongst a lattice of lines and shapes. She imparts movement into her two-dimensional compositions so that they seem to spread out to infinity, beyond even the image’s static frame.  Intense light wipes out the third dimension of the objects and powerfully accents the dominant elements of her painting, e.g. balance, symmetry, and the beauty of detail.


In the forms revealed within Kavvatha’s compositions, the viewer discovers allusions to Meanders, Galaxies, the Triton that is tamed by Hercules in the preclassic aetoma of Parthenon, dragons, and sacred serpents of different religions – all shapes and images that have captivated her for a long time.


The black and white compositions (acrylic on mylar – a synthetic rice paper), appearing in various dimensions and endless friezes, constitute a characteristic element not only of her artistic evolution but also of a deep and personal engagement to such themes as: nature and life, myth v. reality, the visible v. the invisible, and appearance v. substance.

Antigoni Kavvatha was born in 1955 in Thessaloniki, Greece. She studied painting in the School of Fine Arts in Athens and completed graduate studies in New York and Boston (MFA Boston School of Fine Arts). She has hosted seven one-woman shows and participated in many group exhibitions. Her work can be viewed in collections throughout Europe and USA.  She currently resides in Athens.



The Archetype and its Reflection


These trees are suspended between life and death at the very moment of autumn’s transition to winter. The compositions they occupy are of a highly poetic and conceptual level. They constitute the new work of Antigoni Kavvatha in which she talks of life through the depiction of nature. Observation is paramount; in the summer of 2007, she saw firsthand the forest fires in Hydra, Epirus, and the Peloponnese. The view of scorched earth and burnt trees had a profound impact on her. A few months later, when she came upon many dormant winter trees in parks and forests, the similar images jarred her thoughts and worked on her unconscious memories. Her experiences eventually rose to a conscious level to express themselves in archetypical shapes and myths, teachings and techniques, symbols and concepts. When she picked up her brushes, Kavvatha gave birth to a novel painterly world on the surface of her material, which was itself chosen to be especially light, almost transparent or fire-proof. This material contrasts with the decaying reality but harmonizes with immortal conceptions of art.


Kavvatha adopted an especially spare, sensitive, and artistic drawing style in order to emphasize contrasts between black and white while constructing her new set of works entitled “Chthonic Serpents and Sacred Trees”. Inspired not only by the images of trees she had scrutinized, but also by her recurring fascination with such themes as nature, life, and the hereafter, she related her present work to an earlier one, entitled “Tracking Erebus” (2007). Then, Kavvatha was concerned with the world of shadows. She used the individual and collective archetype of the shadow to enliven beings that moved in the marginal spaces of Erebus at the gates of Hades.


In the years that followed, the artist’s concerns widened, deepened, and matured, enabling her to stare into the hereafter itself. There, alongside shadows, she met the guardians of Hades: chthonic snakes, sacred trees, and mythical beasts. To bring these forms to a conscious level and to express them without fear, she drew upon the tree trunks, trees, and forests that had so captivated her.  Some of these trees were simply hibernating while others were victimized by arson, thunderbolts, or drought. Rather than dramatize the entire subject, she confines the representation by drawing trunks. She chooses black to portray the tension inherent within the subject matter, while symbolism guides her beyond these forms and allows her to explore supernatural realities.  Furthermore, the works reveal an intense play between light and shadow, shape and line, real and virtual; between pictures and their reflections. The compositions thus become endowed with a different character. Though black dominates, it is the light which determines them. Kavvatha uses light predominantly as background to emphasize shadows, to play with the volumes and the third dimension, which comes in and out of her work. It is this light that determines the painting gesture, emphasizing at the same time extraordinary features of the compositions; balance, symmetry, and beauty in texture and detail. Frequently in her works light behind a shape gives the composition a sense of shallow relief, unique in its exactitude and harmony. This impression is strengthened by the use of fine brushes which enhance texture, depth, and a hint of volume within the composition.


Antigoni Kavvatha creates her own universe, where all elements function in low tones, poetically and implicitly in order to correlate the present with the past, whether this has to do with contemporary cultural references, mythology and its reflection in life, or with her own artistic process. Her brushstrokes flow like a meander – that multidimensional, ancient Greek sign which is also an emblem of Greek heroes fighting against gods, as on the “meander lock” of Hercules in his battle with Triton. Special mention should, however, be made about her long painting “Python” (61 cm x 18.5 m, to 2011). Here, the tree trunk is transformed into a chthonic serpent, symbol of wisdom and knowledge. As tradition relates, its chthonic, subterranean character links it with the Underworld, a place dominated by supernatural beings that have died. Python expresses the martial powers of the gods of the Underworld, those sovereigns of darkness and enemies of the sun. The chthonic serpent is identified with thunder, the power of water, and all the river gods. It also represents the struggle between good and evil, positive and negative, black and white, and the battles of Zeus against Typhon, Apollo against Python, Hercules against Triton, and Osiris against Seth.


This is the art of Antigoni Kavvatha; impressive and elaborate at first sight, poetic and deeply symbolic upon closer examination. Looking at her paintings, one may see in them an ecological sensibility or become moved by one of many universal themes: mythology, psychological processes, mankind’s perpetual existential struggle, and the dominance of life over death. In other words, she connects in her own way yesterday with today, knowledge of the past with contemporary reality. This makes her authentic and forever topical.


Symbolic, low-toned, inventive, but at the same time demanding with the pictorial product, Kavvatha has managed to create a personal style that makes her work original and occasionally difficult to classify, yet always unique in structure and texture. This much can be explained; everything she attempts has a teleological character. That is, her works serve the purpose of the harmonious co-existence between drawing and form, color and shape, meaning and content.


Most of her compositions are perfectly organized in two dimensions within a concrete framework, a characteristic of her ability to define the space. Other images extend to infinity, beyond the confines of the artwork itself. She invents her own ways to transcend these limits and, in so doing, she enhances the imagination, prompting the spectator to participate, giving him the opportunity to dream or pose his own version, and inviting him to a dialogue. Kavvatha’s adroitness, her attention to detail, the exactness of the drawings, and her creative consistency constitute integral elements of her work, which is constantly enriched, acquiring new dynamics.  These black-and-white compositions and the complex friezes (acrylic paint on mylar, a synthetic rice paper which is a new element in her work) dominated by vivid brushstrokes, a vibrant expression, and the absolute control of the artist’s means. All of these constitute telling elements not only of her evolution in the world of painting, but also of her deep fascination with nature and life, myth and reality, the visible and the invisible, the seeming and the being.



Pegy Kounenaki

Athens, March 2011


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