From Agrinio to New York: Christos Kapralos

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Christos Kapralos working in his studio, Athens, 1987

Christmas back home gave me lots of time for book hunting in my parents’ bookcases. As usual, I ignored the sociology, finance and management books that have taken over even my own room and shuffled through the art history books that I haven’t been acquainted with. Nothing interesting came up. The search was over but I was angsty for a new obsession; the blog needed something interesting. It wasn’t until a few days later that my father’s proposition, writing about local artists, seemed more inviting than boring. From that moment, Kapralos[1] couldn’t get out of my head. Kapralos happened to be a distant relative of my mother’s but I never had the chance of meeting him; he died before I was born. We did, however, have his work displayed in our dining room and a few books on his work. So I dug in.

It’s a very common prejudice that artists or even astounding professionals do not usually come from the countryside. The bustling urban areas serve more as a place of gathering for creatives and intellectuals of all sorts. Even though our country has a rich history of visual and performing arts, arts and culture are often overlooked as superficial or useless in everyday life; and all this, despite the fact that art has come to enjoy applications even in the medical world, being more and more recognized for its healing benefits.[2] Given that, imagine being born in Panaitolio, a small village in Western Greece, known for its tobacco production. It’s a miracle that Kapralos discovered painting while walking to school in Agrinio, when he was still very young. His mother was highly supportive of him and his work giving him her approval to go to Messologi to study painting for the first time. From then, Kapralos never stopped creating. With support from Ioannis Papastratos he moved to Athens and studied at the Athens School of Fine Arts.

The World War II found him in Paris. He was forced to come back to Greece. He returned to Panaitolion and with the help of his brother, he build a small studio where he worked till 1945. Eventually, he built a home and studio in Athens. It was in Aegina that he carved the Memorial of Pindos in the church yard of Holly Trinity. The frieze now is available at the Peristyle of the Greek Parliament. Towards the end of the ‘50s Kapralos started working with ancient metalworking techniques. He developed his own formula which consisted of drawing on wax leaves and then moulding them with fire, giving them different shapes. Afterwards, he proceeded to work the wax with his hands, creating more than two hundred different statues. The result of this big body of work was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1962. His work made an impression on art critics and the general public, gaining international acclamation. This success resulted in him signing a contract with the most important gallery in New York, the Martha Jackson Gallery. Kapralos gained the recognition he deserved and continued working in Aegina till the early ‘90s.

 

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Kapralos’ work was what Greece needed after the World War II. After his return to Greece in 1940, as he said in his autobiography, he forgot all his European influences and his work returned to the classic lines and influences of the Ancient Greek sculptures and shapes. He thought that recalling his European influences while working in his home town would be “unnatural and stupid”. His subjects are mainly drawn from his experiences in Greece, in Panaitolion. He sculpted his friends and family, but mostly he created sculptures of his mother. She is a dominant figure in his life and work. Let’s not forget that it was her that let him follow his dream of studying painting in the first place. His sculptures of his mother are some of his most powerful work. Even though his themes are often quite ordinary, they are never simplistic. The simplicity of his forms serves as a vessel for the emotional heaviness of the themes that dominate his work; loss, war, work, poverty. Kapralos knew pain and poverty, having struggled for most of his life until his eventual success in Athens. What drove him most was his “great love for humans”[3] and this is what he was most willing to express through his work. And he definitely did exactly that.

 

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[1] http://www.epoxi.gr/persons3.htm

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6124538/

[3] https://archive.ert.gr/35350/

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