Markos Kampanis: A Man of Many Talents
To say Markos Kampanis is a painter of great talent, is a sheer understatement. Kampanis is an artist with skill in many fields, printmaking, book illustrations, church murals and icons – his portfolio is vast and diverse. His work has been shown throughout Greece and also graces the walls of many holy institutions, including a number of monasteries of Mount Athos.
This autumn season, Politismos is proud to present an exhibit curated by Markos Kampanis. We had an opportunity talk with him before the release to learn a bit more about this talented individual.
Q.What drew you to the art of painting?
I started painting seriously from an early age although there was no family tradition; no one of my family was an artist.. My first oil paintings where done when I was 14. I never had any doubt that I should dedicate myself to painting. I had some thoughts doing something similar, equally artistic, like stage design or architecture, but the love of painting prevailed.
Q.Do you prepare differently for painting and for iconography?
In iconography there is less of what we call imagination in terms of depicting the subject matter. On the other hand there is more research work to do in order to find suitable older images on which to base your own. I do not like to make a simple copy of an icon, and I believe that there is in iconography much more space for a personal interpretation than is normally supposed.
Apart from painting I do not do many icons, I usually work in murals. In that domain there is a lot of preparation to be done before starting to paint, much more than is required when painting a picture. One usually has to prepare a more or less definite preparatory work with the basic colors already decided upon, prepare the hues beforehand and also adjust the painting to the dimensions and shapes of the wall. In picture painting, one may work almost vice versa, one for example can adjust the shape and size of the canvas to his ideas.
Q.In 2012, you began your 365 project, what moved you to create this project? Were there days when you found it challenging to produce? Or days when you longed to spend more time on a specific piece?
The 365 project was indeed a concept work. It was visualized and executed as a complete series and not as a simple group of works.
All works have been painted during the length of a year, one painting per day, from May 2012 to May 2013. The only restrictions were the dimensions (20×20 and 20×25 cm.) and the obligation to paint one piece for every day.
There where no restrictions in terms of theme, technique or style. It was an effort to put into practice the famous quote attributed to the ancient Greek painter Apelles: “Not a day without a line.”
The project made me think in visual terms on a characteristic of my art: my painting might not have the uniformity or consistency of other fellow artists, so I wanted to investigate what was the thread running across seemingly different subjects or artistic approaches.
Yes, there were days that it was more difficult to produce a work than others, either for personal or purely practical reasons. But since I had no limitation on what or how to paint, I managed to accomplish my goal.
Apart from the studio, I have done works in an airport or travelling by train. I have painted from nature as well as from photographs. I have made small scale portable frescoes or completely abstract works.
Q.You had the opportunity to paint icons at Agion Oros. What first took you there and how did the opportunity present to create icons come about?
The actual portable icons I did for Mount Athos are not many. I mainly worked in murals, printmaking and book illustrations. I first visited Mount Athos in 1990 and have since been there again and again.
The initial reason that brought me there was artistic; I wanted to see in reality what I only knew from photographs, I also wanted to come to terms with a place that was a kind of legend for Greek cultural history, after all it was the only place that aspects of Byzantium where still in a way alive.
Gradually I got acquainted with both the landscape and the monastic society itself. That led me to further visits where I painted my own works inspired by the Holy Mountain and in a very short time I was given the first commissions to create work in situ.
My relationship is mainly with Simononos Petra Monastery but also with Iveron and Vatopaidi monasteries. This more artistic activity of more than 20 years was presented during 2011 in a major exhibition held at the Byzantine Museum in Athens.
Q.If you could have anyone paint your portrait, who would it be? Why?
Ah! Tricky question and difficult to answer. I would immediately feel inclined to suggest painters I admire and love their approach to portraiture like Lucian Freud or Francis Bacon. Equally intriguing would be to choose an artist that not only I like his style but also one that knows me quite well, a friend. I think a portrait has to do both with the external characteristics but also with the inner self and mentality of the sitter.
Q.What projects are on the horizon for you?
I am about to finish a mural decorating the main entrance at Vatopaidi Monastery on Mount Athos. Regarding my own more personal work I will continue a series of paintings and drawings relating to ruins, especially around the Athens area but covering a time span from antiquity to present day ruins within the city. The works are meant to be exhibited next summer. I am also curating an exhibition of recently found drawings and works on paper by the Greek painter Spyros Papaloukas.
Q.What words of advice do you have for young artists today?
Paint, paint, paint, every single day.
Do not expect immediate success or maturity of style from day one, it is true what has been said, that painting is an old man’s art.
Be prepared to dismiss what you are doing, do not be afraid to destroy.
Do not rely on inspiration; it is only a good excuse for laziness. Let your work inspire you; learn to listen to what your everyday painting is suggesting the next step should be.
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