“Creative Encounters” is an institution that started in September 1995, when four well-known artists were invited to spend a week in Metsovo. During that time, they became acquainted with the region’s culture and sights, were inspired to create new works, exhibited their art in the Museum, took part in open discussions with the public and directed art workshops for local children. The success of that initial endeavor would lead to the establishment of a roughly biannual institution. Each edition of “Creative Encounters” features different artists and a range of diverse exhibitions, workshops, lectures, discussions, actions and educational activities; the aim, however, always remains the same: a creative encounter between the public and art, a lively exchange between each artist and the area.
In 2022, twenty-seven years later, we have the pleasure of hosting two renowned artists and dearest friends of the Museum: the sculptor Kyriakos Rokos and the painter-engraver Roubina Sarelakou. Kyriakos Rokos, who is mostly known as a distinguished sculptor, presents here a different side of his work: a total of 50 drawings on paper from his series “Secret Dispatches 2008-2021” and “Thirty-one drawings and one sculpture in search of a poet”, in which he depicts allegorical and surrealistic images focusing on humankind and humanity’s “intercourse” with the present era of socioeconomic crisis. These drawings constitute an independent part of his creative work – in other words, they are not simple sketches serving as drafts for future finished works, but independent and complete works of art in themselves that showcase the artist’s dexterity in depicting on paper his unmediated inspiration, drawn from his experiences, feelings, dreams and thoughts.
Roubina Sarelakou, another multifaceted artist, awarded by the Academy of Athens for her engraving work, presents a series of forty woodcuts she created in the 1970s and 1980s. Drawing original inspiration from her personal experiences in Paris, she depicts with realistic precision everyday objects, old buildings, fruits, machinery etc., reflecting an inner dialogue with those inanimate things that gives them substance, a dream and a voice. The exhibition also includes a very recent work of hers – an installation of applied art consisting of two chairs and a table, on the surfaces of which she incorporates engravings– as well as the original blocks used in four of her engravings that will help the public gain a deeper understanding of the art of woodcut.
This is an important pair of artists – a couple in both art and real life – who may share common experiences and interests but differ in their inner worlds and means of artistic expression. This enduring and tested “creative encounter” raises an additional challenge to our museum: the opportunity to delve into the essence of our own institution and into the best possible way to showcase the work of these two artists.
I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to Roubina and Kyriakos for their trust and for the enthusiasm with which they embraced, once again, our “encounter” with their Art. Their generous donation of most of the works presented in this catalogue is a priceless endowment for our museum, while their physical presence in Metsovo and their participation in the guided tours and workshops constitute a valuable contribution to the local public and visitors of the exhibition.
Lastly, I would like to express my warmest thanks to art historian George Mylonas for his essential contribution to the entire endeavor and for his exceptional text for this catalogue, which helps us delve deeper into the work of the two artists.
Chairperson of the Evangelos Averoff-Tossizza Foundation
Entopia ( Giorgos Mylonas )
I cut off my head /
put it on a platter /
and took it to my doctor
There’s nothing wrong with it, he told me,
it’s just burning-hot,
throw it into the river and we’ll see*
(* Miltos Sachtouris, “The poet’s head”, from his collection The Utensil, 1971.)
There are indirect connotations bridging the opening lines of this poem by Miltos Sachtouris and the drawings of Kyriakos Rokos (1945). The audience will recognise the poet’s head as one of the drawings donated by the Epirotan artist to the Averoff Museum. And just like a poet uses words like clay, out of which this hermit of language shapes new words, to the artist, clay is the drawing, a grammar and syntax of a new language, that strives to make the impossible possible, to grasp and reveal the irrational as part of reality.
Selecting from a prolific career stretching roughly sixty years, Rokos brings back to his home town of Metsovo a series of drawings of ink on paper. They date from 2002 to the present, and can be read as some kind of “pages drawn from a diary”. These creations are not in the least lacking in gravity compared to the sculptures of the artist featured both indoors and in the external grounds of the Museum. Rokos was taught drawing initially at the workshop of Panos Sarafianos, then at the School of Fine Arts with Yannis Pappas, before becoming a teacher himself (at the Vakalo School, 1981-1983, and at the Department of Conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art of the Athens Technological Educational Institute from 1983 to 2012). In his long and productive career, these compositions represent a separate chapter and are complete works of art in themselves, not merely sketches for future sculptures.
Acting like a “front-line war correspondent” or a “scribe of autonomous reactions”, the artist feels the need to convey, in these works, the taste of truth, using a language that ponders on itself and its mediums and reflects on history and its limitations. The artist does not embellish, but instead raises critical questions; he is not satisfied with a superficial representation of the image, but partakes in the agony and responsibility. Among his creations -in all his drawings humans are the focal point- one can read the chronicle of an era, in words that have been violently imposed by the powers that be, such as EURO, SPREAD, IMF, ENFIA, GREXIT. He deplores the supremacy of markets, the lost soul of Europe, and transcends “topicality” by conveying, with a bitter smile, this lesson that is suited to every “success story”: if you want to be human, you just have to refuse to play God.
Whereas in Rokos’ drawings the irrational is revealed as real, in Rubina Sarelakou’s engravings (1950) we encounter exactly the opposite: we see images, extracts of a sensitive soul that dreams of reality and transports dreams to mundane streets, familiar rooftops and still life, revealing that which is real but goes unobserved, rather than what rarely happens. She inscribes a deep sense that her world – our world – in its present form, does not have just one visible side, but also numerous hidden facets. It is this hidden world that she attempts to depict, that which cannot be explained by “discourse”, cannot be rendered in words, but lies on the fringes or, rather, hides beneath what our intelligible world reveals.
Sarelakou first studied engraving under Kostas Grammatopoulos and then, together with her life partner Kyriakos Rokos, studied in Paris with Georges Dayez (1974-1976). From early on, she discovered that woodblock printing was her calling, although she has also created works using numerous other media (such as painting and jewellery). For several years she taught drawing and colour at the Vakalo school. In the engravings she is presenting here in Metsovo, drawing from a rich artistic harvest stretching half a century, one can detect in a unique way that indivisible element that links topographical definition with its transcendence, the realistic rendering of the place with its poetic mapping: from the rooftops of Paris to the streets of Athens, to the machines or the abandoned buildings and trees. With the precision of a sensitive observer, the locus of the imagination becomes the locus of her art, which is not utopic but en-topic. A place that is both imaginary and real and lies right next to us.
Similarly, in her still lifes with their folds and bottles, in the long journeys inside the house, her acute observation and deep intimacy with things become elements that fuel the creative work of the artist. Black and white gestures that listen attentively to life and its pulses, with the authenticity of a Doric instrument, like the Cretan string instruments she carries. Rubina Sarelakou does not illustrate the colorfulness of nature, but renounces it in order to rearrange the visual data, creating an “alternate” nature through her search for the art of the minimum. She renders the point where the minute seeks to express the essential and the shades of black and white become an exercise in contemplation, in the spirit of what Elytis had written: “I sought the white up to the ultimate intensity of black”.
I think of the river in Metsovo, and how it joins its brother, the river Zagoritiko, to give birth to Arachthos, bringing “the poet’s head” in the mouth of Rokos:
I threw it into the river along with the frogs
that’s when it belted it out
singing some strange songs
creaking terribly and howling
I took it back and reattached it to my neck
I was roaming the streets in a frenzy
with a green hexagonal poet’s head.