Yannis Kourakis

Galerie 3

The word eidolon in Greek means “image”—a thing without substance, a phantom, a mental picture. This is exactly the impression conveyed by Yannis Kourakis’ small paintings, called “Eidola,” completed between March 1983 and January 1985, as they flickered and glowed on the walls of the gallery. The visual richness of these heavily textured, sensuously tactile, luminous paintings attests to Kourakis’ Greek and eastern Mediterranean heritage, a tradition steeped in the lavish, the sumptuous, the dazzling.

Kourakis is a painter par excellence, and a purist in the way he handles his medium—oil paint—which he always uses in unadulterated form. Moreover, he reflects a deep understanding of and deference for this medium. He paints on wood because, as a surface, it is resistant and hard and so bears up to the blows that he occasionally inflicts on it in the painting process. His work is figurative, and he always paints from an object before him and never from memory. The themes of his work are invariably objects that surround him, the things that he lives with in his studio—in the case of the “Eidola” series, an Art Deco side-table.

The dimensions of these paintings initially astonish: they are small, with the smallest, The Return, 1984, measuring approximately 4 by 2½ inches. After a while they seem gradually to “expand” in size and come up to human scale—a direct result of the intense energy that the artist has compressed into them. Indeed, there is an obsessive quality to these small, powerful works that imbues his inanimate subject with vitality and life, as in Tzoutzouka, 1983, in which the image of the table sways and dances against the swirling strokes of the background. In Almost a Nero, 1983, one of the more brightly colored paintings, the vermilion table takes on an almost anthropomorphic form (i.e., “almost a Nero”) and a convincingly seductive vitality. The table in Goodnight Mr. I., 1984 (an homage to a dead friend), is shrouded in darkness, discernible only by a few strokes of beautiful color, and appears to be irrevocably slipping away out of the painting. This obsessiveness, comparable to that of an intensely erotic relationship, reflects the artist’s total involvement with both his theme/object and the act of painting. In these works, through their expressionist style, tactile qualities, and rich visual imagery, Kourakis reveals to the spectator the experience of his adventure (and conquest) of painting in oil, his intensely felt perceptions and passions. The “Eidola” paintings, seething with energy and glimmering with light, seem to embody the artist’s life and soul, his very existence.

Catherine Cafopoulos