A brief chronicle
The critical nature of the work [of engraving]
rebuffs any vanity and any squandering.
Pantelis Prevelakis, 'Concerning Engraving' (1938)
The landscape of modern Greek engraving began to take shape in the first post-War decade, the 1950s, and, moreover, in its second half. It was then that the names and works of two Greek engravers, A. Tassos (1914-1985) and Vaso Katraki (1914-1988), came to the forefront. Both had started out in the 1930s from the Studio of the undisputed 'maître' of Greek engraving Yannis Kephallinos (1894-1957) at the Athens School of Fine Arts, but now they seemed to released from the 'limitation of the dimensions' of engraving and its dependence exclusively upon the illustration of printed matter, in which they had done brilliant service. Tassos, a worthy and able artist, handed on his knowledge and experiences by his unique teaching at the Graphic Arts Workshop of the School of Decorative Arts, which functioned at the Athenian Technological Group of the Doxiadis Schools from 1959. At the same period, he also worked on the multi-coloured woodcuts on subjects from the land of Messenia which were typical of him. Vaso, in 1956, had to show her large monumental engravings on sandstone from Siteia, a porous material which she tamed with the chisels and hammers of a sculptor; in 1957, she won the first prize for engraving at the Alexandria Biennale, and from 1958, she taught engraving at the Free Fine Arts Study Centre (subsequently the Vakalo School). It is worth noting that the election, in 1959, of yet another of Kephallinos's pupils, the imaginative and resourceful Costas Grammatopoulos (1916-2003), with his originality in illustration, as professor of engraving at the School of Fine Arts, to succeed the unfortunate, daring engraver Efthymis Papadimitriou (1895-1958), contributed to the re-orientation of the aims of Greek engraving towards modern trends, directing it towards more painterly results. Silk screen took its first tentative steps in Greece in the 1950s, a technique which in the decades which followed made its contribution to the reproduction of works of painting.
In the second decade after the War, the 1960s, Greek engraving was able of putting in an appearance both in Greece and abroad —in 1966, Vaso Katraki was awarded the international Tamarind Prize at the Venice Biennale. Modern Greek engraving strove to make its mark clearly, having gained its independence. In those years, the first pupils of Tassos, Vaso, and Grammatopoulos emerged, some of whom continued their studies abroad, mainly in France. Contact with the wider artistic firmament, concern for and research into new media and mixed techniques opened up horizons for young Greek engravers, and brought them closer to an internationalised, world-wide environment, with which they were perhaps acquainted at a distance, by simple osmosis.
The decade which followed, the 1960s, found modern Greek engraving somewhat forlorn: the Greek public, with a feeling of bewilderment, did not have the daring to make a substantive approach to it; young Greek engravers had necessarily to engage in painting in order to survive; their art, engraving, remained terra incognita —if not 'printed paper'— for the majority. We should, however, point out, in spite of all this, that in 1977 the Athens Engraving Centre was set up by Pino Pantolfini (1947) and Dimitra Siaterli (1952), as was the ARTIGRAF lithographic art company of Stratis Gounaris, Michalis Erginos, and Yannis Karteris.
In the 1980s, this situation changed, conditions had matured. Postgraduate scholarship-holders in engraving travelled to inform themselves and for further study to other countries besides France, such as Britain, Germany, or the Soviet Union, to return later with their reserves enriched, and more confident. In 1981, a second Engraving Workshop was set up at the School of Fine Arts, and another pupil of Kephallinos, Thanasis Exarchopoulos (1927), was appointed professor. The limits of the traditional techniques of engraving were transcended in the name of the autonomy of the work: thus wood was attacked with acid, three-dimensional works were engraved, and silk screen, plastic, celluloid, plexiglass, cardboard with plaster, photocopies, etc. constituted acceptable means of engraving. The National Gallery and Alexandros Soutzos Museum and the 'Yakinthos' Gallery of Nikos Grigorakis (1944) introduced the publication of catalogues containing explanatory texts in the context of the exhibitions of Greek engraving which they held. By degrees, a bibliography of Greek engraving resulted. In 1983, Ilias N. Kouvelis (1964) founded the engraving studio which took his name, and in 1987, Thanasis Dimakarakos (1953) set up his own; both have contributed an incalculable amount to the field of engraving and printing of works of art and to the genre, indissolubly bound up with engraving, of limited editions. Since 1987, the Union of Greek Engravers has been active. In 1988, the National Gallery and Alexandros Soutzos Museum undertook the 'Greek Post-War Engraving' exhibition, while at the end of the same decade the Chamber of Visual Arts of Greece resolved to take action to arrange tours for exhibitions of modern Greek engraving.
The 1990s stabilised the achievements of the preceding decade for modern Greek engraving. In 1991, Yannis Papadakis (1934), a teacher at the Study Centre for Printing and the Art of the Book at the School of Fine Arts, was elected professor of the 1st Engraving Workshop, in succession to Grammatopoulos. Exhibitions, collections, museums, auctions, workshops became a reality. Thus the 'A. Tassos' Visual Arts Society introduced the institution of the touring exhibition for young engravers, collections of modern Greek and contemporary engraving were exhibited, museums projected the work of Greek artists in engraving, and in 1994, Yannis Karteris founded the PERITECHNON Centre, where artists produce lithographs, in 1997, the engravers Manolis Yannadakis (1954) and Xenis Sahinis (1954), professors of engraving at the School of Fine Arts of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, set up the Engraving Centre of the Municipality of Neapoli, Thessaloniki, while in 1998, the engraver Markos Kambanis (1955) started work in the copper engraving workshop on Mount Athos. Nor was there any shortage of monographs and historiographical publications, or of articles in newspapers and periodicals devoted to modern and contemporary Greek engraving.
In the decade in which we now find ourselves, contemporary Greek engraving seems to have won its own space and a world of its own. Exhibitions and collections multiply, new museums have been founded in the country's centre —the Museum of Engraving, the Grigorakis Gallery in 2000— and in the provinces —the Takis Katsoulidis Museum of Engraving in the Municipality of Messene in 2002— special day conferences on engraving are held by the appropriate agencies, and specialist publications are brought out. At least two tertiary educational institutions have introduced the theory and practice of engraving in their schools: the Athens School of Fine Arts in particular, thanks to its teaching staff in engraving at various levels (Michalis Arfaras, Leoni Vidali, Mary Schina, Vicky Tsalamata, Yannis Gourzis, Dina Kotsiou), undertakes praiseworthy initiatives, within the framework of research programmes which do not overlook the electronic technologies which until recently were regarded as sacrilegious (and still are by some) in this country. Modern Greek engraving —and this is not the place to quote names— cannot fail to pursue a course in the twenty-first century for which the omens are favourable, if we bear in mind the conditions of the time and the noteworthy human resources by which it is served.
Lecturer in the History of Art
University of Athens
Department of History and Archaeology