Vasilis Karakatsanis was born in Athens at 1957. He studied the art of painting at the School of Fine Arts in Athens (1976-1981), stage decoration (1979-1981), painting at Barcelona (1982-1984), and conservation at Centro Europeo in Venice (1985). Since 1982 he has been presenting his work in public and has been the center of flattering criticism both in Greece and internationally.
“Vathis Square,” A Different View of Athens – A.D. 2000
Neoclassical houses with faded facades, bearing the marks of their past splendor and present wear; ill-matched figures apparently cut off from the ravaged surroundings; heavy traffic in the daytime and even some activities that we choose to ignore at night… A somewhat weird setting, which is, nevertheless, remarkably close: it is so familiar, and yet so strange… The atmosphere is totally unsuitable for romantic reminiscences and picturesque regressions. These are really neighborhoods of Athens that we usually by-pass in a hurry; the reason may be that they make us think of some aspects of our problematic everyday reality which frightens and upsets us. There is hardly any nostalgia left for a warmer, friendlier and more human Athens. We have even come to terms with a few realities, which apparently do not concern us. A few steps further away we discover a very different world - full of problem and rather uninspiring. What is really happening behind these hermetically closed doors and windows? It is true that these somewhat unappealing interiors exhale their own poetry and music that only a sensitive and meditative artist could hear. The smell of mould is here mixed with a musty fragrance of old-fashioned cologne; the prevailing feeling of loneliness is intermingled with touches of a bizarre eroticism. The present and the past seem as far from each other as they could possibly be.
Vasilis Karakatsanis’ recent work is a most spectacular turn which surprises and impresses us. The beautiful fashionable clothes, the autobiographical parties are way behind. Spaces deprived of openings, somber colors, interiors with cheep furnishings that may preserve the memory of past elegance, and impersonal figures – symbols are now the highlights. Could the latter be foreign immigrants, devastated by the loss of hope and the misery reflected in their staring eyes?
In the course of this imaginary wandering the artist’s penetrating glance discovers and reveals each and every detail; the characteristic perspective distortions give the impression that everything is viewed through a wide-angle lens. This is not a realistic representation of that world near us: it is a thorough recreation full of sensitivity and understanding. Even though the viewer may not be immediately enchanted, the sincerity and authenticity of such an uncommon itinerary through some neighborhoods of decline and desertion is most moving and thought provoking.
The suggestive light, a certain monotony and the emphasis on every significant detail contribute to the creation of an outlandish, extremely charged atmosphere. It would have seemed extremely out of place to add a few typical picturesque elements as signals of an unmistakable identity. Although we may easily recognize the place, we could not really exclude other possibilities. The lighting, the faces of the people and even some of the trivial objects may point towards Athens with a greater certainty. Moreover, this hardly a chronicle of the Athenian fringe in the year 2000. The artist is not particularly interested in the residents of the houses located in the streets around Vathis Square, their problems and occupations. With a remarkable mastery Vasilis Karakatsanis avoids the all-too-easy lapse towards an artistic Para philology, with melodramatic overtones and hints at social criticism. Its style is here quite abstractive and impressively mature and controlled, with a few refreshing touches of “freedom.” The feeling of a caring person is harmoniously combined with the objectivity of an observer from a distance. Vasilis Karakatsanis uncovers the hidden aspects of this downgraded area, thus leading the viewer to a meditative observation. The power of art gracefully overcomes the limitations of the uninspiring reality, thus transforming these declined interiors into an unparalleled scenery of magic.
Curator, National Gallery and Alexandros Soutsos Museum
Motifs, textures and qualities, develop on the canvas, like armchairs, clothes, umbrellas, and carpets. Almost always clothing materials.
Materials of urban concept, undoubtedly controversial with specific reasoning in the past, however subconsciously desired by so many.
Clothing materials that define someone’s class, undoubtedly bring up skepticism concerning the power of our stage-designing and clothing conclusions with a deadline through the passage of time. At the same time, they raise doubts concerning the value of many controversies within the dream for a society more substantial and more just.
Our primitivism, our relation to matter and, all the more, to its particular expressions, will contribute in a way that, in addition to the awe, the smile will have to be often included, I’m afraid, in the conclusions of future scholars about man. Experienced space, time and materials mingle in such a way that on the one hand we have the given visual product and on the other hand the critical, universal approach to human existence with discreet irony, I would say, through its passions and consumer necessities.
Karakatsanis speaks about something he knows very well, trying to keep the balance between the description and the conceptual disposition to put forward views about the urban landscape. Once more, he reflects an experiential relationship with what he embarks on, code messages in a diary, views, queries, secret or unconcealed fetishes.
It is a humanistic approach, with the human figure missing, like in most of the series in the past, as it is the target itself (cities 1985, bags 1986, imprints 1987, clothes 1989, houses 1989, carpets 1991, flags 1992, Vathis Square 2001, on wall 2003, G8+? 2003, and netting 2004). The human figure complementary appears on canvas and is illustrated more, I would say, in the series “party 1996” and “sarong 1998.”
Karakatsanis implies and does so in a straightforward way. Thus he engages the viewer in a second and third evaluation of his work, taking risks, with the hasty conclusions entertained by the “syndrome” of the meaning or the fast and superficial choice of familiar, stereotyped, post-modern titles. The painter here, and I hope in the future too, does not drift into brashness or loud statements that will possibly be quickly revised tomorrow. He avoids in a refined and responsible way, his affiliation to the “devoted” obsession with putting forward questions and conclusions that, I’m afraid, do not interest people, who will eventually appreciate the project and are the source of inspiration.
Identifiable and plain artistic monochrome expression that permeates the canvas, stage designing in the form of “installation of two dimensions” and clear elements of new realism and pop.
The visual product is optimistic, which I do not see often in art nowadays and his materials are simple, identifiable and mature. He knows very well his field and, most notably, how to handle it.
Although I tend to disregard the artist’s nationality, I’d hazard to guess that Karakatsanis originates, acts and expresses through purely original European aesthetic media, which is important, typical and defies time, in a universal artistic market, which desperately needs originality and the artist’s individual expression.
Visual arts are not the medium through which fashion can bulldoze aesthetic differences, personalities or honest expression. What is intriguing is that all of us, in our Levi’s jeans, promote the diversity in our being, our national, ideological and social differences, with authenticity and realization of the rules of the tough aesthetic challenge.
Pedro A. Serra y Bauzá
Chairman of the “Es Baluard” Foundation of the Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art
Palma de Mallorca, Spain, February 2005