Panayiotis Kalorkoti











Man with Cat, 1989
Etching
76.2x56.5cm (sheet), 56.6x39.7cm (imp.), Edition of 10
about this collection Click image to enlarge

Working for the Landscape

 

I wonder what the National Garden Festival expected when they commissioned a series of works from Panayiotis Kalorkoti. If they anticipated a record of work in progress, documenting the development of the Festival or expected a series of before and after landscapes, they misjudged him. Kalorkoti is neither concerned with documentation nor interested in producing a record of events or places.

 

The Festival provided a wealth of opportunities for inspiration. The main point of garden festivals such as the Gateshead National Garden Festival lies in land reclamation and urban renewal. The 200 acre site presented a typical picture of industrial decay - disused railways sidings, gas-works, tar-works and coke-works.

 

Having discarded any idea of documenting work on site, Kalorkoti chose to record the people who planned and created the Festival, surrounding them with images that convey something of the reality that resulted from their ideas. An attempt, by purely artistic means, to learn about, to understand and discover how the Festival was being evolved.

 

Kalorkoti is at home with a commission which enables him to research a subject thoroughly and then produce a series of related works. Such series, whether to commission or not, are an important part of his work.

 

Portraiture and Collage

 

There is a dialectic at work in the Garden Festival series, two familiar elements from Kalorkoti's past work are combined to produce a new, effective and appealing group of works, combining portraiture and two-dimensional montage.

 

Kalorkoti has explored portraiture before. During his student days at the Royal College of Art in London he produced a lot of quick sketches of fellow students, staff and visitors and later he produced a series of portraits capturing psychological states. In this commission he has produced a substantial number of actual portraits, in which he is aiming for the sitter's personality and character, trying to capture psychological insights rather than simply aiming for an exact, photographic likeness. 

 

Similarly he has used montage or collage before, in his Imperial War Museum commission, as well as earlier works such as "Berlin (East and West)", "Berlin" and the "Untitled" series.

 

The technique, combining a variety of different images, and different types of images, offers an ideal way of commenting on something, of underlining ambiguities (be they perceptual, visual, aesthetic, social or political) and of conveying the complexity and variety of a subject.

 

Collage is, strictly speaking, the creation of several layers in a work by physically applying additional elements to the original picture surface. Obviously you cannot do this in an etching (although you can collage onto an etching) but the appearance of superimposition of planes can be achieved. For example in "Reconstruction" the four-part strip along the bottom appears to lie on top of the central image. Similarly, in "Working for the Landscape" the central triple portrait appears to be placed over the plane in which the small boxed portraits and structures lie.

 

Kalorkoti is an artist who handles all aspects of the printmaking process himself and as a result his work has a richness and complexity that comes from his mastery of the techniques involved. It also means he can work on a relatively large scale, with greater flexibility. Etching enables him to draw easily and directly on the plate and at the same time use photographic techniques to produce detailed sub-images, sometimes separated from other elements in the work by framing devices and sub-divisions, and sometimes placed in the same picture plane. His contrasting use of line, cross-hatching and dots to build up his images, with the range of colour texture that he can achieve, provides him with great variety of finish which he uses for formal purposes.

 

His use of these formal techniques draws upon such contemporary media as cartoons, newspapers and film. His montages combine material from different sources in order to create meaning through conjunction and to throw new light on familiar scenes.

 

Formal Techniques

 

These devices are used formally in constructing the visual effect that he wants, rather than contributing directly to the content and meaning of the work. In combining a variety of elements in a single etching he is guided principally by formal considerations. While the supporting material comments on the principal scene or portrait, contrasting, extending and stimulating our ideas and interpretation, he reserves the right to use his material in any way he chooses. There is no truth to perceived reality. Whereas he speaks of the illustrator enhancing the beauty of the subject he illustrates, he believes it is the artist's duty to question, unsettle and challenge both the subject and the viewer rather than convey the external reality.

 

The strength of Kalorkoti's work lies in his combination of draughtsmanship and colour within his chosen medium. He uses bright, primary colours with a sharp, graphic linear style. Colour is applied in clearly differentiated areas rather than graduated or used for modelling.

 

There are certain influences that have contributed to his style (he is very much his own man) and there are broad similarities with other artists working today (I am not suggesting that there is a direct influence but rather a community of interest, for example with the work of David Hockney, R B Kitaj and Ken Kiff). In particular there is the influence of Japanese prints; Matisse, Picasso and Klee (three of his personal Pantheon of modern master); and an all-pervading influence of Byzantine art and icons, from his upbringing in Cyprus.

 

Working on Site

 

When he took up the commission Kalorkoti was faced with a largely empty site. His first two works were "Man with Cat" and "Woman with Cigarette". There followed three group portraits ("Working for the Landscape", "Planning Meeting" and "Reflective Variations") where the emphasis is on the portraits, which occupy the major space. Finally three works ("Good News", "Reconstruction" and "Landmarks") in which the number of portraits increases, but the amount of space allotted to them decreases substantially as other images from the Festival take on increased importance.

 

His first objective was to produce an effective visual image and secondly to convey something of the Garden Festival. Thus the meetings recorded in "Working for the Landscape", "Planning Meeting" and "Good News" probably never took place. He is more interested in conveying the interaction of individuals, character and personality than in documentary reportage and he uses plans, maps, and other relevant images (often viewed from unexpected angles or seen out of scale) to convey their area of work and the results of their efforts, creating interlocking patterns and paraphrasing familiar imagery.

 

"Working for the Landscape" portrays three people as if they have just finished a meeting. Above and below them, are sixteen small portraits of colleagues and at either side unusual views of elements from the Festival site. The principal interest lies in the ambiguous psychological relationship between the three main characters and the ambiguity of their spatial relationship. Kalorkoti has spoken of the cramped, enclosed space which the central figure inhabits forcing them into a kind of closeness and intimacy but there is no communication between the three.

 

In "Planning Meeting" we are shown the initial planning process as four planners sit around a detailed drawing of the site with further plans on the wall behind them. The print shows the amount of work which has gone beforehand in creating a landscape which is both harmonious and natural, but the four seem in isolated worlds of their own, not impinging upon each other.

 

"Reflective Variations" is an experiment, combining five separate portraits into a single work, using colour and sub-division of the picture surface to produce a formally satisfying composition. The plain blue background of the central image on the top levels contrasts in position, colour and composition with the others, each of which also have a busy, detailed background. Each appears self absorbed in their own part of the overall design for a Festival of such complexity that it can only succeed if many specialists bring their own part to fruition as part of a concerted whole.

 

"Landmarks" combines a narrow strip showing the key councillors and businessmen involved in establishing the Festival with an imaginary view of the structures on site, with the foreground occupied by 'The Red Army', one of the sculptures commissioned for the site. The portrait strip presents the individuals as if at a formal photograph of the Garden Festival Board. The montage derived from the selected structures play with scale, position and size, creating ambiguities. Further ambiguity is introduced by the imprecise nature of the black division between the foreground and the series of structures. Formal and conceptual objectives are met by this blending of divider (rather than plinth or platform) into the structures.

 

"Reconstruction" is divided into three fields. At the top officers of Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council and a local businessman and developer occupy a narrow band with a strong green background. In the centre, and receiving the greatest space, is a montage which brings together Gateshead International Stadium, palm trees, a steam train, construction equipment and some of the houses built by Shepherd Homes on the Festival site (Shepherds provided plans and blue prints to enable Kalorkoti to get the details right. An example of the extent of his research and equally the fact that he is not interested in verisimilitude - the houses are not presented accurately in colour or scale). There is reversed perspective, with the equipment in the foreground much smaller than the houses in the background. Along the bottom, in another narrow band are four reserved areas devoted to plans of the Gateshead Civic Centre, part of the Festival site, some of the sculptures intended for the site and images from power boat racing, which took place on the River Tyne during the Festival.

 

"Good News" devotes more space to views of the site and aspects of the Festival. The major image is a view of the Dunston Staithes. Underneath are the members of the original Garden Festival team. In this work there are two principal picture areas, the lower dominating through its subject, colour and coherence, while the upper is itself divided into several sections. Formal complexity of this sort is found in all the etchings, which range from a single picture space to the multiple interacting spaces of "Working for the Landscape" and "Good News".

 

"Man with Cat" and "Woman with Cigarette" provide a link between the more complex etchings which followed and the series of 225 portrait drawings which form an integral part of the project.

 

What began as a way of getting his bearings in the early days became a continuing and significant series capturing in five sketch books many of the people working on the project, from the businessmen and councillors and senior personnel to the workers out and about on site. Mostly full face the series is a unique collection, valuable in its own right, exploring as it does a variety of approaches to portraiture, and as a working document which contributed to the series of etchings.

 

"Man with Cat" is the true link between the two series of works. It combines straightforward portraiture, supplemented by the cat, with a plan of the Festival site ambiguously located so that we are not sure whether it is placed on a desk or a table top, alongside the attaché case, or if it is a separate image on a different plane to the portrait, with the case floating in space, a formal device for tying the two planes together. That the latter might be the case is underlined by the fact that the portrait is not realistic, the figure is distorted for compositional reasons.

 

Density and Richness

 

As we have seen, play with perspective and the juxtaposition of varied picture planes, together with framing devices and the imaginative montage of detailed and varied elements, are hallmarks of Kalorkoti's work. They combine to give a density and richness to the etchings.

 

In his essay in the Imperial War Museum catalogue, Frank Whitford states that "the subjects of Kalorkoti's later graphics are, put simply, social and political. They treat not only war and its consequences but also human beings in conflict and distress, and the effects of social conditions on human behaviour." For this National Garden Festival commission there is, not surprisingly, no reference to war. Kalorkoti also eschews significant social or political comment.

 

In her essay in the Hatton Gallery catalogue, Eva Krabbe identifies a central concern in Kalorkoti's work, "He mirrors a world that has become so complicated that nothing stands for itself any longer...in every face, gesture and situation there is ambiguity." The more you study a Kalorkoti work the more you are likely to find in it. This series of etchings is not only a substantial response to the National Garden Festival, but also a significant development in the artist's work.

 

 

 

Roger Wollen

 

 

List of Works

"Man with Cat":- David Copeland (Executive Director the Festival)

"Working with the Landscape":- From left to right top, centre and then bottom Lucy Newton(Business Development Manager), Gordon Air (Site Base Manager), George Wright (Assistant Director of Horticulture), Mike Collier (Curatorial Adviser, Tyne International), Bob Wooley (Administrator, Indoor Shows), Rosie Lewis (Water Space Manager), Neil Weddle (Company Accountant) and Helen Mitchinson (PA to Diana Comber), Andrew Legg (Director of Horticulture), Alan Shepherd (Finance Adviser) and Diana Comber (Marketing Director), Tana Wolf (Events Producer), Brian Kerslake (Travel Trade Manager), Janet Byrne (Education & Community Liaison Officer), Bill Harbottle (Assistant Director, Finance), Colin McAlpine (Computer Consultant), Yang Riches (Development Controller), Cllr David Bollands (Festival Chairman) and Sally-Ann Dickson (Assistant Site Manager).

"Planning Meeting":- Peter Van Loon (Landscape Architect), Graham Sinclair (Project Director), Mark Michelmore (Director of Operations) and Isabel Vasseur (Visual Arts Coordinator).

"Reflective Variations":- Clockwise from top left: Bob Wooley, Susan Wear (Press & PR Officer), Jane Heath (Crafts Coordinator), Declan McGonagle (Curator, Tyne International) and Tana Wolf with Bill Harbottle.

"Good News":- From left to right: Dave Normanton (Architect), Harry Shipley (Landscape & Land Reclamation), Ron Young (Assistant Project Director), David Copeland, Julie Steel (PA to David Copeland), Alan Harvey (Cost Controller) and John Booth (Engineer).

"Landmarks":- From left to right: Back row - councillors: John Wheatley, Martin Cannon, Norman Lakey, David Bollands, Peter Mole, George Gill and Paul Tinnion; front row - businessmen: Reay Atkinson, John Hall, Ted Allan, Gerry Cookson and John Richardson.

"Reconstruction":- Left to right: John Hall, Les Elton (Chief Executive-GMBC), Peter Parkes (Director, Legal Srvices-GMBC), Dennis Robson (Director of Architectural Services-GMBC), Paul Stevens (Director, Parks & Recreation - GMBC), Jerry Barford (Director, Planning-GMBC) and Bruce Pritchard (Deputy Director, Engineering Services-GMBC).

"Woman with Cigarette":- Isabel Vasseur.

 

In addition there are 225 portraits done in five sketchbooks between 5 September 1989 - 15 January 1990. These portraits of individuals where involved in the Festival and the result is a unique document of the celebrated and the unknown from John Hall to Employment Training trainees who worked behind the scenes to create the Festival.