Panayiotis Kalorkoti

Chips with Everything, 1985
565x762cm (sheet), 36x492cm (imp), Edition of 50
about this collection Click image to enlarge



I first came across the work of Panayiotis Kalorkoti at the Royal College of Art, London, in 1982, and it immediately struck a very odd chord. At the centre of The Studio, for instance, a top-hatted Goya is painting his Maya; to either side of his easel, ten other sitters, including a cardinal and a general, wait in line; but a shadowy bugaboo from the Disporates is also present on the dais, while behind, from enormous frames, twelve wild Rasputins (they are in fact "self-portraits") scream back at us. The literal sense might be to point up the absurdity of Goya's portrait-role, when contrasted with the artist's (Goya's, or Kalorkoti's) private vision. But these "self-portraits" are themselves a parody, whose cod-angst or mock-confession sets in question all authenticity.


Something of that comedy of displacement seems to me never far away from all Kalorkoti's subsequent imagery, even from the work collected here, where the artist takes on public responsibility. Frank Whitford in 1989 wrote of Kalorkoti's "grasp of reality", but emphasised his Cypriot origins (he was already nine years old when he first came to England) and his resultant sense of "a partly alien culture". To me, Kalorkoti's wonderfully firm graphic line manages simultaneously to convey both authority, and the open-eyed innocence of a stranded Martian.


In reproduction this line, and the areas of flat or patterned colour it encloses, can resemble the stencilled imagery of silkscreen, but in fact the medium is colour-etching which involves a much more complex process. Silkscreen had proved insufficiently deliberated, or substantial: "Although silkscreen has many positive qualities I feel that by nature it is too mechanical... In particular, I find the way the ink lies on the surface of the paper unattractive". It was as though he needed an extra layer; by first silkscreening the image onto the etching-plate, he was able to achieve a broken quality within the firm outline, just as the flat fields of colour become, through the biting of the acid, granular and variegated.


These fields of colour, which often need to generate space, and, as in Let the Sky In [8], carry big shifts of implied viewpoint, are very precisely judged: "Sometimes I'll spend several hours trying and retrying variations of a colour". And the finally colour may emerge out of several layers, each needing to be printed with just the right pressure.


Used in this way, colour-etching approximates to the finality and elegance of a Japanese woodblock print. I am thinking, for example, of the close-up heads of Suspicion [21], where large spreading areas of blank flesh are eventually broken by very strongly pronounced features. It is as though the precision and restraint of a Holbein drawing was united with the fierce, emphatic, almost caricatural delineation of one of Sharaku's actor-prints.


As Kalorkoti explained when (for the first and only time) we met this year: "My work has an element of construction". I see him as a master of collage - of the juxtaposition of images, from different areas of reality, and often from different visual languages. Collage can be a wonderful way of imaging the structure of the mind, of how it processes and orders the most disparate experience; this possibility constantly renewed itself in Twentieth Century art right up to the "fragmentary epics" of R.B. Kitaj in the Sixties. But in recent years (perhaps because it became too much identified with 'pop' silkscreen and its often facile ironic disjunctions) collage has become rather lost to sight. It takes an artist with Panayiotis Kalorkoti's peculiar mixture of innocence and visual resource, of wit and seriousness, to show how collage can still serve to combine dream and reality, information and commentary to unique effect.


This "retrospective view" focuses exclusively on the project-based works made in the past six years. What it does not suggest, perhaps, is the more "subversive" aspects of Kalorkoti, whose carnival satire sometimes recalls Ensor and the popular themes of "the topsy-turvy world". All the same, it may be helpful to know that his catalogue for the National Garden Festival at Gateshead, after reproducing the prints included here [32-39] ends with a weird "drawings" section; twenty-five pages, with nine portrait heads on each, making a total of 225 mostly full-face delineations of all those involved in the project. Taken individually, many of those heads may have the humanity of Kalorkoti's full-scale prints - his portrait of the Director of The Grizedale Society, Bill Grant, for example. But massed like this, this overwhelming assembly of mugs shades into his other "collections" - becoming indistinguishable from those schematic faces, those quasi-tribal masks, and those Grizedale ideograms, all those lists, which seem to be one method by which a Martian tries to understand our mysterious world.



Timothy Hyman