Panayiotis Kalorkoti

Figure in Motion 1, 2000
76.2 x 56.8cm
about this collection Click image to enlarge



Kalorkoti's latest exhibition, 'In Motion', appears at first glance to be about beguiling images of the female form.  The work is in fact a rigorous investigation of Kalorkoti's philosophical view of the world.   These women are the very opposite of pleasing female portraits.  The role of the conventional portrait is to seduce the viewer, giving us clues to the sitter's womanly charms and achievements, placing her firmly in her material and social context.  Kalorkoti however, refers in these paintings to mankind in general.  They stand not for a male-dominated view of the feminine ideal but for the whole of mankind.   The figures are deliberately abstracted and schematised.  The distinguishing facial features of the human - eyes, ears, nose, mouth and hair - may even be missing so that the figures resemble blank manikins.  They are clothed in the simplest garments and they move against a background devoid of context.  They are fleeting insubstantial images torn between the world of light and darkness which surrounds them.  They stand as a metaphor for the human soul, alive with the freedom of choice to decide between good and evil, happiness and despair, yet weighed down by personal and collective history. 


Kalorkoti's approach to his art has always been rigorous and highly methodical.  He eschews the fashionable hype of the contemporary London art world, seldom shows in London and organises his own exhibitions and catalogues without a dealer.  He prefers to work in series, investigating his ideas through multiple images in line with mainstream modernism.  Each exhibition is methodically documented - this is the thirteenth catalogue.  Many were made possible through public sponsorship, spanning a period from 1988 to 2005.  What matters most to the artist is not that the work sells but that it is made and documented for posterity.  The catalogue is as important as the show. 


Looking back through the previous catalogues, there is a steady evolution in the work from an earlier reportage, documentary-style, seen especially in the National Garden Festival at Gateshead series, or his depictions of the sculpture, flora and fauna of Grizedale Forest in the Lake District, to the present work.  In his earlier work, Kalorkoti is committed to depicting realities and reflecting on the patterns and behaviour of modern life.  He has frequently worked on a specific commission or, as an artist in residence, explored a small ambience and group of people, including a residency at Leeds Playhouse in 1985.  His use of multiple images dates back to the 1980s but in those works, and the work of the early 90s, he is concerned with portraiture in the real sense and in using symbols and images to provide a historical reference to document the modern world. 


The work of the late 90s, in particular his exhibition at the Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead in 1998, shows a new freedom in his handling of paint and a move away from his earlier graphic style.  Here he first attempts a series of figures in watercolours and the effect is loose and spontaneous, exploring a motif for its own sake.  His last exhibition in 2002 explores the idea of a series of figures in motion.  The paintings start in 1999 as likenesses of an actual person but over a two year period the defining characteristics disappear, leaving us with the blank faces and indeterminate bodies of Below 1, 2, 3 and 4 of 2001.  The work in the current exhibition evolves from here. Kalorkoti is now thoroughly conversant with his subject; like Giacometti or Modigliani before him, he has looked hard, and drawing on his highly attuned graphic skills, the figures are depicted in a form of shorthand notation.  Simplified forms indicate limbs and torso, the hair a mere shadow merging into to the background.  The bodies radiate energy: they are like thermoluminescence images responsible for their own definition.   


For the last few years Kalorkoti has been painting in isolation; there have been no residencies or teaching posts.  He has been exploring an idea through the repeated motif of the female form.  His earlier interest in politics is left behind.  He now believes: 'when art gets involved with political systems the art suffers'.  What we are seeing here is a mature, reflective, body of work which poses many fundamental questions but provides no answers.  He is no longer interested in painting things, in documenting or recording the modern world, he is painting ideas. 


Most of the women are explored in a series of four different images designed to be read in a particular sequence which evolves out of his earlier, strip cartoon, collage format.  Moments, included in the show reads like a strip of negatives, the image moving closer towards the viewer in subsequent frames.  The figure series works in a similar way on a larger scale.  Although not based on actual photographs, each painting is like a single frame, frozen on a reel of film as the figure twists, dances and turns before us. 


The background is split between dark and light and there is a sense that these women are moving from the darkness into the light.  There is a weightless insubstantiality to their bodies: we are not even sure which element surrounds them.  Is it earth, air, fire or water?  Their bodies struggle to move upwards or away, they are tilting, turning, plunging downwards or flying upwards.  Limbs and faces are contorted or barely referred to and the women assume unnatural  and twisted positions.  Often the figures turn through 360 degrees, their bodies symbolising an internal struggle which enables them to emerge redefined and stronger.  In the final act they are often depicted with hands aloft, hair streaming in the wind, striding out with a new found freedom and purpose.  The two final watercolours, Suddenly, were painted a year after the others and are very different in feel.  The blurring of the image like a speeding car here refers back to the comic book imagery of earlier work.  These seem unmistakably to be city girls set against a background of lights and buildings.  They are an indication of the way future work will progress.


The paintings are executed in both acrylic and watercolour.  The acrylics refer back to Kalorkoti's earlier, more graphic technique.  Paint is scratched and drawn on to the surface and the figures  outlined in black.  In the watercolours, colour and light define the work and Kalorkoti exploits the medium with new virtuosity.  He works from dark to light, speckling opaque paint over warm,  luminous washes so that the work seems lit from behind.  The paint is layered in a technique similar to his earlier multi-plate etchings.  The background merges into the figures, blurring the outlines of their bodies.  He works with a restricted palette, mixing the pure pigment on the paper in a technique akin to pointillism.  Turner's watercolours and the work of the German Expressionists are two of the biggest artistic influences on the work - there are echoes of both Klimt and Nolde and also of Japanese Wood block prints.  The luminous, spiritual quality of the painting however also reflects the stained glass and icons of his Cypriot childhood. 


Kalorkoti was thirteen before he came face to face with Western art.   There was no money for bus fares so he walked from Peckham in South London to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.  He spent his childhood to the age of nine in a small rural village, Ayios Amvrossios  in northern  Cyprus, in poverty with no running water or electricity among orange and olive groves.  He remembers hour upon hour spent kneeling in dark, candle-lit churches and felt as a child if there was a God, he couldn't have meant Sundays to be passed like this.  At nine years old, Kalorkoti moved to Peckham which was a radical culture shock as the modern world suddenly engulfed him.   The youngest of three gifted children, he owes his success in life to his mother.  'My mother had the brains and my father was an ignorant bully who did not want us to have an education as he knew it meant we would escape him', he explained.  While the family were forced to pay lip service to their father, it was his mother who really shaped his life and wanted him to succeed as an artist. 


Like his mother, the women in this series are strong and empowered.  In perpetual motion, they are striving, searching for something.  They are not sexual, but the embodiment of the free, female spirit unhindered by child rearing and domesticity.  Kalorkoti is a modern artist who has left his childhood behind.  Despite an exhibition in Cyprus, he has never returned to the island.  He is a British citizen and a very urban creature who, whilst drawing on the art of the past, believes that art must be of our time and express itself in a modern idiom.  Yet it is not too far fetched to see a connection between these dancing ethereal figures and the equally mythical Goddesses of the Greek legends who represented the same impenetrable mystery of the passage of the human soul to his Mediterranean forebears. 



Elspeth Moncrieff