A Greek filmmaker wins at Cannes

At the Cannes Festival on Saturday, Greek filmmaker Vasilis Kekatos won the Palme d’Or for the best short film with “The Distance Between Heaven and Us.”
He is the first Greek director to ever win a Palme d’Or in this category.
The film was selected out of a short list of 11, from 4.240 worldwide submissions for the coveted prize. It is about two strangers meeting late at night in a deserted gas station on the old Greek National Road. One has stopped to fill up his motorbike, while the other is stranded there, lacking the 22.50 euros he needs to get home. A sum that equals the distance separating them from the sky.

 

 

Born on the island of Kefalonia in 1991, Vasilis Kekatos is a graduate student of the film department of Brunel University’s School of Arts, in London.
In 2016, he won Sundance Ignite “What’s Next?” Short Film Challenge and received a mentorship from Sundance Institute, with his short “Zero Star Hotel.”
In 2017, he participated in Euro Connection in Clermont-Ferrand ISFF, as well as in Nisi Masa ESP, with the script of his short, “The Silence of the Dying Fish.”
“The Distance Between Heaven and Us” had its world premiere at the Locarno Film Festival 2018. It has also been selected in other international film festivals, such as ZINEBI and Aix-En-Provence, and has won several awards.

 

 

Kekatos got his inspiration for the film on a road trip he took in America, when he went to attend the Sundance Festival. The endless highways, the gas stations in the middle of nowhere, made an ‘almost metaphysical’ impression upon him. Looking to the future, he feels he’s ready to tackle full length films now, although he’s still only 28. The Palme D’or has given him the confidence to do so. You can watch a trailer here

I.M.Pei dies

The most widely known of architect I. M. Pei’s designs has to be the metal-and glass pyramid dominating the main courtyard of the Louvre Museum in Paris. When completed in 1989 it was widely criticized, but today it is as much a symbol and an icon as the Eiffel Tower.

 

 

I. M. Pei has died, aged 102. He is widely considered to be one of the most influential architects of all times, and during his career won nearly every major award in his field.

 

(Photo by Michael N. Todaro/FilmMagic)

 

I.M. Pei was born in Guangzhou, China, in 1917 to a banker father and artistic mother. He grew up in Hong Kong and Shanghai before moving to the United States at age 17 to enroll in architecture school. After graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Pei attended Harvard’s famed Graduate School of Design, where he studied with Bauhaus master Walter Gropius.

Pei loved to research his projects thoroughly, and to allow himself the freedom to experiment with different ideas and materials. He did not like his work to be stylistically ‘stamped’, although he did focus on simplicity, transparency, geometry and light.

 

The Bank of China Tower in Central Hong Kong.. (Photo by Gerhard Joren/LightRocket via Getty Images)

 

Even after retiring from his full-time architectural practice, Pei continued to work into his 80s, creating some of his most memorable projects in that time, such as the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, below, which was completed in 2008.

 

Via his spectacular buildings, he leaves behind a rich legacy in modern design.

 

Far from completed

Regular readers might remember my October 2015 post , ‘A Greek Church near Ground Zero’, about the project to build a new St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York, after the old church was destroyed in the 9/11 terror attacks.

 

 

 

The shrine, which like the Oculus transit hub was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, was supposed to glow at night and provide “a spiritual beacon of hope and rebirth,” as you can see in the picture above.
However, sixteen years after its destruction, the church is still far from finished. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, despite receiving $37 million in donations for the shrine, was unable to pay its bills, and the construction company stopped work a year ago.

 

 

The project’s price tag had meanwhile soared from $30 to $80 million, and apparently some of the donations were used to shore up the church’s dismal finances. The project is now being investigated by the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. Sadly, what was deemed to be the new face of the Greek Orthodox church in America has turned into a national embarrassment.

Last Saturday, 90-year old Archbishop Demetrios of America finally submitted his resignation to Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, having resisted resigning  for a while, although urged to do so.

 

 

A sad turn of events indeed. Hopefully, some solution can be found for the project’s completion.

Natalia Mela, a grande dame of Greek sculpture

Greek sculptor Natalia Mela, or Nata as she was known, has died peacefully, aged 96. Nata Mela was a force of nature, zipping around her beloved island of Spetses on a motorized tricycle, puffing away on cigarillos and enjoying life to the full. She has left behind a body of work which adorns multiple collections, as well as various public places in Greece. For those who read my post about the naval commander Bouboulina,  it was Natalia who made her statue, which looks over the port on the island she loved for ‘its crystal light and transparent sea.’
Natalia Mela was born in 1923 to an illustrious Greek family, her ancestors being important figures of Modern Greek history. She was a tomboy, and defied convention, escaping the future her parents had planned for her, which she scornfully described as being ‘a housewife in pearls.’  She was Greek tennis champion in 1940, a nurse during the war, a student at a time few Greek girls went to university. She attended the Fine Arts School in Athens, where she studied under important artists, such as the sculptor Tombros. She also worked with famous architect Dimitrios Pikionis, and made sets for the theatre of Karolos Koun.
Nata made her studio in an old stable in an Athens courtyard, and obtained  a welder’s licence in order to work with metal. Her main inspirations were nature and mythology, and she used materials such as metal sheets and parts, chains, or even coins, to make her sculptures. She often made animals such as roosters, goats, bulls and doves, and she also loved working with marble and stone.
Her chaotic studio was a meeting point for the Athenian intelligentsia of the time, such as artistsTsarouchis and Moralis, and poets Embiricos and Elytis. She met and married architect Aris Konstandinidis in 1952; they had two children, to whom she devoted her time for a number of years, only to take up her work with a vengeance after they were grown, keeping at it until a very advanced age.
Nata loved life, and Spetses, where she first went with her parents as a child. She and her husband built a house there, to which she returned every year for long summers of relaxation and creativity. She liked to swim for a couple of hours every day, a habit she kept until old age.
I had the pleasure of meeting her on a couple of occasions, and she was a formidable presence. She will be much missed.

Dorothea Tanning at Tate Modern

Dorothea Tanning said, ‘Art has always been the raft onto which we climb to save our sanity.’
I watched a video of her, in late middle age. She wore a skirt and heels, had an apron tied about her waist, and could have been preparing dinner for friends. But she was not, she was putting bold strokes of black paint onto a canvas twice as tall as herself and as wide as her studio wall. She was a comfortable shape, and had a comfortable, smiling face. You can tell she’s enjoying herself. Later, she’s sewing some pink material to make one of her crazy soft sculptures. Her hands are freckled, she pushes the stuffing about. Then she shoves a bunch of the sculptures down the stairs, her little Lhasa Apso dogs running around, yapping.

 

 

Dorothea Tanning’s husband was the surrealist artist Max Ernst. She met him as a young woman in Paris, when he was still married to Peggy Guggenheim and was selecting work for the ‘Exhibition by 31 Women’. She had left her native Galesburg, Illinois, where ‘nothing happens but the wallpaper,’ to study art briefly in Chicago, then work as an illustrator in New York. Here, the exhibition ‘Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism’ at the Museum of Modern Art inspired to travel to France to meet the surrealists.

Below is her self-portrait entitled ‘Birthday’, which is the work that put her on the art scene.

 

 

Tanning wanted to depict ‘unknown but knowable states’: to suggest there was more to life than meets the eye. Her paintings combine the familiar with the strange, exploring desire and sexuality. They are bursting with incongruous, amusing detail, such as little dogs based on the Lhasa Apso belonging to her husband, with his moustache, bulging eyes and sometimes human face. The painting below is entitled ‘Motherhood.’

 

 

One of my favorite  works is the one entitled ‘Portrait de famille.’ The ghostly, looming presence of the father, the spoilt, entitled daughter, the maid who is at the same level as the dog. It unsettles the viewer while making him smile.

 

 

Tanning and Max Ernst married in 1946 and moved to Sedona, Arizona, where he built a house with his own hands. Surrounded by lizards, scorpions and snakes, Tanning described Arizona as a ‘landscape of wild fantasy’. They were visited by many artists including Marcel Duchamp, poet Dylan Thomas and photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. In 1957, Tanning and Ernst moved permanently to the south of France.

 

 

 

 

Around 1955 Tanning’s style changed from meticulously rendered figurative dreamscapes, to more abstract shapes where, however, the human figure could still be discerned, within a confident gestural flow and movement. And in the late 1960s, in yet another shift of direction, she started making her weird soft sculptures, using fabrics sourced in junk shops and her old Singer sewing machine.

 

 

In 1976 Ernst died and Tanning was bereft. She gradually moved back to New York and turned to writing, publishing two memoirs, two books of poetry, and a novel. She died at the age of 101, the year her last collection of poems, Coming to That, was published.

 

“Living is so amusing” Dorothea Tanning

 

 

 

Tate Modern has put on the first large-scale exhibition of Dorothea Tanning’s work for 25 years: ‘It brings together 100 works from her seven-decade career – from enigmatic paintings to uncanny sculptures.’ The exhibition is on until June 9, don’t miss it if you’re anywhere near.

Bouboulina, a Greek heroine

Each year on March 25th, Greeks celebrate the Greek War Of Independence of 1821, against the Ottoman Empire (I have posted about this, here). Slightly belatedly, both for that date as well as for International Women’s Day, I thought I’d write about the fascinating life of one of the heroes of this struggle, Lascarina Pinotsis, known as Bouboulina (11 May 1771 – 22 May 1825), a Greek naval commander.

Bouboulina was born in a prison in Constantinople, since her father, Stavrianos Pinotsis, a Captain from Hydra, had been imprisoned by the Ottomans for his part in the failed Orlof Revolution of 1769–1770 against Ottoman rule. Her father died soon after her birth and the mother and child returned to Hydra. They moved to the island of Spetses four years later when her mother married Dimitrios Lazarou-Orlof.

Laskarina had eight half-siblings and when she grew up, she married in a second marriage the wealthy shipowner and captain Dimitrios Bouboulis, taking his surname. When she was 40 years old,  Bouboulis was killed in battle against Algerian pirates, and Bouboulina, as she came to be known, took over his fortune and his trading business and had ships built at her own expense, including the large warship Agamemnon.

When, in 1816, the Ottomans tried to confiscate Bouboulina’s property because her husband had fought for the Russians against them, she sailed to Constantinople to seek Russian protection. Ambassador Stroganov, in recognition of her husband’s service to the Russians, sent her to safety in the Crimea, but, after three months, she returned to Spetses. Construction of the ship Agamemnon was finished in 1820. Bouboulina bribed Turkish officials to ignore the ship’s size and it became one of the largest warships in the hands of Greek rebels. She also organized her own armed troops, composed of men from Spetses.

Allegedly Bouboulina joined the Filiki Etaireia, an underground organization that was preparing Greece for revolution against Ottoman rule, although she is not named in historical member’s lists. She bought arms and ammunition at her own expense, to fight “for the sake of my nation.” She used most of her fortune to provide food and ammunition for the sailors and soldiers under her command.

 

 

On 13 March 1821 Bouboulina raised on the mast of Agamemnon her own Greek flag, and sailed with eight ships to Nafplion where she began a naval blockade. Later she took part in the naval blockade and capture of Monemvasia and Pylos.

She arrived at Tripolis in time to witness its fall on 11 September 1821 and to meet general Theodoros Kolokotronis. Her daughter Eleni Boubouli later married Panos Kolokotronis, the son of Theodoros. During the ensuing defeat of the Ottoman garrison, Bouboulina saved most of the female members of the sultan’s household. When the opposing factions erupted into civil war in 1824, the Greek government arrested Bouboulina for her family connection with Kolokotronis; her son-in-law was killed during the events. Eventually she was exiled back to Spetses, having spent most of her fortune for the war of independence.

After all the danger and the adventures, Laskarina Bouboulina was killed in 1825 as the result of a family feud in Spetses, when somebody shot at her during an argument. After her death, Emperor Alexander I of Russia granted Bouboulina the honorary rank of Admiral of the Imperial Russian Navy, making her the first woman in world naval history to hold this title. Her descendants sold the ship Agamemnon to the Greek state, which renamed it Spetsai, but sadly it was burned during the next Greek civil war in 1831.

On the island of Spetses the “Bouboulina Museum” is housed in the 300-year-old mansion of Bouboulina’s second husband Bouboulis, where her descendants still live. Her statue stands in the harbor in Spetses. Various streets all over Greece and Cyprus are named in her honor, and she was depicted on the reverse of both the Greek 50 drachmae banknote of 1978 and the Greek 1 drachma coin of 1988-2001.

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All the colors in the world

Like most artists, I’m addicted to art supplies. Let me loose in an art shop, and I can spend hours amongst the multitude of paints on offer, trying hard not to bankrupt myself.
Nowadays paint is mostly made in labs, using different chemical substances, but artists in the past made their own supplies, using whatever materials they could find—including ‘the impossibly esoteric, the dangerously toxic, the prohibitively expensive, and the perilously fugitive,’ according to writer Simon Schama (article in the New Yorker, September 3, 2018). It’s a process I find extremely interesting, although I’m quite happy to squeeze ready-made paint out of a tube myself.

 

 

Imagine then my delight when I came upon an article on the Forbes Pigment Collection, a technicolor array of more than 2,500 samples, housed at the Harvard Arts Museums. The collection was started by Edward Waldo Forbes in the early 1920s, after he purchased a damaged Renaissance painting of the Virgin and child. Hoping to restore the painting to its original brilliance, Forbes realized that he needed to understand the materials he was working with. Forbes was the director of Harvard’s Fogg Museum from 1909 to 1944, and he firmly believed in the interdependence of art and science.

 

 

Arranged according to the exploded color wheel, the thousands of shades on display in the Collection — some poisonous, others impossibly rare — are a library of more than just color. Scientists and art historians tap into the collection in order to verify the origins of questionable paintings up for auction, or work to identify the key compounds of ancient colors in order to better preserve cultural masterpieces for generations to come.

The stories behind the pigments are endless, but some particularly stand out. Here are some of the best:

Dragon Blood: The legendary pigment was purportedly gathered from dragon wounds in the Middle Ages; more accurately, its color comes from tree resin. Conservation scientists at the Collection are working to unlock the mystery of this centuries-old pigment.

Mummy Brown: Made from the ground up remains of actual Egyptian mummies, mixed with white pitch and myrrh, it was used from the sixteenth century until late in the nineteenth when supplies ran out. At the time the mummies were imported into Europe in large numbers to be used for medicinal purposes (Ugh…)

 

 

Tyrian Purple: An ancient Phoenician dye that requires 10,000 mollusks to produce a single gram of pigment, is said to have been discovered by Hercules’s dog as he snuffled along the beach. It is a secretion produced by several species of predatory sea snails in the family Muricidae, rock snails originally known by the name Murex. Being extremely expensive to produce, it became very popular during the Byzantine Empire (Ancient Greek: πορφύρα, porphúra,) where its production was tightly controlled and its use restricted to the dyeing of imperial silks. Thus a child born to a reigning emperor was said to be porphyrogenitos, “born in the purple”.

 

 

In the reds range, Crimson is produced from the dried bodies of the kermes insect, which were gathered commercially in Mediterranean countries, where they live on the kermes oak, and sold throughout Europe; while Carmine is made from the dried bodies of the female cochineal, and was probably brought to Europe during the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniard Hernán Cortés.

Indian Yellow: It was noted for its intense luminance, was widely used in cloth dyeing and was especially well known from its use in Rajput-Mughal miniature paintings from the 16th to the 19th century. Indian yellow pigment was originally manufactured in rural India from the urine of cattle fed only on mango leaves and water. The urine would be collected and dried, producing foul-smelling hard dirty yellow balls of the raw pigment, called “purree”. The process was allegedly declared inhumane and outlawed in 1908, as the cows were extremely undernourished, partly because the leaves contain the toxin urushiol which is also found in poison ivy.

 

 

Lapis Lazuli is a deep blue metamorphic rock used as a semi-precious stone that has been prized since antiquity for its intense color. As early as the 7th millennium BCE, lapis lazuli was mined in northeast Afghanistan. At the end of the Middle Ages, it began to be exported to Europe, where it was ground into powder and made into ultramarine, the finest and most expensive of all blue pigments. Its rarity and brilliant hue, as well as the difficulty and expense of the extraction process made it more expensive than gold. It was used by some of the most important artists of the Renaissance and Baroque, including Masaccio, Perugino, Titian and Vermeer, and was often reserved for the clothing of the central figures of their paintings, especially the Virgin Mary.

Artists often took risks to create their works, using poisonous pigments like Emerald Green (a toxic copper-acetoarsenite) to get the color just right; or White Lead, a pure white pigment obtained by corroding metallic lead with acetic acid in the presence of carbon dioxide. This was done in pots with a little vinegar added, which were stacked up and covered with a mixture of decaying dung and spent tanner’s bark.

 

 

The Forbes Collection is constantly updated as many artists donate new samples. It could be described as a conservator’s crystal ball: offering glimpses into the aging process for various pigments, binders, and any other materials that might make their way into a work of art. Experts also might use the collection to evaluate the legitimacy of a painting’s attribution to an artist. By analyzing the chemical makeup of the pigments used in a painting and comparing them to the known standards of the Forbes collection, analysts can determine whether the colors used would have been available to a specific artist during their lifetime, or if a pigment would be available in the region from which the painting is believed to have originated.
One example is the verification of a painting by Jackson Pollock that went on the market a few years ago. Curators were ready to assert the painting was genuine, until this lab ran tests of the pigments that were used, using pigments in the collection as a standard, and discovered that the red that was used was not available in art-making materials until 20 years after Jackson Pollock had died.

 

 

Among the collection’s newest acquisitions are samples of Vantablack, a material developed by Surrey NanoSystems in the United Kingdom which is one of the darkest substances known, absorbing up to 99.96% of visible light. It was intended for military purposes and astronomy equipment, but there is an amusing story attached to it, because the company exclusively licensed it to artist Anish Kapoor’s studio for artistic use. This caused outrage among some other artists, including Stuart Semple. In retaliation, Semple banned Kapoor from buying Pinkest Pink, a strongest shade of pink that he had developed. However, in 2016 Kapoor got his hands on some Pinkest Pink and posted an Instagram post of his middle finger dipped in it. Semple then created another shade of paint made from crushed glass as a retort to Kapoor, and later barred Kapoor from buying other products of his, including his extremely strong shades of green and yellow paint as well as a paint sold as Black 2.0, which is nearly indistinguishable to Vantablack VBx, despite being acrylic. If one wanted to buy any of these paints, they would have to sign a contract stating that they were not Anish Kapoor and didn’t intend to give the paint to Kapoor. Vanity? Performance art? You choose.

All photos Google