Menelaos Katafigiotis


By Mario Albertazzi
Art critic for the newspaper II Progresso Italo-Americano of New York and a correspondent for several publications in Italy. He is the author of a book dealing with the Fascist domination of Italy. He has lived in New York City since 1961. He was first impressed by Katafigiotis's work in 1975 when he was assigned to review a one-man show of the artist at the Valentino Gallery in Manhattan.

His aim is always in the environment which surrounds him. Also here we must draw attention to his agony for the fortune of man which, apparently, concerns and guides him to a search of subjects in an unreal world.

These forms are searching for deliverance in a retirement from today's world and he rather remain a symbol of chaos and loneliness.

Thus gradually we are led to the decade of the eighties. Here the painted surfaces have a unique sensation. Slowly he goes away from the course he started when he was young without the slightest gap in continuity and without going far from his own roots and sources. He is unbelievably consistent. He transports us to new dimensions, more juicy ones, which come to build a severe Doric Rythm, I would say. Always in every creation, there is the classical structure of composition. I'd like to say that he is a contemporary classic in the way he provides the solution to every different piece.

We can see a deep exageration of reality with a widespread personal disposition which he has severely defined the construction of his ideas on every live figure and his aims determine the direction towards meaningful formulations.

All his work from the beginning is civilized and attached to a free growth of an original thought. He does not condemn anyone in his work, it is a praise to life, man -we would rather call him a superman.

His vision clearly subjectively is transferred to the painted surface with an extraordinary care and plastic totality. Just like the horse which has learned to live and to move freely or to be manís best friend and companion. He brings across all these in symbolic places in a dreamy atmosphere, in an undefined space of orphean interpretation. Basically he is a realist and he stands firmly on the ground. This we can clearly see in his work in which the precision of the composition and the lucidity of the figures are characteristic elements which have here the principal part. In his piece the Two Friends we can clearly see his rich vocabulary.

His voice is expressed here with so much ease, that it literally becomes a hymn. Katafigiotis is an authentic painter. I'd say he is a strong painter. And this because in his works appear elements taken from the area of the conscious and the subconscious with a symbolic meaning and a shapely basis and they are distinguished for the designer's clearness of composition and the sensitivity of color.

"Painting has no relation with investigation but is only interested in discovery."

I cannot understand why so much significance has been given to the word "research" said Picasso on modern painting.

I will endeavor here, as much as possible, to enter into the idiosyncrasy and the fertile sensation, which is connected with the functioning and the elaboration in the area concerning the work of artist Menelaos Katafigiotis.

Horses resembling rustic toys, made of stone or pieces of wood, reminiscent of the legendary horse of Troy, whose horizons merge into a sky which is always a discovery. Bulls raise their horns like telescopes to search infinity; at the same time they plant their feet firmly in earth's security. Unmasked harlequins, green and white. Nymphs dance and play, naked in a purple landscape. Precipices hang close at hand, others fade away into the distance. Two female figures are poised, ready to bow to the spectator. Has the performance finished, or is it yet to begin?

There is no end, no beginning; time does not exist. We are in eternity. A child clutches a fish in his hand, another holds a dove. Old women hide their faces. All but the last drop of water has dripped off the fish. That last drop hangs, eternally reminiscent of the sea.

The dove is white, its wings clipped. Will it fly again? The child makes a nest of his hands, a haven for the crippled bird. The wonders and discoveries of childhood opening to the world.

No longer a child, the man, evokes these images of his childhood in Greece, where he was born. An artist whose travels have taken him to Venice, Rome, London, Paris and South America, he now lives in Rutherford, N.J.

As a child, Menelaos lived in Thessaly. As he grew up, his world was disrupted by the Nazis and later by civil war. But he has kept those images to himself. The ones he represents on canvas and carves in marble and bronze are of an earlier time, when the world was for him the first incantation, all of nature was to be discovered, and Trikkala, his native town, was a door to be gently opened toward the universe.

The iridescent colors; horses ran in complete freedom; bulls were fierce warriors protecting his world from the ravages of time; the sun on some days was very high, on others a ball to play with in the street. People on the banks of the river Peneios sang legends of lovers, ancient warriors, sirens and sorceresses.

Memories! It is those memories that Katafigiotis perpetuates in the studio. Like a modern Ulysses, he travels backwards toward the past, exploring his joys and his anxieties. He talks about the sun, his private sun; it is everywhere, not only in the sky. The sun embodies his memories, and memories are the fabric of his art.

Shakespeare said that men are made of the same matter, as their dreams. Katafigiotis says that men are made of the same stuff as their memories. Both are right. Memories are dreams, and dreams are memories.

We don't have to be friends of ancient civilizations, to appreciate his art. His appeal is in the spontaneity of his evocations, the brilliant color and simplicity of line of his images.

His archaic figurines are actors performing on the perennial stage of life; his daisies are stars of the mind, and there is a metaphysical blending between objects and people recurring between past and present. Everything is alive and beautiful if it is fresh in the soul, as it is for this artist.

Prettiness is not what Katafigiotis is searching for. His aim is to represent completeness, something lasting forever, as did the men of the golden age of Greece, beginning with Pericles, the builder of the Acropolis. Painting and sculpture are fundamentally one thing. Michelangelo said this in 1546, adding that an artist should sculpt as much as he paints, and vice versa. Katafigiotis is exactly this kind of artist. His figures are designed and painted in such a way as to simulate an actual third dimension.

To define the pictorial dimension and evolution of his work, we must discover the foundation on which it rests and the principle to which it has always remained true. That is classicism.

Katafigiotis isolates a character or a scene and frees it from all references to time and place. He summarizes all such references through the symbolism of pose or costume, with the intent of capturing not a mere appearance but achieving an emblematic synthesis. In so doing, he reveals a range of human interests, and the results are remarkably contemporary in their freedom.

I will try here, as much as possible, to enter into an elaboration of the work of the artist. One remarks in his work of the decade of the seventies an agony for the fate and fortune of man, who is led to a chaos with no end. We have predetermined meanings which come directly from the life he lived as a child -in a fertile valley of Thessaly which he represents, I would say, as an international figure.

The forms and everything else are like stone objects which, nevertheless, have a lot of spirit and feeling. Also the environment which surrounds it sends us far away to primitive worlds and all this creation reminds us and is connected with the environment in which he lived, but with a peculiar atmosphere.