We learn and we add in order to become capable of letting go, of achieving simplicity, which encompasses the very essence of truth

Katerina Stoikou

You can’t easily part ways with beauty

Text: Yorgos Papadimitriou
Katerina Stoikou

Katerina Stoikou was born in Thessaloniki, where she lives and works. From 1997 to 2002 she attended religious iconography classes at the Spiritual Center of the Church of the Virgin Mary Acheiropoietos. She has hosted 7 individual exhibitions, having also taken part in collective exhibitions held by the Visual Artists Association of Northern Greece, where she has been a member ever since 2011. Since 2019, she has been contributing to the initiatives of the Self-Help Promotion Programme and the “Vardaris Neighborhood Team”. As for her first spark for painting, here’s what she has to say.

“I became systematically engaged in painting in 1995, following a “random” meeting with painter Mr. Yannis Zikas. I studied by his side, through our long talks on painting, but also through the immediate contact with his works, placing particular emphasis on his use of color. Today, I feel entitled to say that I’m self-taught. A constant feeling of shortage, ignorance and insufficiency urged me to work my brains out. An internal war of self-doubt drove me to my limits for an entire 17-year period! Nowadays, I feel proud of these years. Through these conditions, painting and prayer took the form of a spiritual struggle and became the instruments guiding to the path of self-awareness. Painting became the only way, my own way,” she replies before laying out her multifaceted sources of influence (evident in the broad spectrum of her work) and her approach over every single work of art.

“I move across two axes: technical means and feeling, making sure that they back each other up. As for the problems that occasionally show up, I put faith in the solutions that derive organically, that is through the needs of the work itself. Every work is a kind of a test or drill, regardless of its form; still life, portraits, internal landscapes, ink or charcoal drawings. Frugality (economy of the expressive means used) is the real goal. Every material has its own character and every series of works has its own needs and priorities. I always try to stay true to my inner vision, while avoiding getting stuck on a single-minded way of creation. I allowed myself to roam freely, following in the footsteps of everything that I grew fond of: Tsarouchis, Matisse, the Fauvists, religious iconography, Picasso’s sketches, my beloved Chouliaras and the Thessaloniki-born painters Pentzikis, Zikas and Papanakos, as well as the innocence of my revered Paul Klee. I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.”

Can painting serve an educational, pedagogical and soothing role? In times of uncertainty, riddled with fear, cynicality and disorientation, can the artist and art itself take on a unique and pivotal mission? Here’s what she replies: “Before making a case for painting’s and art’s educational role, one must ponder: why do we create art? What’s the importance and the value of art in our everyday lives? It was revealed to me through my personal experiences that art is our barricade against the cruelty and the ugliness of reality, which attacks us on a daily basis from all sides and to which we have unfortunately grown accustomed. I would go as far as to say that art is our noble drug. The goal, at least the way I see it, is always the same: the beauty and and the poetry of the image,” she initially points out.

“However, in our times one can see art standing awkward, if not scared, before beauty, often deeming it obsolete, a thing of the past, even useless. In many cases, abstract ideas that nowadays overwhelm art give birth to meaningless questions, failing to offer comfort or solace to the troubled soul of today’s mankind. In a falsified context of limitless freedom (bordering with arbitrariness and ruthlessness), everything is swept away by the force of personal taste. Nevertheless, one can’t easily get away with beauty. The responsibility lies on the shoulders of the artists, but also of everyone actively engaged in the field of art. Risk and responsibility shine through their absence. I am pretty sure, though, that many artists are taking a stand against this tendency. Maybe it’s time we made a shift from “I think therefore I am” to “I feel therefore I live,” she goes on to add.

In all of her works, one cant’ fail but to notice an invisible thread that unfolds before us, both visually and emotionally, as if all its minor details are wrapped up into a wide and inclusive vision, bound to be gradually unveiled. Speaking in cinema terms, Stoikou’s works are traversed by an indiscernible découpage, leading to a final cut of raw impulse and force. “I am interested in emotion, rather than narrative. Whenever I stand before a painting, listen to a piece of music, watch a film, a theater play, a dance event, what I seek is to be carried away, to be infatuated. What I desire from a work of art is to seduce me, carry me away, take me somewhere else. I need for an internal multiplication to take place, enriching all feelings and meanings. On the other hand, I am fervently interested in crudity, as I despise prolixity in all its forms. We learn and we add in order to become capable of letting go, of achieving simplicity, which encompasses the very essence of truth.”

Amidst the mandatory reclusion, Katerina Stoikou not only found refuge to her art, but also found a way to interweave the ominous present with the hope of an liberating future, through a series of works titled “Recordings-Lockdown”, which join counterbalancing forces together, in a deeply cathartic outcome. “When the lockdown period kicked off, I soon realized that work was my only wayout. To be precise, not work itself, but the feeling of play. I had to come up with an escape route from this unprecedented restricting context. Being unable to reach my usual levels of concentration, I decided to blow off steam by exploring the improvisation occurring at the spur of the moment. By dismissing all logical reasoning, I allowed both my mind and my hand to operate as autonomously as possible. First of all I had to break free from my insecurity and the existential dread of the mistake. This period’s works could be seen as “black” only with regard to the materials used (black ink, charcoal), as they did not emit any dark vibes. Everyone who took a closer look on them can affirm that conclusion – in a way, their black color was glowing. Lockdown triggered my return, after 30 years, to my first love, drawing, so something nice came out of a difficult situation. Thinking of the future, I am ready to welcome anything that might come along. It is safe to say that good things just find a way of happening. On my part, I just wish to be alert and functional up to the very last day.”