Elias Kafouros does not just paint - through his works you can read stories, you give interpretations about life, society and the universe, you employ your mind to another dimension. He must be one of the most cerebral and at the same time emotional painters in the world, with an excess of natural talent. The multiple readings that his works can offer along with a detailed introspection, invites you to explore each one of them for a very long time.
By Mia Kollia
Translated by Alexandros Theodoropoulos
Elias Kafouros was born in 1978, in Athens, Greece, where he currently works and lives. He received a BFA in Painting from the Athens School of Fine Arts in 2004, and has studied Animation at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Kafouros’ work has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions including Description Fails at K-art, Athens; High on Definition at Volta 7, Basel, Switzerland; A thesis on the shelf at AD Gallery, Athens; The image is unsustainable at Francoise Heitsch Gallery, Munich, Germany; Incognito at Dio Horia, Mykonos, among others. Kafouros has been commissioned by Hèrmes to create a series of designs for the legendary Hèrmes silk scarves. In 2013, he was the recipient of the Fulbright Foundation Grant.
Push Buttons: A magnificent exhibition
Drawing from such disparate and wide-ranging points of reference as film, online culture, Renaissance painting, or Buddhist meditation mandalas, Elias Kafouros weaves dizzyingly complex and prodigiously oversaturated compositions that are unmistakably idiosyncratic and instantly recognisable.
Kafouros’ phantasmagorical tableaux roil with density of vernacular characters and elements derived from the inescapable cacophony of our ever-expanding quotidian media landscape, inspiring comparison to the obscenely frolicking characters of Medieval illuminated manuscripts and the canvases of Pieter Bruegel. The latter’s Twelve Proverbs, a composition of twelve scenes of moral feebleness arranged in a grid of consecutive monocular inserts, did indeed, serve as a direct point of reference for Push Buttons.
The exhibition’s title comes from the space of contemplation and unavoidable acknowledging of the unique, and uniquely technologized, conditions we all have found ourselves in, in the year 2021. Not reactionary or tendentious, the thematic terrain addressed is presented as an inevitable continuation of the artist’s ongoing rumination on the specific aspects of the endlessly lateralizing informational landscape of our lives and its affective impact on the mental topography of modern subjects.
Push Button – both as a command, a temptation, a lever of control, and a point of immediate access – is, Kafouros writes, “about the asymmetric forces exerting each other against the flipping backdrops of the physical world and digital space, forging shapes through which our inevitably augmented perception processes, exposes itself”.
It is, equally, an allusion to the notion of pushing one another’s buttons, a deliberate provocation that the colloquial meaning of the phrase would suggest, as well as the way the tech industry structures its omni-pervasive presence in daily life around just this type of trigger dynamic, constantly pinging, prodding, and overwhelming with irresistible oversaturation of input. In addressing this condition, all the pieces in this show embed an exacerbated reflection of that very mechanism into their own composition.
In the practice that follows in the footsteps of political and social satire of Philip Guston, Pablo Picasso, Francisco Goya, and Peter Saul, Kafouros continues to chart an idiosyncratic oeuvre that justly measures up to that ancestry while endlessly extending and deepening its legacy for a profoundly complex practice that is uniquely his own.
The arts and him
"I think the sense of transience is a basic element of my work. The performances, no matter how consolidated they seem, are ready at any moment to be transformed into something else. Something the viewing of which (and usually this transition happens without warning as a revelation) is much more obvious and personal to you than your initial impression because it has managed to activate you as a co-creator of the project.
I find the compilations among the arts very interesting. I am more interested in incorporating elements from other arts that move me into my artwork, than in expressing myself in a different way. The arts that primarily activate me are music, visual arts and cinema. Unfortunately, I have dedicated myself less and less to books in recent years."
Elias Kafouros and the world
"My view is that my work is inextricably linked to Athens. This may not be obvious in the subject matter most of the time, but I believe it’s obvious in the density of the composition of the works as well as in the union of Eastern and Western culture. I was lucky enough to make a lot of trips at a younger age, allowing me to understand my own background. Returning to Greece had to do with my decision to dedicate myself to art.
It’s not the countries that impressed me so much but the experiences, internal and external, that cultivated me as well as the people I met. You see, an entire country can be inaccessible like the Amazon River and at the same time within forty square meters parallel dimensions that exceed space and time may be opened; so everything is relative".
Dedication and patience
"I have been working like this for about fifteen years. One just needs to see my works to feel despair about the endurance and dedication that may be required for their implementation and I don’t quote this as an asset but as a simple observation. The truth is that I am much more interested in the way in which this method works synthetically and narratively than the impression of the arduous work it inevitably gives. Personally, I treat each work as an exception and through it I negotiate my perception of time and explore my perception of its psychological absence. This means that in order to do anything I need to be complete, unbroken and in a hyper-focus mood in which despair makes way for something new and alive. When many elements are combined at different levels and their development is defined in the long run, then many can go wrong. The endurance needed to pay attention to such detail is therefore produced by the enthusiasm and curiosity for the implementation of the project idea and the contempt for time".
* The exhibition Push Buttons took place at the gallery Dio Horia, Athens 16.04-15.05.2021