Apostolos Koustas’s work has been critically reviewed while the quality of his
idiom and his stirring aesthetic range have been determined and analyzed.

In the fifteen years of his presence on the engraving scene, he has managed to
go beyond the borders of Greece, exhibiting his work in various countries while his
crowning achievement is an award from the 1991 Osaka Triennale, in which 1748
artists from 67 countries participated.

I have written about Koustas’s work on a number of occasions, but what
makes his work particularly special to me is that I was the first to support his talent.
He studied the visual arts at the side of Yiorgos Sikeliotis, Tassos and mainly Vasso
Katraki. He had the good fortune to work in the latter’s studio and was consequently
creatively influenced in the first stage of his development in the art of engraving. His
direct contact with Katraki’s studio taught him much. But Koustas also helped himself
by charismatically absorbing the inner workings of art. Whatever his eyes saw his
shaping hands executed. Thus, with inspiration he channeled his talent into the art of
engraving. He doesn’t lug stones from Cretan quarries like Katraki, but makes stone
based on a patent of his own. Yet he achieves the effect of original stone in
appearance and texture.

At Katraki's side Koustas was able to observe her daring when she took
engraving a radical step further by using stone as a base instead of wood. The shift
from wood to stone allowed for a new material and aesthetic in terms of expression
and idiom, but even more importantly it liberated engraving from the confines of size,
freeing it from its dependence on printing and advertising. It allowed engraving to
become an art form in its own right, establishing it as an equal of original oil painting.
With the absence of limitations in size (a century-old thorn in the side of
central European countries), engraving once and for all threw off the restrictive label
of ‘applied decorative arts’. The plural form of the word ‘arts’ refers to the four-fold
dimension of engraving: besides engraving itself, it also includes etching, lithography
and silkscreen.

Now that engraving was considered an art, and not painting’s ‘side-kick’, it
also became clear that when a painter tries his/her hand at engraving, the attempt is
often inadequate and vice versa.

In the 21st century electronic age, engraving has greatly departed from the
positions and materials used in traditional engraving, which had remained unchanged
for centuries. Even the production process of the printed work has been surpassed,
making use of the potential of electronic technology.

Katraki was the first to push the limits by employing stone instead of wood in
engraving, but the 21st century electronic age pushed them even further as an
expression of post-industrial electronic society. It is a new field for artistic expression,
turning the world of art topsy-turvy.

Koustas has set his own challenge: to co-exist with the new social givens in
art. For who is not moved by electronic technology’s achievements, able to produce
images without the necessary mediation of an actual object? The art of engraving
lives and functions intuitively in terms of how it can overcome the fear of the twodimensional
surface, its limited and yet wide field of action. From the image (the
surface) it struggles to transcend to the poetic vastness of time and space. This need
also determines the intensity of emotion, aesthetic and idiom as a collective feeling in
the production of form. The theme or myth, in Aristotelian terms, follows, but is never
done away with.

From the primordial agony of expressive means, of utilizing the structured
surface or image, engraving proceeds to the awe of poetic feeling, its vehicle being
the visual idiom of form, which is the boundary of all art, not only that of image. Near
Katraki, Koustas learned to make good use of poetic visual idiom with poetic
prudence and also to employ color in engraving with inspiration and temperance. He
also most assuredly realized the prominent role of sketching in engraving.
Koustas overcame the 20-year guilt of the 1960-80 engraving circles, led by
Kostas Grammatopoulos, who clumsily used color in engraving and demoted it to the
level of decoration and advertising. The young, charismatic Greek engravers, while
waving goodbye to tradition, now take sure steps towards the awakening of the 21st
century electronic age.

Koustas was fortunate to have found himself at this turning point and his
unexpected appearance is not entirely inexplicable. It is grounded in the new social
givens and in the singularity of his brilliant talent.

I have always interpreted his work based on these objective facts and I
wholeheartedly admit that the new things happening in engraving excite me. This
time, his subject matter influenced his idiom. This can be legibly seen in his
individual exhibition at the Hellenic American Union.

The theme, at least on a first level, is rock painting (or petroglyphs) and it is
from this angle that he mobilizes his expressive means. Rock painting, the art of
people 5000 and even 20,000 years ago, are engravings on stone, the archetypal font
of poetic feeling. It takes a gifted artist to tap the innermost workings of the poetic
vacuum, of abstract and historical time, functioning today as the end of a long
journey, like the echoes of elegies and a commemorative entreaty to the viable past.
Art uses man’s past in a multi-fold way: as proof and historical testimony, as
communication, ideology, religious worship and such. Each time it asks the same
question: what is the stuff man is made of? And the question ever remains open and
unanswered. And fortunately so!

Mythological and historical time function significantly in Koustas’s work
passing through the filter of aesthetic emotion of the artistic word. In any case let us
accept that there are always reasons underlying things even though appearances may
distort reality, whatever that may be, in art as well, i.e., the poetic procedure of selfdeception
in the perishable and imperishable evolution.

A primitively sculptured chiseled stone dating back 700,000 years was
recently found in Greece. If this is true – and why shouldn’t it be – the rock paintings
dated at 5,000 and 20,000 years seem like a toy in the hands of man a mere yesteryear
ago. Anthropological research has made advances in determining the sources of
intelligent instinct, revealing man’s need to express his identity even in the crudest of
ways. What remains to be clarified even further is that critical stage of evolution in
lingual and intellectual communication and at the same time the fear of the
inexplicable natural phenomena that was the stepping stone to today’s stage in the
Homo humanus’s development. From possessing a flair for style and dedicating art to
religious worship, man has arrived at the modern-day world of aesthetics and
imaginative poetic insight. But let us dwell a bit longer on rock paintings, Koustas’s
material and theme, which influenced his idiom and elevated the aesthetics and
central issues of his engraving to new levels in research and expression. Five of his
earlier works have been included in the exhibition, so that the visitor can observe the
artist’s spectacular development from the past up to the present day.

This time – and it is the first time – the artist in question exhibits independent
sketches that were made in preparation for the final engraving print. On display are
also the moulds (stones) on which he etches the images, interspersed among the
prints. With the four types of engraving in mind, Koustas’s prints, moulds and
sketches present the triptych of his dialectics in his artistic idiom. And this is what
makes up today’s exhibition.

His latest work hints at the inner workings of art and the image is dissolved in
the agony of the transition from the representational depiction of magic social realism,
a poetic mixture where reality and dream meet. His main concern remains the renewal
of his visual idiom, fortifying the personal nature of his work. Koustas is well aware
that the new platform of ideas is dominated by the electronic technology culture and
that his theme gives him a particular advantage in benefiting from the rich cultural
heritage of an ancient people.

Dimitris Galanis, Angelos Theodoropoulos, Euthymis Papadimitriou, Nikos
Venturas and Vasso Katraki bravely served in the industrial and social class
revolution in art. Indeed, their work is awe-inspiring as it dynamically pioneers
through the 19th and 20th centuries.

The discerning visitor to the exhibition will be justifiably surprised at the
authentic aesthetic feeling stripped of pompous rhetoric and feckless ancestorworship.
The images are perfectly balanced in his artistic compositions. They identify
in form with the cries and the sacred shadows of mythology, religious worship and
history, officiating in the active silence of time and simultaneously driving today’s
21st century pioneering art.

And if I were happy at my initial diagnosis and prescription of Koustas’s art, I
am now twice as happy that I catch him in the act of his new artistic adventure, as he
brings to light through his visual idiom the wondrous world of archetypal art in the
enclosed elegy of silence of the poetic visual concept.

His new subject matter, the theme of rock painting, is enriched by rhythmic
breaths, as his work is facilitated by the large size of the engravings, the materials, the
etching in stone, the novel texture that stone lends to the works, and the new aesthetic
appeal as an expression of art. The next element to impress is the monumental
dimension of the artistic compositions with vociferations on an epic scale.
Through this polyphonic expression of idiom, theme and skill, he was able to
rise to the quality of Greco-European engraving, and even to that of the international
spectrum. It is by no accident that he won the award at the Osaka Triennale. He
convinced and moved the international judging committee with his work and his work
alone. He convinced them. This word suffices. Just as Vasso Katraki convinced the
judges at the Venice Biennale 40 years ago and was awarded the internationally
acclaimed First Prize by unanimous vote.

Archetypal art and contemporary art of the 20th century are fruitfully united in
Koustas’s work and it is from this vantage point that he approaches the idiom and
poetic psyche of Klee. The 5000 and 20,000-year-old rock etchings lend Koustas a
ready-made aesthetic and logical abstraction, liberating him from the anxiety of dull
art theory.

The elements of idiom, aesthetics, color, rock engraving on the surface of a
structured image, sketches and space all compose the basis for the functioning and
expression of engraving and the artistic engraver. And from this viewpoint
overthrown is the chronic hesitation of Greek artists to use in an inspired and daring
way the wealth of cultural geometry flowing like a sacred river from a source buried
in centuries past. Long before anyone else, contemporary central Europeans caught on
to the value of the ancient Greek past: Matisse, Rodin, Cézanne, Moore, Malevich,
Picasso, Chagall, Giacometti and others dared to draw inspiration from the glorious
Greek past. When the Greeks – those who did in fact attempt this – tapped the wealth
of their cultural heritage, they achieved admirable results in their work.

There are about twenty significant Greek artists, Yiannoulis Halepas being
perhaps the most eminent, whose work stands out in the contemporary Greco-
European culture of 20th century modern art. Suffice it for one to boldly penetrate into
the originality of archetypal art. What is also quite moving is how this culture bursts
forth, liberating the past that had been trapped for centuries in the poetic vacuum of
time. The Homo humanus culture, fresh and ingenious, is expressed in forceful
images carrying a deeper meaning beyond the fourth dimension of time and space. All
the above function as self-therapy for the artist who battles with the most profound
confessions of his blissful poetic agony, when he was called upon to follow the
arduous path of art. It is the red dream in the seams of chaos and the exquisite torment
of a world pillaged by continual self-deception that we call art in order to heal

One may or may not take the new or forgotten paths of a faraway past and
possibly one may trust what one feels or then again feel insecure like an insatiable
nomad on a quest. One may walk, see, hear, observe, intervene, be joyful and
consequently feel hesitant with the gaping wounds of sacred and age-old doubt. And
time may silently pass one by in the form of guileless day-to-day living and slyly lull
one to sleep with the shiny charm of living, the defiance of the body in the face of the
mystic being.

This is how you and I and everyone else unsuspectingly pass on, wounded
with tragic poetic feeling. However, we will have at last taken one step forward with
changed insight, having observed on another level the ideology of nature, art and
society’s fruitful erotic chemistry. We will finally have managed to scratch the
surface of time as its large and small pathfinders. On the way we will have discovered
the basic covenants of self-knowledge’s superciliousness, overthrowing up to a point
the strict codes inherent in the motions we go through in our daily psycho-intellectual
life. It is the incarnation of the multiple meanings of the collective poetic subconscience
while coming to a deeper realization that a priori nothing is a given.

Time differentiates reality as we see it and we participate as part of the whole
of its dynamic movements without staking claims to dominate perpetually moving
evolution, which is a covert and simultaneously overt, two-way channel of
communication and expression.

In short, all the above directly concern Koustas’s agony, aesthetic and artistic
odyssey. His work has developed over the years; it has been built on experience and
while his artistic creation continues to blossom, it feeds on the inner resources of
nature and given historical reality.

(Translated from Greek into English by Thalia Bisticas)

By Kostas Stavropoulos - Art Critic