Shadows of the Self and Fragments of Creation
“It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the universe.”
Philip K. Dick, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”
Why do we create? This is one of the most primal questions, as old as the human species itself. Each one of us may have a possible answer for it. And every attempt to answer this question is a story in and of itself. A story that is not merely a tale of creation, but the history of one’s identity. In other words, this is not a story that describes the path to a goal, but a vibrant, dynamic narrative, through which we attempt to describe the flow of time in which we may have found ourselves. Just as in the case of Odysseus, the least significant “object” of all is Ithaca. At the same time, however, Ithaca is the most important “symbol”. The story of creation is our own history, a hymn to life, a tale that aspires to look the fear of death in the eye. The stories we tell over the course of—whichever—creation are the identity we invent for ourselves. And this is an ongoing, never-ending process of invention. It shrinks and broadens our position in the world. It adds and subtracts meanings and actions, over which we might have no supervision or control, unless we distance ourselves from them. These are largely the thoughts evoked in my mind by ECHOES, the introspective art installation of Milena Dimitrokallis.
Milena brought instances of the story of her own creation to a standstill. And these do not merely capture the making-of, or behind-the-scenes, of her work. They are so much more than that. All the instances captured in her art installation are moments in a personal story. They are particular points in time and space, functioning as points of reference in an ongoing violation of identity. I think Milena is doing something very important with this art installation. She distances herself from these points of identity violation and invention and shares them with her viewers. Why is this important? Not because it calls on us to interpret what we see; the interpretation of the images is rather ancillary. What is of cardinal importance is the call upon the viewers to participate. She calls on them to come between the light of the projector and the images she has chosen. Essentially, she calls on the viewers to stand between the light of the present and those past moments in which she had invented a different identity for herself. The shadows of the viewers fall on the imprints of her story’s instances, for only as shadows can we partake in the “Other’s” past. We often say of artists that their creations are a way of conveying their emotions to their viewers. Here, we have no conveyance. Here, we have a confession. A confession that I once was someone and chose to violate my identity in order to invent a new self. And I do not call on you to get to know [about] me, but to stand between my past selves and the present. And this confession is my gift to you…
Dimitris Petakos, Ph.D., History of Science, National & Kapodistrian University of Athens
Breaths of Freedom
Until not too many years ago, almost nothing would be thrown away. Women of the olden days knew never to toss out a rag, for it may come in handy someday. So can a ripped petticoat. If it can’t be darned, it can be turned into a window hanging. Old clothes were almost never thrown out. They would either patch them up, or alter them and reuse them, or repurpose them into scarecrows in the fields, or cut them up and make a nice rag‑rug. Old-time women did not waste a thing. Tatters of cloth made perfect bags for “tarhana”, and fruit gone bad would be stewed into compote. Yesterday’s leftovers were not discarded; with a little something added to them, they would become the next day’s delicious entrée. A capable hand was what everything needed to make it good again. Anything could be rescued and converted into a different useful object. And the end result, that new object, was laden with history, seeing as it used to be something else before.
This same logic is encapsulated in the latest works by Milena Dimitrokallis. The painter does not throw out the cloths with which she wipes off her brushes and spatulas. Instead, she saves them and presents them as autonomous works of art, each with its own special story to tell. All of them together make up an installation. The new compositions are photographed and displayed on a screen, while the exhibition space also features the end results, i.e. completed paintings. These paintings retain many elements that we have come across in earlier works by Dimitrokallis: subtractive shapes, bold colors, light. The first layers are brush-painted, and then comes the spatula. Yet, in this latest series of works, the painter departs from the strict linearity that is indicative of an intellectual process, creating from memory—as if straight from the heart—images that look like sunsets, calm seas and colorful cities seen from above. With more gusto than ever before, she creates compositions that are happy and hopeful, a testimony to emotional health and beauty. The viewer is free to “read” the works with his or her own imagination, breathing in freedom and euphoria.
Hera Papapostolou, Art Historian & Critic
Mystagogy of Soul and Colour
A critical look
Setting out to critique art without being equipped with the pertinent expertise is a rather risky venture, especially when you are called upon to highlight aspects and express opinions on the artistic work of your own daughter. Nevertheless, I have decided to take my chances, largely based on other people’s work as well as my personal academic background. In doing so, I am attempting to be as unbiased as possible, speaking from the viewpoint of a man who has first-hand knowledge of Milena’s personality and life experiences.
Milena’s artistic beginnings came as quite a surprise to me. I was stunned by the way her childhood drawings, through which she used to express her wishes and illustrate her requests in a purely representational manner, transmuted into works of abstract art, meant to evoke feelings instead of reproducing images.
Naturally endowed with acute emotional intelligence and having grown into a mature adult, Milena has cultivated her spirituality while also always keeping alive within her the memory of her carefree childhood. Having lived amidst ample, giving love, she now paints with instinctive impulse and expressive freedom, not to articulate a personal request anymore, but to externalize her inner world. At the same time, her works have a catalytic impact on other people’s feelings, soothing their souls into tranquility through the powerful sense of joy emerging from her art.
In visual arts, there seem to be instances where the artist goes beyond the rules set out by both academia and intellect. Just as a poet’s word choices and associations shed light on elusive crossings between various moments of his or her soul, so is the painter guided by the transformative intervention of his or her inspiration towards conceiving the novel and casting it in a new light, giving it a new spirit. The painter creates idiosyncratic tangibles that accurately represent the quality of his or her soul’s intangibles and serve his or her artistic objectives. The aesthetic outcome of this visual inspiration immediately transforms into emotion as soon as it is perceived by the viewer, unmediated by the mental processes of the latter, who is thus sharing directly into the artist’s inner world and sensibility.
Just as automatic writing in poetry is not merely a random listing of words but rather a reflection of the poet’s inner truth, so is applying one colour next to—or over—the other an unconscious act of Milena’s, which, however, is immediately metamorphosed into the composition of an artwork. She chooses not to abide by rules and limits in her painting, an act rooted deeply inside her soul and in line with her art’s intention, which she has defined as generating feelings of joy and sharing them with others.
The manner in which she has chosen to paint does not lend itself to drawing norms or technical precision. Everything abides by the artist’s momentary idiosyncrasies and corresponds to a certain life stance, a reflection of her sensitivity. She paints with colour combinations and fusions, just as the poet generates poetry through word and verse associations. An almost sensual relationship develops between her work and its viewer, a feeling much like the warmth and tenderness of an intimate discourse, albeit in the absence of all those concrete elements that determine the relationship between people and the reality that surrounds them.
Pretension and disingenuousness are completely foreign to Milena, a fact that is also evident in her artworks, in which she unambiguously picks sides in each one of the many conflicts and dilemmas posed by life. In the long list of life’s dipoles comprising joy and sorrow, calm and tension, gentleness and forcefulness, smile and wryness, and so on and so forth, Milena consistently roots for the former. She prefers that her paintings generate joy and optimism rather than reinforcing or simply perpetuating pointless explorations leading nowhere. The exhilarating beauty her paintings radiate is a universal one, characterized by the abundance and brightness of the colours she employs.
If I had to pinpoint the one gift that truly sets Milena apart, that would be her unique ability to communicate with her viewers on a level that transcends the intellectual. Her love of colour springs out from her canvases, imbuing the souls of her viewers with a sense of sanctity, an Apollonian inebriation, purging them from their own feelings of suffering or unease. She establishes a far-reaching emotional discourse with the viewer, one that is initiated and carried out through her brushstrokes in lieu of words. The viewers’ aesthetic pleasure does not stem from their eyes’ indulging in idyllic representations of the natural world, but from their souls’ being subconsciously touched by an invigorating aura of emotional freshness.
Milena paints beyond the perspective of volumes, the composition of shapes, and all those elements, important though they may be, that constitute a work of visual art according to official precepts and artistic pursuits. Each time, she aches to find that particular colour association and combination that best represents the feelings of her inner world. Carving alternative paths through the forest of art, she is searching for those particular colour harmonies that prompt the viewer to feel a joy comparable to the elation felt by a weary wayfarer when his face is touched by the first morning sunray as he reaches a clearing.
Anyone venturing to offer intellectual explanations to Milena’s works is bound to do them an injustice, objective though they may strive to be. Her paintings do not contain depictions of what her intellect has treasured up over the years. Only an aura of positivity and an indeterminate aroma will strongly affect your emotions; for her inner need is to deliver joy rather than invoke the dolefulness of day-to-day life. She aims to shed some light on people’s dark sides and restore in them the faith that there is always hope and light, for everyone. All things overflowing within her are generously offered to the viewers of her artwork, in an attempt to assuage any harshness tormenting their souls. It is bells of joy she is aspiring to be ringing, not bells of sorrow.
To her, art is not a means of rooting for an ideology. She doesn’t like to be a fan or a follower, nor does she seek to join the established artistic order. On the contrary, she consciously chooses to avoid adhering to any sort of rules that would inevitably require her to compromise the way in which she has chosen to paint.
Her painting is characterized by its expressionist character and abstractive tendencies. She spreads the colours on her canvas with suppleness and confidence, making use of even their subtlest variations, merging one hue into another without betraying each one’s pristine texture. Their brightness and power of expression are ever captivating. Whether their light is that of the sunrise or the sunset, you feel the splendor of a form of modernity that doesn’t seek to pin you down, but rather to extract you from daily life, letting you soar high and away on wings of freedom.
Under the bright sky of our homeland, Milena has no room for dull colors in her paintings. There is no dark space, no room for spiderwebs. All of her surfaces are beaming or glowing. In her works, the conventional notion of beauty is transformed into a stream of colours, at times torrential and at other times flowing calmly by, yet always striking you with its unexpected essence.
The sun and the sea are the dominant elements in Milena’s experiences. The sun, shining bright or hidden behind clouds; and the sea, whether calm or rough and rugged by the winds. Milena’s senses have recorded images, sounds, smells, breaths and touches of nature, packed with contrasts and infinite change. Her artistic modus operandi is feeling assigned to a great secret mission that she finds absolutely enchanting. After all, painting is not a usual type of vocation; it is something that borders on magic. Through her art, she is sharing the endless summer of her soul, revealing her inner world; and through the gift God gave her, she lavishly spreads the joy and power of creation among her viewers. Milena had the good fortune to be raised amidst cascades of colour. Bright colours at home, soft shades in the garden, clear hues in the sea sprawling before our family summer house on the island. She loved colours passionately, and they became her alphabet of choice in artistically expressing the most precious part of her.
Yiannis G. Dimitrokallis, Civil Engineer, Politician, Author
(The review was published in Art22.gr and in the catalogue on the occasion of the art installation “ECHOES”, in Naxos, Greece, in August 2020.)
Art historian Leontios Petmezas comments on the dynamics of the painter’s works and on her personal style in the 14 July 2018 issue of newspaper O Logos. Below is an excerpt of his review:
“Far from the morphological chaos of the urban landscape, the artist is presenting remarkable compositions that captivate the eye with their vividness of color, the sensitivity of their drawing and the freshness involved in their inspiration… Character, references to modern deviation, the treatise of timeless concepts and the passion in their discourse are the building blocks of the artist’s testimony… At the same time placing an unbidden emphasis on quality, the artist is generating, on grounds of said quality, an aesthetic and intellectual resistance against the subservience and shallowness of our times. Manifesting a breadth of mind, the paintings comprising the present visual statement encompass a profound awareness and deep appreciation of values and concepts such as nature and the environment in which we all belong—our actions, our responsibilities, our memories and our attitudes…
In this way, the artist’s works offer viewers the incentive to reflect, sparking questions and questioning, calling upon them to go beyond ‘good intentions’ and genuinely ponder on how to tackle the conundrums of taking on the requisite responsibility and necessary action. A part of the exhibition consists of a section, which discreetly affords justice to the plasticity of the drawing lines while emphatically addressing the particular stylization, endowing it with a regeneration of form… [The artist] is recording in an emblematic manner the transubstantiations of plausible fundamental stimuli, which border on transcendental osmoses and interweave a ritual that is gradually interpreted and reinforced as a manifestation of her personal “peripeteia”. Featuring a pervasive aura of invocation, the paintings of Milena Dimitrokallis commandingly convey an extraordinary semantics that envelopes inseparably the imaginative infinite ecstasy and claims a precise place in the history of Modern Art.”
Leontios Petmezas, Art Historian & Critic
(The review was published in Logos Newspaper on the occasion of the solo exhibition “Hues of Skies and Seas”, at Two’s in Paros, Greece, in July 2018.)
In her latest work, Milena Dimitrokallis changes colour scheme. Departing from the cool colours, she chooses to work with warmer ones and make much greater use of white. This is a conscious shift as the artist aims to speak to the viewer about man’s inner light. This light symbolizes none other than each one’s soul, which is directly connected with the universe, and each one’s course, which he or she is called upon to follow in this world. This light is the luminous path of each one of us; and, once we discover it, we cannot but pass its light on to those around us. It is our emotion or, differently put, what people call “love.” This thought process and attitude towards life spawns works, such as “Light,” “As Free as the Ocean,” “Spiritual Spring,” “Live in the Sunshine,” etc. And, indeed, looking at the works of Milena Dimitrokallis, the viewer sees meadows of wildflowers, seas, summers, and sunrays. He sees the bright side of his own soul that can be expressed through the colours of the sky on a warm summer day, of the sun when it shines, of the tamed sea and the whole of nature at the advent of spring. Red, yellow, blue, pink, green, orange. It’s all there, in her works, as a hymn to Light, which is also the true side of life.
The artist says: “Light. Symbol of truth. Awakening. The true colours of the Self. Reconnection with the universe. Inner peace and beauty that radiates and illuminates our path with its delicate aura. Once we become aware of our personal luminous path and attune ourselves to it, then the miracles begin. Powers hitherto unknown are unleashed inside us. We discover our Self and make peace with it. We become more peaceful. A feeling of completeness warms and liberates our soul. We are all integrated in this cosmic rhythm that is unaffected by the advancements of technology or the fast pace of society. We are reminded of it by the magic of a child’s laughter, the splendor of a sunset, the star-studded sky. The deeper we delve into the Self, the deeper we can see into the Essence of the Other, appreciate the substance of life, and give love.”
Hera Papapostolou, Art Historian & Critic
(The review was published in the catalogue on the occasion of the solo exhibition “Light”, at the Ursuline School, Naxos Castle, on July 2017.)
Most people are terrified of out-of-control, chaotic situations. Milena Dimitrokallis, however, sees in chaos the deepest meaning of creative harmony. It is her aesthetics that dictate what is harmonious and what not, what order and orderliness mean. Chaos is an inspiration to the painter and she knows how to capture it, partake in it and embrace it, in much the same way that a poet, a musician or a writer embraces his or her creation.
In fact, the painting of Milena Dimitrokallis is a lot like music, thus expanding the scope of the visual language. It has the same power as music. It stems from an inner necessity, and colour—the absolutely true element of painting—is the key that opens the gate to her inner world.
Blue, yellow, red, green, orange, purple. Each colour a distinct emotion: love, happiness, passion, serenity, completeness, trust, affection, fear, anger, surprise, sadness. Each colour a musical note in the vast music of the universe.
A lively discourse is taking place between the artist and the spectator: the latter is receiving the vibrations of each painting, enjoying the colour and sensing the painter’s emotional state, but also creating his or her own complex, subjective, conscious experience, feeling euphoria, awe, vitality, harmony, or even relief. The spectator is deeply moved by the expressionist character of the paintings, as well as their abstractive tendencies; the expressive power of colours and their unruly handling; the liberated brushstroke and the texture of the material; the forms and gestural script of the painter. And, thus, the painter’s introspective adventure finds fulfilment in reciprocation.
Unconventional in the negotiation of her themes, Milena Dimitrokallis heeds chaos and harmony—elements inherent in nature—and translates them into powerful emotions.
What she seeks to accomplish is to highlight the interaction between chaos and harmony in our emotional world and explain how it contributes to the creation of abstract forms and shapes, which express its beauty and truth. Her guide in this process is self-knowledge, a difficult but creative and necessary prerequisite for the deeper knowledge of our emotions, at times serving to guide us and, at other times, to mislead us.
The set of paintings should not be seen as a whole, since each painting is autonomous. This is inferred by both the titles given to each painting by the painter and the distinct emotions described. Viewers heed the colours and leave the exhibition richer in emotional experience.
Hera Papapostolou, Art Historian & Critic
(The review was published in the catalogue on the occasion of the solo exhibition “Chaos and Harmony”, at Peritechnon Gallery, Athens, on May 2016.)
“When our conscience is rid of the habit to see in paintings the depiction of landscapes, Madonnas and shameless Venuses, then we shall see the pure painted work.” – Kazimir Malevich
Having been awarded at international competitions, painter Milena Dimitrokallis is holding the solo exhibition Chaos and Harmony this summer on the island of Mykonos. The talented artist paints what she feels rather than what she sees; her works, however, being classified as abstract, serve to specify that, which each spectator is carrying inside him or her. Thus, for the sake of a peculiarly expressive exaltation, she breaches forms in order to sail freely between Chaos and Harmony.
Using the free form, and more specifically the technique of action painting, the artist presents, without explaining, representing or mimicking, the model of the ideal coupling between Chaos and Harmony. Lacking the pachydermatous rationale that tends to see everything physio-logically, she wishes to capture the energy of the new beauty emanating from the dipole Chaos–Harmony: this is Milena’s sole preoccupation. She seems to address us “like a cat across the rug; softly but not with contempt”. Expressionist in style, she has learned to delicately outline onto the canvas the being in the raw; she colors the surfaces until they harmoniously explode, helping us comprehend “the extent to which the invisibility of the visible is invisible”. While dominated by a gossamer sparkle, Milena’s colour illustrates the inner need that lies at the core of her works. Certainly, her chaotic mixture of colors is gestating aesthetic warmth by way of harmony, indeed by contrast to the prevalent impression that her colors are as if about to surge out onto the horrific state of affairs.
Essentially, this is an art that is abstract via a miscellany of color; an art that records the creative process in the form of a struggle or of absolute serenity; an art, in fact, which, one might say, displays an intellectual proximity to the thought of Dalí, while also adopting the Empedoclean notion asserting, “at one time all uniting into one from Love, while at another each is torn apart by hate-filled Strife”; in other words, Milena’s brushstroke steps away from the boredom of the predetermined and out into the freshness of the innovative.
Beyond common taste and socially emancipated, each work evokes a commentary on the establishment, fertilely transubstantiating the incessant experience of intuitive perception that is characteristic of its creator; each work eludes the deadlock of the Ideal, leaning towards artful complexity. Each painting’s plasticity demonstrates a disruption of integrity, on one hand, and a subcutaneous symmetry, on the other — the subconscious forms presented to us neither serve any functional purpose nor provide any clear “an‑swers” [from old English and-against], thus also paradoxically verifying Malevich’s aphorism that, “any painting surface is more alive than any face with a pair of eyes and a smile”; yet, at the same time, since anything visible is impossible to be seen truly and in depth, the inwardness of each surface covers up anything real.
Now in Mykonos, attempting to ecstatically hydrate her canvas, Milena Dimitrokallis aspires to become that raw force that is able to generate images within others. In the modern labyrinthine reality, in which we are called upon to survive, the artist, as seen through the eyes of Milena Dimitrokallis, “will not be a sewer worker, but a pipe layer in a comfortable new Babel”!
Apostolos Ziogas, Biologist
(The review was published in the digital magazine Fractal – The Geometry of Ideas, in June 2016, in light of Milena Dimitrokallis’s solo exhibition “Chaos and Harmony II” in Spyral Gallery, Mykonos.)
Milena Dimitrokallis works directly on the canvas, without a rough sketch. Often she creates the first layers by brush and then uses a painting knife and techniques such as scraping and, many times, dripping. Bright colours and a variety of abstract and geometric shapes seem to flood the canvas at first sight. Freely drawn lines suggest passion, motion and life. But a closer look at her works reveals silhouettes, abstract figures with strength and rhythm, with an emphasis on the spontaneous expression of feeling. The painting can be read as a self-contained, aniconic plane with occasional allusions to the real.
Her work is characterized by a tendency toward abstraction, the expressive power of colours and the expressionist quality of the painting as a whole. The brushstrokes, forms, colour and texture of the materials in her work move the spectator deeply and at the same time express the painter’s emotions and inner perspective. Her treatment of a theme is anything but conventional and the function of colour and brushstroke completely liberated, as per the Expressionist norm. Her works constitute bold and free compositions dominated by a gestural script, thick paint and high-intensity chromatic relations: red, yellow, blue, green.
The painter’s primary creative goal is to portray her emotional relation to the painting surface and her means of creative expression. There is no apparent representational objective; the intensity and unbridled treatment of colour gives the viewer the feeling that the canvas is a space on which the artist maps her inner emotional world. The explosive power of her gestural script is a distinguishing feature of the artist. Her canvas is transformed into a field of action that highlights the process of painting and the motion of the artist’s hand, with its free and seemingly random—but always self-controlled—strokes. Intense, powerful lines rise up as if from within the soul, bringing to light the release of a hidden introspective adventure. The light is assimilated into the paint. The end result is a courageous statement of artistic freedom.
The artist says: “When I paint, I am impulsive. I am interested in painting what I feel, not what I see. To me, the canvas is a space in which my mind can be totally free. The more I paint, the more I explore my mind, discover it, love it, and set it free. I create my works directly on the canvas, without a prior rough sketch, guided by purely exploratory processes. One might say abstract painting is my way for searching my soul and rendering human emotions through colours, shapes and an array of techniques. I prefer working with large formats because it allows me to become one with the colours and shapes and to directly depict my emotions.”
Hera Papapostolou, Art Historian & Critic
(The review was published in the catalogue on the occasion of the solo exhibition “Aurora Borealis II”, at the Castle of Naxos, Greece, in August 2014.)