Natalia Mela

Natalia Mela

1923 - 2019


Natalia (Nata) Mela was born in Kifissia on July 10, 1923 in a bourgeois environment. Her father, Michael, an artillery officer, was son of Pavlos Melas and Natalia Dragoumi. Her mother, Alexandra Pesmazoglou, was the daughter of banker Ioannis Pesmazoglou. In 1941 she graduated from the German school. She signed up in Law school and at the same time in EPON. Later she joined KKE, from where she left in 1943, after the assassination of Kitsos Maltezos. In 1942 she passed the exams at the School of Fine Arts despite the objections of her family. She studied at the sculpture workshop of Konstantinos Dimitriadis and then at the workshop of Michalis Tombros, while at the same time she studied at the studio of Thanasis Apartis. She studied during the Occupation period, one of the few women in the School, with classmates Bouba Lymperaki, Nelli Andrikopoulou, Nikos Koundouros and Vassos Kapantai. During her studies she met Moralis, Takis, Minos Argyrakis, Tsarouchis – who taught her to draw with a pencil instead of charcoal – Eggonopoulos and Empirikos, in whose house she met Gatsos, Sachtouris, Elitis, Kavvadias, Antoniou, Karantonis and Katsimbalis. In 1946 she received the first prize in men’s nudity and in 1948 she graduated. In the same year she participated in the First Panhellenic Art Exhibition in Zappeion and in 1949-1950 she exhibited with Armos in Athens and Thessaloniki.

During the first years of her career she made solid, one-piece statues and busts of clay, plaster and marble in an academic style and modeled on Egyptian sculpture. Her collaboration with Dimitris Pikionis around 1949-1950, regarding the column at the tomb of Archbishop Chrysanthos and the Monument of the Fallen of Nemea radically changed her perception of sculpture. Pikionis taught her to work the light and the shadow on the marble, to dig inside it and to sculpt it directly, while she turned her interest to folk and modern art. In the following years, Mela placed the bust of Stefanos Dragoumis in Zappeion, of Pavlos Melas in Thessaloniki and of Georgios Pesmazoglou in Athens, at the National Bank. In 1951 she married the architect Aris Konstantinidis and for about 10 years she devoted herself to the upbringing of her son and daughter they had in 1952 and 1954 respectively. During that time she was involved in the construction of sets for the Art Theater of Karolos Koun and the creation of jewelry from pebbles and glasses. When she returned to sculpture in 1960, she completely changed the technique and style of her works. She turned to the example of Koulentianos, who at that time was creating abstract sculptures of metal with welding in Paris. Although she soon abandoned abstraction, which she considered amorphous and meaningless, she nevertheless retained the technique. After three months of attending a school of welders in Paleo Faliro, she obtained the relevant diploma.

She started with the Tools-Goblins, sculptures from iron, metal parts and other useful objects, such as hinges, springs, nails, spatulas, shovels, axes and chains, which she bought on Athinas Street and assembled with oxygen. She preferred what bore the manufacturer’s stamp, retained their color, usually black or minium, and utilized their properties and shape to picture stylized and sometimes abstract mythological, human, and animal figures, sometimes referring to ancient Greek figurines and sometimes to Picasso sculptures, such as the Satyr, the Goat, the Cat, the Girl, the Warrior, the Guards and the Three Graces. Konstantinidis also played a role in her choices thanks to his interest in handmade tools, but also due to his belief that every object had to have a shape, namely not to be ugly. In 1963 Mela will present her first solo exhibition at Libra, in 1965 she will take part in the Sao Paulo Biennale, while in 1968 she will exhibit in New York at the Cerberus Gallery. The next period she will establish in her work the metal constructions with or without readymade elements, with themes from the natural and animal environment (e.g. roosters, chickens, goats, rams, etc.), the folk tradition (e.g. Pallikari, Barbatsis, Digenis – Evgenis according to Mela – Akritas, Ai Giorgis), history (e.g. Pavlos Melas) and mythology (e.g. Hermes, Apollo, Kekropas, Artemis). In 1988 she will exhibit at the Ora Cultural and Artistic Center, where she will meet perhaps her most important patron, the French collector Annette Schlumberger. During that time and until the first half of the 1990s, she will create the statue of Laskarina Bouboulina in Spetses, Kyveli at the Cultural Center of the Municipality of Athens, Pavlos Melas in Thessaloniki, as well as the Monument for Imia in Pavlos Melas Square. At the same time, she begins to “draw with scissors” creating a collage of pieces of newspaper and paper painted with water colors. The panoramic landscapes-collage of Spetses belongs at this category, which was inspired by the island where she lived several months of the year and by the panoramas of Hendrik Mesdag in Hague.

During the spring of 2008, the Benaki Museum organized a large retrospective exhibition of her work, in which a part of her workshop was presented. A few months later she started to create paper artworks. Abandoning the metal for good, she turned to paper, creating three-dimensional sculptures from semi-hard cardboard, which she adapted to frames made of straw reinforced with styrofoam or plaster and later made of wire. These are representations of animals that had already been processed in her earlier work, with some additions, such as squirrels, hedgehogs, swans and peacocks, usually painted in their natural colors. Paper artwotks were exhibited in 2012 at the Skoufa Gallery, in the last solo exhibition of the sculptor, who passed away in 2019. In 2011 the Academy of Athens awarded Natalia Mela with the Excellence in Fine Arts.

Her works have been exhibited in Argentina, Washington, Austria, London, the Salon de la Jeune Sculpture in Paris, the National Gallery, the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, the Tellogleio Foundation of Arts, the National Archaeological Museum, the Historical Museum of Crete, at the House of Letters and Arts, while they are in many private and public collections.

Xenia Giannouli
Art Historian