Nikos Kessanlis

Nikos Kessanlis

1930 - 2004


Nikos Kessanlis was born in Thessaloniki in 1930. From an early age, influenced by his grandfather, who was a painter trained in Naples and Paris, he turned to painting. In 1948, he began his studies at the Athens School of Fine Arts, in the workshops of Umberto Argyros, Yannis Moralis and Nikos Nikolaou. During his studies, he was an assistant of Jannis Spyropoulos. In 1955, he exhibited his work created by the method of encaustic painting, at the ADEL gallery owned by Manos Pavlidis and, in the same year, he was awarded a scholarship to support his studies in Conservation at the Instituto Centrale del Restauro in Rome. His early works were mainly oil paintings and followed His early works were mainly oil paintings and followed the academic figurative character of the Athens School of Fine Arts. However, the period of 1955 to 1960, with his settlement in Rome, he began to express his abstract and gestural tendencies with the presentation of his first “amorphous” works (art informel) at the Venice Biennale of 1957, as an invited foreign artist living in Italy, and at his first solo exhibition at the L’Obelisco Gallery in Rome. A typical example of these tendencies is the series Walls (1960-1961), where he incorporated materials such as newspapers and textile papers onto densely coated crates, emphasizing on the process of creating the work itself rather than the realistic rendering of recognizable images. In 1959, he was awarded the Amedeo Modigliani Prize in Livorno and took part in the exhibition Art Grec Contemporain organized by Angelos Prokopiou in Paris. He then moved to Paris and developed a close friendship and collaboration with the art critic Pierre Restany, which contributed to the international promotion of his work and helped him meet with the circles of the Nouveau Réalistes. In 1961, he received several awards, including the Premio Lissone, and participated in exhibitions in Paris, Lausanne, Florence, Rome, Karlsruhe and Ljubljana. In the same year, he represented Greece at the São Paulo Biennale, along with Gerasimos Sklavos, and participated in the exhibition Nouvelles aventures de l'objet at the Galerie J, where he presented the series Gestures. In these works, he abandoned the canvas and by adopting old industrial objects he detracted from the urban environment as the basis of his creations, while denying the traditional principles of expression. The highlight of this practice was the Great White Gesture, presented at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice in 1964, as part of the exhibition Three Proposals for a New Greek Sculpture by Pierre Restany, which was held in parallel with the Venice Biennale. With this particular work, he epitomized, in a merely ephemeral manner, the dematerialization of artistic expression from the limitations of fixed structures. Since 1965, he lived with artist Chryssa Romanos and was known as one of the main representatives of the Mec Art movement, having shifted his interest towards exploring techniques of image reproduction on photo-sensitized cloths. Consequently, for the production of the piece Phantasmagory of Identity, he combined shadow theater elements with different photographic techniques and lighting modifications. Since 1967, his research evolved even more, resulting in the creation of the series Anamorphoses and his first three-dimensional works, which encouraged the observer to move around the space so as to have a complete overview of the compositions as they did not meet the anticipated observation expectations. The next series was Meta-Structures, based on the reproduction and processing of classic works with alteration techniques such as scratches, burns and painting. In 1981, he is elected professor at the 5th Painting workshop of the Athens School of Fine Arts and in 1982 he returns permanently to Greece with his wife Chryssa. In the 1980s, he focused on portraiture and on the series Palimpsests. In 1988, he represented Greece at the Venice Biennale along with Vlassis Caniaris and was elected Chancellor of the Athens School of Fine Arts. As a Chancellor, he contributed to the modernization the school and relocated it to a factory at Pireos Street. The importance of Nikos Kessanlis's contribution to art lies in his pioneering experimentation and his resourcefulness in the development of imaging techniques. He continued to produce work until the end of his life in 2004 by adding numerous solo and group exhibitions to his portfolio. Retrospective exhibitions of his have been held at the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art (1997) in Thessaloniki, the AD Gallery (2006), the National Museum of Contemporary Art (2007) in Athens, and his works have adorned public spaces such as the Athens Metro. In 2017, works from the series Gestures were presented at the exhibition ANTIDORON. The EMST Collection, Fridericianum, Kassel, as part of Documenta 14.