Vana Xenou was born in 1949 in Athens. In 1968 she was admitted to the School of Fine Arts with a scholarship from IKY. She studies painting with Giannis Moralis and Nikos Nikolaou and since 1971 scenography with Vassilis Vassiliadis. She completed her studies in 1973 with excellence and praise. The same year she moved in Paris, where she studied at the Scenography department of the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs until 1974, when she was accepted to the drawing, painting and mosaic workshops of Supcole Nation -Arts with a scholarship from the Hellenic Organization of Small and Medium Enterprises and Crafts. From 1973 to 1977 she also attended philosophy and aesthetics seminars by Hubert Damisch, Jean François Lyotard and Gilles Deleuze. In 1976 and for a year she teaches design and color at the Center for Technological Applications. She completed her studies in 1978. In 1979 she began her collaboration with the painting laboratory of the Department of Architectural Engineering of the NTUA, where she is currently an emeritus professor.
The early, eminently painted work of Vana Xenou includes mainly large watercolors, without frames and often worked on the floor, which she places in the space like murals. She is particularly interested in capturing the artistic gesture, as she moves on the painting surface with the weight and intensity of her body. In 1978 she presents her first solo exhibition at the Artistic Cultural Center Ora. Photography provides significant stimuli in her early works, such as the female nude D’après l’Odalisque de Paul Outerbridge (1978). In the artistic exploration in the world of Louis Carroll that she presented in 1982 (Desmos Art Gallery), she transforms photographs of young girls of the English author Alice in Wonderland into expressionist portraits-psychographs that represent the dual identity of the woman-child. The same year she will exhibit at Europalia. A fundamental aspect of Vana Xenou work is the renegotiation of emblematic works of the western artistic tradition, in order to address social and existential issues. In 1983 she presents the section D’après Judith et Holophèrne de Artemisia Gentileschi (Galerie 3) consistently focused on the woman, in this case as Judith, who is justified as a symbol of resistance to power (Holofernes). She is inspired by the famous Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi of the 17th century, whose life and work have been at the center of feminist studies of Art History at the same time. In 1985 she exhibits the series of works D’après Lucrèce de Lucas Cranach (Galerie 3 and Art Gallery “The Third Eye”) influenced by Lucas Cranach Lucretia and the Abbess of Stendhal Castle. It represents the mental processes of a woman, who commits suicide under the pressure of revealing her rape, scratching, peeling and tracing the painting surface, while leaving visible traces of moisture, fading and rust.
Focusing on new thematic directions in 1989, she will exhibit the monumental Angels-Earth-Heaven multiplicity (Zoumboulaki Gallery), focusing on the incorporeal mediators, who act between the transcendental and material world, with references to Byzantine and early Renaissance Art. The same year she receives the award of the House of Fine Arts and Letters. Literature is of special importance in the work of Vana Xenou. Since 1990 and for eight years she has been working on the series of artworks Yperion or The Hermit in Greece (Kreonidis Art Gallery, 1998).
She studies the homonym work of Friedrich Hölderlin in parallel with the Delacroix “Massacre at Chios”, in order to reflect the values of Western civilization, but also to understand Greek identity through the Western perspective. In 1992 she was invited by G. Jeanclos to teach as a guest professor for one year at the .cole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. In 1995, Claude Mollard’s monograph Vana Xenou from the Cercle d’Art publishing house will be released in Paris.
In the 1990s Vana Xenou will expand her visual arts to include sculpture, ceramics and installations. Her interest will focus on ancient Greek mythology, philosophy and the Christian tradition. She systematically seeks the integration of her artworks in public, natural and sometimes in residential areas, in abandoned industrial facilities and architectural monuments, encouraging their interaction with the respective environment. She delves deeply into the initiation rituals of the ancient world, especially the Eleusinian Mysteries, and creates artworks with a highly symbolic content, which she presents in a series of exhibitions: Eleusinian Mysteries (Galerie 3 and House of Cyprus, 1995), Les Mystères d’Éleusis (Chapelle Saint-Louis de la Salpêtrière, Paris, 2000), Elefsis-Passage (Saturn Factory, Elefsina, 2004), Entertainment (Kalfayan Galeries, 2005), Arrivée-Passage (Jardins du Palais Royal, Paris, 2008), The Soul of the Place (National Gartner, 2010), Passage-With the gaze up (Stoa Spyromiliou, 2012), The political significance of the sacred spaces: Athens-Elefsina-Delphi (Le sens politique des lieux sacres, Fonds culturel de l΄Ermitage, Garches, France , 2017). Her involvement with myths and mysteries aims at the understanding of existence, the deeper knowledge of one’s self, but also at the restoration of the sanctuary to art.
Artworks of Vana Xenou have been exhibited in Greece, Europe, USA, and Hellenic House in Beijing and Sismanogleio Palace in Istanbul. In 2014 she was awarded the title of Officier dans l’ordre des Palmes Académiques by the French state.