Peculiar symbols, cryptic signs and intricate equations synthesise the visual lexicon of Greek artist Stella Meletopoulou.
Acrylic, ink, bamboo, wood, cotton strings, wool and paper are some of the materials that Meletopoulou not only uses regularly but also likes experimenting with in a constant attempt to test and push their limitations on both the canvas and wall surfaces. Working with all of them and meticulously studying their properties has been a long-term quest for her. Such process is an unraveling dialogue that firstly challenges the artist and then the viewer to engage and interact with.
Embarking from recent lockdown experiences, and observing the dystopia of war, the artist envisions a restart of life and creation. Notions about interconnectivity, continuation, sustainability, evolution and esoteric revolution are constantly being surveyed and scrutinized. In an age when our present is the only certainty and the future the most definite uncertainty, all works on view become studies and enquiries about a world that is currently revealing itself by the day and by the hour.
This new world that progressively unfolds reflects a vision of a deep emotional realm. A concealed sense of utopianism is being replaced by abstract yet lyrical canvas-scapes, echoing the –so much needed– detox of the mind and our spiritual well-being. Sensing and identifying a profound connection with nature, Meletopoulou asserts the significance of our origins and our transformative ability to survive. Survival is an act embedded in the human DNA.
Her visual vocabulary propels our attention into the elasticity of space and the fragility of the moment, simultaneously re-evaluating the parameters of our existence. All canvas works convey polyvocal conversations reflecting the reality and our relation to it; a relation that keeps redefining its rules and its strengths. At the same time, all installations are interpretations of the multi-layered levels of our identity and our intellect as they expand into the domain we all live in.
The works of Meletopoulou emerge as esoteric archives, games of the unconscious, dreams for a different world. They unlock the inner power that unites us not only with our surrounding environment but they also connect collective consciousness with our universe.
Alice: I’ll play you for it. Rock, Paper, Scissors.
Edward: Why don’t you just tell me who wins?
Alice: I do. Excellent.
Twilight Saga – Breaking Dawn
On the occasion of her exhibition “Paper, Scissors on the Rocks” in Paros, Stella Meletopoulou creates a new series, enriched with dense symbols, magic scriptures and hidden algorithms, casted with nested objects and children’s playthings.
Wall-mounted artworks with inlaid or painted elements and three-dimensional structureswith fragile swings scatter in the Cycladic white abbreviated summer episodes,cut and joined together with pieces of colored paper that recall the unparalleled geometric blue fragments of the Matisse collages,constructed and rebuilt through a painstaking and focused handicraft with dense cognitive vibrations and successive metaphorical congestions.
By skillfully using paper and scissors, by weaving memories and boxing snapshots of her own conceptual and tactile memory, Stella Meletopoulou creates active spectral autonomies and engraves alternative mapped paths, suggesting a rhythmic sequence of visual optical connections, twists and continuing turns of inner pictorial narratives.
Inlaid or adjusted on the surface of her artworks, thin straws, wooden matches and yarns slide between the cross-sections and the axles of the conceived space and the archetypal symbols of the fictional composition: the fish and the moon, the red summer hat and the blue-cobalt floating vessel, the inner echo of the human voice and the stretched musical chord slip subtly into the eye, swimming in newly created nodes of fluid plot and woven memory.
In this stereoscopic view of the world that takes place in Meletopoulou’s new series, summertime sculptures, marked margins of enlightened times, untreated emotional extractions, and reminiscent calendar leaves come out of an invisible treasure box and denature themselves in pictorial entities, expressing the dense and pious existence of the painter, from where the human measure and the rhythm of life never fall short.
In her works, the delightful Greek summer, is a young playful child. And the place defined here, with symbolic coordinates the suspended particles of the blue and the embodied Aegean luminosity is none other than the healing place of the soul and the mind.
THE PLAYFUL UNIVERSE OF STELLA MELETOPOULOU
Stella Meletopoulou is one of those artists, for whom painting seems to derive from a spontaneous inner process that gives her art a symbolic-spiritual character.
Her current work is a continuation of the “Invisible Threads” series (Skoufa gallery, Athens, 2016), where she focused on a philosophical – metaphysical aspect of the world and her surroundings, producing two- and three- dimensional works with symbolic elements-inlays woven with “invisible threads”, thus creating autonomous universes.
Through an evolutionary process of liberation, Meletopoulou returns with a new series of works entitled “Game of Threads” introducing the playing activity as an essential component of her creative act.
Drawing on both the physical and the inanimate world of the soul and mind, her art is characterized by signs and symbols, memories and associations interconnected by means of threads. Linear figures, organic and geometric forms, inlays of natural materials, ornaments made of fabric, paper or wood placed on an almost basic color palette, “walk shakily” on the stretched threads in an effort to balance, just like in life itself.
With references to some of the most prominent artists of the pioneering movements of the 20th century, such as Calder, Klee, Kadinsky, Meletopoulou composes elements that she transforms, giving space to her subconscious to freely create semi-abstract forms and “weave” playful visual narrations out of her life diary.
Meletopoulou’s playful geometry is characterized by a delicate sensitivity that touches the intangible, while at the same time generously invites the viewer to engage in a sincere and enthusiastic relationship, just like the one we had with our childhood mates.
What does the artist do? He draws connections. He ties the invisible threads between things. He dives into history, be it the history of mankind, the geological history of the Earth or the beginning and end of the manifest cosmos.
This is a series of two- and three-dimensional wall-mounted works, both medium and large in size, where the symbolic subjects and objects of the artist’s semantic and tactile memory are rescued from oblivion and incorporated, initially in the painted field and subsequently projected into the relief, proposing discrete new universes, which can be interpreted in many ways.
With this oeuvre Stella Meletopoulou proposes a semantic rhythmic sequence of unembellished “weavings” of conceptual landscapes and progresses of thoughts on monochromatic plains, where the placement of objects is at times defined by the design, maintaining an imperceptible memory of Matisse’s sequence of lambent curved figures and the succession of dark valleys in the oeuvre of Klee, while at other times are literally added in, delineated by wire, plastic or thread. The articulated sculptured corpus of the dense organic arrays invented by the artist and made using numerous heterogeneous objects, knitted together by coloured thread, iron wire or fishing line, at first glance are reminiscent of children’s meccano: the repetitive tangential geometric forms (triangle, square, circle or semi-circle); the inventive uses of cheap materials, including fragments of broken mirrors or wooden straws; and the polyphonic presence of symbols including the fish, the moon, the key, the flag or the eye/torch; and the living organic images, which in the end are created through this additional manual labour, hovering amongst the strict limits set by the painter, which pulsate between the concepts and the threads, which she herself stretches out and utilises at times as living human arteries and, at other times, like the sensitive strings of a musical instrument; or which are pinned, like priceless suggestive signifiers of a living soul on abstract monochromatic surfaces made of wood or canvas.
In this manner Meletopoulou invents a new, sonorous language with distinct sounds: with dense references to myths, history and anthropology, to Ferdinand de Saussure’s linguistic archetypes and Roman Jakobson’s scientific conclusions, whose object are the links between sound and concept, with an absolute minimum of material pillars, re-examines and rewrites, deconstructs and reconstructs the web of her personal world and its surroundings, maintaining a spare purity of line, material and colour as the basic component of an autonomous reality, where formalization by no means annuls the quality nor the transitive interpretive capacity of the design. (1)
The successive images and varied fashioned structures that bubble to the surface, taking part in this adventure of line and the low-toned sequence of chromatic fields, the boxed-up three-dimensional light or dark universes, which subsequently arise, as the artist’s small magical objects cohabiting within them chart new possibilities for interpretation; but the minimal hints in spare portraits, which are proposed in the midst of the group of works, like necessary pauses in the constant motion on the path to self-awareness, constitute, in fact, different solutions to the same problem, that the painter keeps posing tirelessly to the viewers, but also to herself: Each of us, notes Meletopoulou, who makes frequent reference to Claude Lévi-Strauss and his work Myth and Meaning, is “a kind of crossroads where things happen. … That is, my work gets thought in me, unbeknownst to me. … and the threads I utilize, literally and symbolically, move and are moved”.
We could potentially assume that the depth of field of the work is nothing less than life as a condition. The manner in which we shall experience it; the fragments we leave behind; the material and psychic crutches upon which lean; the encounters and losses that define us: they all hang from alternate potentialities on an infinitesimally small thread. “With precisely this awareness of the inability to overturn events and things, we are called upon henceforward to live” the artist concludes, explaining that it is in this precise inability that lies in all likelihood her need for order, both in the entirety of her work and in its individual points.
If Lévi-Strauss proved that myth does not exist without its various languages and its interpretative meaning, Saussure, also an innovator in his time, formulated a general system of human language, introducing for the first time the concept of organized “relations” and a “system” for “language”, as well as laying the foundations for an independent science that leads the way for other sciences and fields of human knowledge or endeavor, from the natural sciences to painting. According to Saussure, language is a system (which he called “la langue”), where “phonemes” exist and where the signifier and the signified constitute an arbitrary combination of two different psychological entities, an acoustic image and an idea (meaning), “it is relationships that create and define objects, not the other way around”.
Referencing Lévi-Strauss, Jakobson and Saussure and, mainly, proposing to the viewer her Invisible Threads as a systematic field of vision, for reflection, self-awareness and interpretation of the self and the world, Stella Meletopoulou proves without any surplus means, that just as with them, so too with the “language” she herself develops, there is distinction between matter (or substance) and form, with form having priority, as here too interpretation does not arise from the arrayed use of colours, materials and “shapes”, as well as their dynamic correlations.
And if all this appears finally as an adventure of the intellect, I would like in closing to note, that this adventure has as its starting point a generous deposit of matter and soul, in a poetic and initially garbled confessionary desire of colours and matter, which during the visual art act of the past few years, was transformed into a personal semiotic diary.
CREATING GEOGRAPHY FOR STORIES: NOTES ON STELLA MELETOPOULOU’ S PAINTING
The dominant issue in Stella Meletopoulou’s first solo exhibition constituted the perceived interior and exterior architectural space: spare yet exceptionally clear designs of landscapes with multiple points of view and mainly hinted human presence.
In the current chapter of Meletopoulou’s work, with its eloquent title “Human geographies”, the human presence becomes transformed into the focus of the gaze, following, however, the logic of a scribbled depiction of reality and seeking concise coordinates for a geographically precise corporeal and intellectual human existence, that delineate a living time space continuum moving in parallel to the painted field of each painting.
In attempting to define the concept of time, Kant described Time as a pre-existing concept, which, along with other pre-existing concepts, such as Space, allows us to comprehend what we experience through our senses. Kant denies that time or space consist of substance, self-sufficiency or empirical knowledge: mainly he considers both time and space as elements of a systemic field on which we construct our everyday experiences. According to his interpretation, spatial measurements are utilised mainly in order to calculate the distances between objects; while time measurements are utilised in order to calculate the distance between events (or the duration of these). Thus space and time, without being self-sufficient, due to the existence of this systemic field, remain as concepts that are experientially real and not mere illusions.
The question in a systemic spatiotemporal field, within which the human existence moves and converses, creating imperceptible visual and unseen spatial motifs, constituted the main working layout for the painter’s “human geographies”: palimpsest landscapes which deliberately appear unfinished, as the narrative gives way to semeiotic punctuation; traces of cities, where the concise linear volumes are deposited on light; human figures are encountered in the interstices between streets or rooms, at times incurring unbreakable bonds and at other times elusive relationships, at other times breaking up definitively and at yet others remaining permanently unknown, and yet allowing in their sum total a degree of familiarity to the viewer’s gaze, which they themselves do not fear to meet head-on: “these are friends and lovers, who touch each other; children and parents who are gradually weaned of their daily co-existence; strangers who meet, or encounter each other at some point in time without even realising”, the artist explains, speaking of her need to locate and to mark indelibly these cracks of familiarity in the visible space, incorporating at the same time on her canvases palimpsest attacks of time, rendering their slight shadow more robust through the hovering perspective of successive drawings, through her image making, which is open to every form of subversion.
In Meletopoulou’s oeuvre, people are never indifferent or unconcerned with the external world. Avoiding every form of stylisation, organising space into mid-sized or small fields, which constitute distinct self-sufficiencies, proposing an eclectic design that does not seek perfection as an end in and of itself, or the non-finito when the basic substance has been already said on the surface of the canvas, choosing to insert words or phrases into her canvases wherever these are needed in her opinion (mainly when the human presence vanishes), insisting often on the therapeutic qualities or the self-aware truth of white and at other times startling the viewer with her bold use of a pleasing pink colour. In this second exhibited chapter of work, the young painter proposes inhabited spaces with inscribed psychological conditions, which ultimately concern the viewers themselves: confessing through her work the personal truth of the world she personally experiences, Meletopoulou invites us to commence a difficult process of self-knowledge, in an attempt to locate our own personal geographical space and time, in an attempt to locate the hovering coordinates of our own relationships with those we know and those who are strangers to us, who are established daily in our visual and emotional field.
ARCHITECTURALLY DESIGNING SPACE NOTES ON STELLA MELETOPOULOU’S PAINTING
The first exhibited group of works by newly-appearing Stella Meletopoulou mainly concerns spare yet exceedingly clearly defined drawings of landscapes and a handful of human-centric works with multiple viewpoints.
This is a series of topics, which she commenced to work on during her studies, and where the initial finding was space itself: transforming through progress into a field that was ever more abstract. Then, subverting this process of “erasure” in her own studio, Meletopoulou re-examines her personal memories of space and its re-construction, from the standpoint of a pure and wide-angled gaze. Vertical walls and open windows, with escaping perspectives, immovable blue pools and rectangular garden beds, stable outlines, right angles and austere lines with dynamic equilibria, flat and spare surfaces, pale coloured, with acrylic tonal spectra that do not lack optimism, interrupted by unexpected condensed insets of bright colours (turquoise waves, red flowers, orange fruit, multi-coloured butterflies), converse with organic motifs (incessant doodling that assaults already decided surfaces, characterising in their sum certain of the paintings). Additional formulated yet recognisable notes on the image (fragments of a figure or a seat), organise usually midsize painted fields, which, according to the painter herself, arise “in conjunction with her own size”, and where the natural landscape is willfully conflated with pure architectural form.
To the question whether her work is mostly defined by the clear influence of modernist painting or by the very presence of a faint metaphysical aura that runs through it, Meletopoulou responds by proposing a third element: “beyond anything else, I aspire not to lose my reference to reality, because I consider reality to be extremely important, just as I do my own freedom of disposition, which constitutes one of the reasons why I paint. I feel that at the end of the image, the free rendition of reality characterises my work more than anything else, it constitutes a personal element in my painting. In this manner, at the back of my mind, beyond measurable axes, there is always a landscape, a sky, a sea, a tree…”: an unrecognisable as home almost landscape of my ancestral Laconia, of seaside Gytheio and the green plains of tame Tuscany, which is transubstantiated into an opaque projected essence of horizontal and vertical coordinates. A sky, which is often transformed into a smooth blue structural element; a sea that is transfused into the impermeable boundaries of a pool; a tree that equals a flexible curve. A lambent midday landscape of the mind, which turns from its own shadow and geometry, and refers back to whatever the viewer desires in each instance. A landscape, finally, from whence people are not absent, even though they are not apparently present, as the element of their indirect presence is transcribed with a multiplicity of ways onto the canvas: “I am interested in people as elements, even though I haven’t found them definitively”, the painter notes. “I am very pre-occupied by them, because I seek to make them more familiar both to me and to others”.
However, beyond any attempt to link, one should pause to consider that very attraction which the spare cleanness of organic form in Meletopoulou’s oeuvre, where formulation by no means detracts from the poetry of design, the articulation of a transparent subjective dimension of reality, which is run through by the aesthetic of a virtual architectural array. And it isn’t chance that these easy-to-read figurative fields by the artist find once more – through form, through colour and through manner – something of the austere style of modernist architecture from the sixties and seventies: having grown up and continuing to live in a space that is ruled by the spare aesthetics of an architect (her father Elias Meletopoulos) and having herself earlier worked in the graphic arts, Meletopoulou re-examines and re-composes the eclectic aesthetic elements she selects, in her own manner, creating images as organic neologisms. The result is her vindication…