A painting is so much more than meets the eye. However, in the case of Maria Fragoudaki, that is true not only because she resists definitions and categorizations, but also because she strives to fit the third dimension into the traditional two–dimensional canvas. She defies limits and re-strictions and gives herself over completely to the quest for freedom.
That freedom stems from the way she understands painting, not only beyond the image, but also beyond the narrow margins of the canvas. Using seemingly incompatible materials in her BedSheets series, such as textiles and bubble wrap, she focuses on materiality and explores the space in between painting and sculpture.
Heavily influenced by the movements of the 50s and 60s, such as Italian arte povera, the Japanese gutai movement, and American process art, the artist experiments through a journey of creativity. She seems to enjoy every stage of visual creation and seeks to share that as much as possible with her viewers. In any case, her main concern is to communicate the frenzied creative process.
In a conceptual frame of mind, she attempts to break into the space between trace and shadow, body and breath, logic and spirit, plan and accident, consciousness and the subconscious.
The sheet dominates our everyday lives in both a subtle and an insidious way: we lie down in order to get our strength back, but also to retreat from reality, which is often contradictory and in-comprehensible. The sheet functions as a vehicle for movement and emotion. It may seem stat-ic on the canvas but, at the same time, it has momentum and tension. As a concept, it indicates the moment when the mind “goes to sleep” and our deepest thoughts or suppressed desires finally get the opportunity to ascend to the surface. no one knows what the final result will be: will divine beauty or unbearable misery prevail? Will the soul find peace or will the mind be roused?
Each BedSheet is its own story. It began with Fragoudaki photograph-ing her own bed sheets upon getting out of bed. She was excited by the fact that she could capture on camera and, later, on canvas the accumulated energy and information that a crumpled sheet can give. The object itself unfolds a different story each day. “Bedsheets of Ber-lin” (2016) is a type of self-portrait.
For me, it brings to mind Robert Raushenberg’s “Bed” (1955), from his early “combines”, where he at-taches various objects – his pillow and blanket – to the traditional can-vas, and splashes them with paint. In contrast to “Art for art’s sake”, that well-known proclamation by the prominent theorist of American expressionism, Clement greenberg, Fragoudaki believes that art is interwoven with life. Thus, with the help of technology, she decided to “cover” the historical building that hous-es the Hotel grande Bretagne with a huge digital sheet. This is no kind of architectural intervention; it is, in fact, an opportunity, almost an ex-cuse, to reveal a different view of things. For Fragoudaki, the building symbolizes the bed: our personal space, where we feel safe and free. In a metaphorical sense, the digital sheet functions as a “cover”, to hide or to protect, to embrace or to enfold the body that is in constant motion, free, upon the bed. Her aim is to urge the audience to reflect upon age-old questions; are we free, to what extent can we be free? Are we free when we get out of bed – our own space of freedom – and go outside? Is our freedom lost as soon as we leave the house and shut the door behind us? Do we want to believe that we act and think freely, or is it an illusion? Whatever the answers, Fragoudaki has proven she is not afraid of taking risks. Her aim is to mobilize the common passerby, to draw them into art, so they can sense another reality.
Historian – Archeologist
Maria Fragoudaki is one of the most notable creators of the new generation. She grew up in a family whose name was connected to winemaking, the granddaughter of Giannis Kalligas, who produced wine in Kefalonia. She believes that her grandfather, an artist in his own field, inspired her artistic journey. She has always painted. Her first image is from school, a painting contest on the theme of wings, where, alone in a room, she painted a winged horse on a blue background with clouds. The fact that she still uses wings in her work is a childhood obsession that has never left her. In 2007, she moved to London where she studied Chemistry and Pharmacology, while working for Roche pharmaceuticals. She gained her Batchelor’s and Master of Science degrees, specialising in the natural properties of materials. Her interests, however, continued to circle around painting, so she turned her attention there, since it was her only source of inspiration and the only productive way to express her creativity. “I felt that there was something very strong inside of me that had to come out and I couldn’t control it. That’s how I understood that anything else I do takes time away from painting, from art in general, so I decided to give my time to that exclusively”.
For some, art is merely something that pleases the senses; For others, however, it us not only a medium of expression but a way of life. Her mother is a child psychologist and her father an economist. Both have been very supportive of her art and her decision to do what she loves.
Her first solo exhibition was at the Skoufa Gallery in January 2011. Her work sold out within three weeks and as soon as the exhibition was over, she packed her bags and went to New York, where she attended seminars at three American universities – NYU, School of Visual Arts and Parsons School of Design – at the same time. Within a year, she had a new solo show, again very successful. This was followed by group and solo exhibitions in museums and galleries in New York, Chicago, London, Miami, Basel and several cities in Greece, such as the Historical and Folklore Museum of Aegina, The Jewish Museum of Athens, the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the international Scope Art Fair in Miami, and Basel. She worked hard to claim her place in the highly competitive New York market, and managed to have her creations displayed alongside those of the big names of the local art scene, and collectors fighting to acquire some of her pieces.
She identifies as an advocate of “process art”, arguing that it is the material rather than the colour that defines a work of art. She uses her knowledge of chemistry in an attempt to break down materials and create fusions of ostensibly different materials upon her canvas. Plaster, wings, rubber, bubble wrap are transformed in Maria’s hands, creating remarkable compositions. Wood filings, insulating tape, wire and string, acrylic products and solvents are but of few of the materials that gain a new lease of life through art. Hers are sculptural paintings, not paintings made with a brush, as she prefers to forge a direct, tangible relationship with her work. She is not afraid to tear, to burn, to add or subtract incongruous objects on the canvas, all in search of a final result that will satisfy her, imbuing her art with a visual and emotional complexity.
In 2013, after her collaboration with Donald Sheridan, Andy Warhol’s master printer, on silkscreen printing, her work began to change. What was once purely abstract, with the emphasis on colour, was now supplemented by new materials, such as photographs, and her interest turned to collage. The initial idea for collage was to create something from the world of comics. In the work she showed at the One Art Space gallery in New York, Maria Fragoudaki combined images from comics with her own, old photographs or of abandoned building of the American metropolis. She started off with influences from the Incredible Hulk to create her first pieces, while experimenting with the use of objects on the canvas. “Sometimes I can’t control myself” she states in one piece; “my attitude depends on how you approach me” she writes in another. The public is intrigued, and Maria’s new proposition is well received. People forge real connections with her work, tuning in to her thoughts and making her reflections their own, matching them to the questions that concern them.
Her restless and reflective nature never cease to inform her work. She can find inspiration in anything, from a common experiential emotion or a momentary impression.
From Ancient Greece and Plato’s Theory of Ideas, the artist begins to create new work that explores the ability of the senses to transmit ideas. While, in the dialogue of Phaedo, Plato believes that the senses are a barrier in understanding the truth, in these pieces Maria studies our ability to understanding concepts through our senses. In using that, perception through the senses, she provokes subjective understanding and interpretation, and the materials become depictions of abstract ideas. Each material or object, depending on its common uses and properties, invokes different ideas and interpretations. The viewer, however, is only aware of some of them, usually because they are stronger or more accessible in their everyday life. Thus, vision invokes emotions, discovering hidden ideas, perceptions and views. The materials give rise to interpretations and questions, depending on each person’s way and ability to perceive them. Therefore, a rope, for example, might look soft, but it becomes as hard as steel when it is stretched. It often takes strength to interact with it, and this interaction becomes very direct and physical. The natural process of change, of exploration, of expansion and of challenging materials to new uses transforms into an abstract process of exploring and understanding ideas and materiality. Subsequently, every interaction with the materials becomes a direct, powerful and experiential experience.
Last April, by turning off the lights of the Brande Bretagne Hotel in Syntagma Square, she transformed the front of the building into an art happening. Through this happening, entitled The Duality of Freedom, she sought to transport the public and to give an artistic interpretation of the imprint of the body upon the bedsheets, as if it were connected with the Freedom of the individual, of the citizen, of society. Her purpose was to catch the viewers by surprise and capture their reactions, before they had the time to filter them through their thoughts. According to the artist, it is those reactions that are the most liberated, the most natural.
“Art is not made with the pencil, but with the eraser,” as Yiannis Spyropoulos, the Greek “father” of abstraction used to say. Maria Fragoudaki, a worthy representative of the new generation, holds these words close to her heart, working with contemporary media and continuing her evolutionary journey.