Gallery  October 7, 2019  Cynthia Close

An Unlikely Friendship Brings Greek Art to Vermont

A thick crop of snow-white hair seemed in contradiction to the youthful face of the fifty-four-year-old Thessaloniki artist Vasilis Zografos who was attending the opening of Studio of Archeo-virtual Spiritings, his first solo exhibition in the United States at the Helen Day Art Center in bucolic Stowe, Vermont. Rachel Moore, the director of the center and a practicing artist in her own right, met Zografos in 2009 during a Fulbright Fellowship to Greece. Their mutual interests in history and the complexity of relationships within cultures and subcultures led to a continuation of support for each other’s work in their respective home countries. Moore played host to the artist both as a friend and respected colleague during his stay in Vermont.

The Helen Day is housed on the second floor of a graceful 19th century white clapboard building that the Art Center shares with the town library. A variety of large-scale sculptures usually dot the rolling green lawn extending from a wide veranda down towards the main street of town. This is the heart of Vermont’s ski country but also serves as a creative hub, with several blue-chip galleries within a stones throw of the art center. Due in part to the boundary-pushing exhibitions presented by these galleries and at the Helen Day, the audience for provocative art in this section of Vermont has grown. Judging by the attendees’ interest and curiosity in Zogrofos’ subtle and conceptually complex work, locals welcome an intellectual challenge.

I asked about his impressions of Vermont, warning that this place represented only a small slice of America. Zografos wore a sweet, half-smile and replied, “It was a surprise to me, for the quality of life, and the lack of criminality… It is an excellent place to live and have a family… Speaking in front of an audience always is a challenge. At Helen Day Art Centre the atmosphere is so cozy and warm so I am very willing to explain my work to a well-informed audience and answer the questions.”

The twelve, modestly sized oil on paper works hung unframed, clipped casually on the wall with weathered clamps, suggested a work-like “studio” environment. Zogrofos studied Fine Arts at the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki and received a Masters degree in the Netherlands but went on to pursue his interests in archaeology, preservation, conservation and restoration of artworks back in Thessaloniki. It is that relationship with those objects from antiquity that he explores in this series of paintings.

While the dimensions of all the pieces in the show, except one, are listed at 19.75” x 14” the actual rectangular images vary and seem to be randomly placed on the paper, some nearly filling the page with fragments of floating, disembodied heads, others are placed nonchalantly in an upper or lower corner, surrounded by a large field of blank space. It is difficult to reference specific works as they are all intentionally “untitled.” That fact makes defining them and thereby possessing them as commodities, individual objects with an assigned value, very difficult. This is a subversive act.

The pale, warm, clay-colored objects from some ill-defined cultural past seem to be suspended on softly muted blue-grey-green backgrounds, reinforcing the idea that these objects are untethered from their original use and meaning. Now, the viewers are free to invent their own imagined histories for these objects that have been appropriated by the artist and then given back to us in the form of a gift.

The fragments and broken statuary are presented, not under glass as precious remains that can’t be touched, but as well-worn artifacts who’s lost meanings are woven into humanities’ history, thereby reinforcing the cross-cultural commonality of our past. This erasure of context is not unlike how we experience objects, events, and even people in our unembodied virtual digital world today.

Following his successful exhibition in Vermont, Zografos went on to visit the galleries and museums in New York City for the first time. In a follow-up email to me upon his return to Greece he said, “New York is a city that every artist in the world would like to visit and much more to live and create… New York had a big impact on me and created a feeling to me to come back and visit this metropolis more often. Because of movies and TV series I had also the impression that I was part of a movie and even the dialogue with people reminded me of a fragment of a movie… I left [the] United States full of images and positive energy.” 

Studio of Archeo-virtual Spiritings, curated by Stephanie Bertrand and Rachel Moore, is on view at the Helen Day Art Center in Stowe, Vermont through November 9, 2019.

About the Author

Cynthia Close

Cynthia Close holds a MFA from Boston University, was an instructor in drawing and painting, Dean of Admissions at The Art Institute of Boston, founder of ARTWORKS Consulting, and former executive director/president of Documentary Educational Resources, a film company. She was the inaugural art editor for the literary and art journal Mud Season Review. She now writes about art and culture for several publications.

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