Tag Archives: Nikos Hadzikyriakos-Ghikas

Hydra: a haven for international artists from Aussie bohemians to Leonard Cohen

An Australian perspective on the idyllic island of Hydra, home of Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, Leonard Cohen, and frequented by Paddy, Durrell, and John Craxton.

From Neos Kosmos.

Historically, the small rocky island of Hydra has been closely associated with the Greek War of Independence, in which it played an important role, being a prosperous shipping centre at the time; the sea captains’ mansions that ring the island’s harbour are a testament to its heritage. In more recent decades, however, Hydra has come to be known primarily as an artistic hub, its heyday being in the 1950’s and 60’s, when numerous writers, musicians and painters were drawn to its rugged charm.

Hydra’s appeal to artists can probably be traced back to Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, the most famous Greek cubist artist and key figure in the Greek modernist movement known as the “Generation of the ’30s”. Ghika was a native, coming from an old and prominent Hydriot family, which had in the past contributed many naval officers and captains in the Greek Revolution. In the 1950s’and 60’s, exhibitions of his work across the globe won him international acclaim; he befriended other artists and intellectuals, and would host them in his Hydra home for extended periods of time.

His 18th century 40-room mansion, perched on a steep hillside, housed such names as Henry Miller, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Lawrence Durrell, Norman Mailer, Edmund “Mike” Keeley, Giorgos Seferis, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Le Corbusier, John Craxton, Rex Warner and Cyril Connolly. Painters, such as Craxton and Ghika himself, were greatly inspired by the island’s unique scenery, as evidenced in their work. Leigh Fermor, spent two years there, writing a large part of his book Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese and translating the Greek Resistance memoir The Cretan Runner.

Hatzikyriakos-Ghika Nikos (1906 – 1994), Memories of Hydra, 1948-1976 Mixed media on paper mounted on canvas. Source: The National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum

In his celebrated travelogue The Colossus of Maroussi, Henry Miller, who was hosted by Ghika in 1939, lauded Hydra’s “naked perfection” describing it as a “rock which rises out of the sea like a huge loaf of petrified bread. It is the bread turned to stone which the artist receives as reward for his labour when he fist catches sight of the promised land”. In 1961, the Ghika mansion was destroyed by fire, prompting the owner to leave Hydra and never return. By that time, however, a colony of expatriate artists and writers had already been established on the island.

Inspired by Miller’s journey, an international bohemian community of artists and writers had begun to form on Hydra; central figures to this circle were Charmian Clift and George Johnston, a married couple of writers from Australia who moved there in 1956, after some time living on the more remote island of Kalymnos. Their Hydra house soon became a destination for several others looking for a primitive landscape and an unconventional lifestyle.

During their years on the island, they both wrote some of their most important works: Johnston’s My Brother Jack, a classic of Australian literature, and Clift’s Peel Me a Lotus, where she describes her family’s life on Hydra. My Brother Jack’s sequel, Clean Straw for Nothing, was written after Johnston had left Greece, but drew heavily on his experiences on Hydra.

Their dramatic lives, marked by creative fever, substance abuse, tempestuous lovers’ quarrels and eventually tragedy (with Charmian committing suicide) has inspired several authors, who have put special focus on the couple’s years on the island. In her play, Hydra, Australian writer Sue Smith recounts “the passion and intensity of the near mythical ‘King and Queen of Hydra’”; the couple also has a central role in the book Half the Perfect World: Writers, Dreams and Drifters on Hydra, 1955-1964, which details the lives Hydra’s expat community, as well as in Polly Samson’s novel A Theatre for Dreamers, which captures the “hazy, sun-drenched days” of that same group of people. In both these books there is, of course, another central character: a young Canadian troubadour and aspiring writer who has arguably come to be linked with the island of Hydra more than anyone else.

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen arrived on Hydra in 1960, at the age of 26; he met Clift and Johnston, who in fact offered to host him at the beginning of his stay. Soon, Cohen would buy a house on the island for $1500, using a bequest from his recently deceased grandmother. He liked it although it was run down and had no running water. In a letter to his mother, he wrote “I live on a hill and life has been going on here exactly the same for hundreds of years. All through the day you hear the calls of the street vendors and they are really rather musical”; he also noted that the Aegean Sea was 10 minutes from his door.

On Hydra, Cohen met Marianne Ihlen, who soon became his first great love as well as his muse. Ihlen had arrived on the island in 1958 with her then-husband, Norwegian writer Axel Jensen. Soon after the birth of their son, Axel Jr., Jensen left her and the island, and not long after Ihlen moved in with Cohen, along with her baby. Cohen lived with Marianne throughout the 60’s, and for the first seven years he would commute between New York, Montreal, and Hydra.

Marianne in Cohen’s home in Hydra, on the back cover of the album Songs from a Room, which features “Bird on the Wire”

At the time, his ambition was to become an established writer. While on Hydra, he would wake up every day around 7 a.m. and work on his writings until noon; in the evenings, he would meet with his friends –including Clift and Johnston, Redmond and Robyn Wallis and many others- in local bars and taverns, such as the Katsikas Bar, where he would give his first live performances, years ahead of his debut. During his time on Hydra, Cohen published the novels The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966), and the poetry collection Flowers for Hitler (1964).

His works were met with mixed reactions and only sold few copies, and he gradually shifted his focus towards songwriting, eventually leaving for the USA in 1967 to pursue a career in music. At the end of that same year he released his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, which features one of his most iconic songs, “So Long, Marianne”, written for Ihlen.

Source: Greek News Agenda

Art of intellect and emotion: A Retrospective of Nikos Hadzikyriakos-Ghikas

Patrick Leigh Fermor by Nikos Ghika

A retrospective first published in Kathimerini 20 December 2006 about Paddy and Joan’s very good friend, the reknowned artist Nikos Ghikas.

By Alexandra Koroxenidis – Kathimerini English Edition

Retrospective exhibition on the work of Nikos Hadzikyriakos-Ghikas shows the unity in his work

If one was to name the one element that pervades the work of the distinguished Greek painter Nikos Hadzikyriakos-Ghikas (1906-1994) throughout its course, it would probably be light. Much has been written about the Cubist-inspired aspect of his work, yet the luminosity and the radiance of Mediterranean light is what will mostly strike the visitor to “Nikos Hadzikyriakos-Ghikas: The Apollonian – The Dionysian,” a large retrospective exhibition of the artist’s work which is curated by his friend art historian Dora Iliopoulou-Rogan and is being held at the Pireos annex of the Benaki Museum on the occasion of the centenary anniversary of the artist’s birth.

For an artist who perhaps more than anything else painted the Greek landscape – its essence and not its surface – this is perhaps to be expected. “Ghikas seeks light and the truth,” Henry Miller – one of the artist’s friends – wrote in his novel “The Colossus of Maroussi.” As an artist of the so-called “Thirties Generation,” Ghikas revealed the essence of “Greekness,” the archetypal notions that were believed to pervade the entire civilization of Greece. Harmony and light were two of them.

Light and its reflection are among the elements that, according to the exhibition’s curator, link the Apollonian and the Dionysiac aspects of the artist’s work, the tectonic, geometric paintings and the more expressionistic, free compositions of labyrinthine, swirling shapes.

“When they say that in my painting I have many different periods, I answer what Ingres said when he was told the same thing. ‘I have sir, many paintbrushes,’” Ghikas once said. Accordingly, instead of examining the work of Ghikas in terms of distinctive stylistic traits which lead from one to the next, Rogan examines the work of Ghikas as an undivided whole, as both Apollonian and Dionysiac, intellectual and emotional at the same time, as equally contained as it is extroverted.

This is a new approach to the work of Ghikas which the exhibition’s curator presents in a voluminous book (of the same title as the exhibition) published by Livanis. A well-designed publication (the book helps counterbalance the effect of a dense yet slightly disorderly exhibition), it is a thorough, fully illustrated book that includes earlier published texts on Ghikas’s work, essays by Kimon Friar, Henry Miller, Christian Zervos and Patrick Leigh Fermor among them. It also unfolds the work of Ghikas across different media: Painting is the focus, yet sculpture, photography and the artist’s work for theater and costume design help show what Rogan has called Huomo universalis, an artist whose work was too broad in scope to fit into a single category and an intellectual – he was also professor of freehand drawing at the National Technical University – who wrote about the art and culture of different civilizations.

Ghikas was as equally deft in line as he was in color. In the exhibition, an entire section presents just a fragment of the hundreds of drawings that Ghikas made. Among them a series of sensual nudes. There are also studies that Ghikas made for set and costume design and drawings that are the artist’s visual memoirs of his travels around the world.

Ghikas was one of the few truly cosmopolitan Greek artists, a man who not only traveled the world but who was part of an international artistic milieu from early on. The only son of Alexandros Hadzikyriakos, an officer in the Greek Royal Navy, he was educated in Paris (this included his final school years) where, at the age of 21, he had his first solo exhibition prefaced by the well-known critic Maurice Raynal. Ghikas’s involvement in the artistic and intellectual elite of Paris in the interwar period (he was friends with Henri Laurens, Fernard Leger, Georges Braque and Henri Matisse and became associated with Le Corbusier, Hans Arp and many others), helped to bring many intellectuals into contact with Greek art and culture. It was largely thanks to Ghikas that the 4th International Congress on Modern Architecture (CIAM IV) was held in Athens instead of Moscow in 1933.

In the mid-1930s Ghikas moved to Greece. Together with Dimitris Pikionis, Socratis Karantinos, Spyros Papaloukas and Stratis Doukas, he published the seminal review “To Trito Mati,” a journal on art and culture that resembled the French “Cahiers d’Art.”

During that period, Ghikas worked intensively in Hydra, the island of his family home (which was later destroyed in a fire), and became inspired by its landscape, light and architecture. In later years, Corfu, where Ghikas and his second wife Barbara Warner had a summer home, also inspired the artist.

None of those landscapes are identifiable. They are semi-abstract renditions that capture a mood and atmosphere, structure and light rather than any realistic description. In many paintings, the Greek landscape is combined with subjects taken from mythology.

Among Ghikas’s broad range of interests, poetry was one of the most pronounced. In the late 1930s, he began the illustration of Nikos Kazantzakis’s “Odyssey.” Twenty years later, in 1958, these illustrations were included in the US edition of “The Odyssey” which was translated by Ghikas’s friend Kimon Friar. Ghikas also illustrated C.P. Cavafy’s poems and Nikos Gatsos’s “Amorgos.”

The work of Ghikas is filled with the tranquility and harmony of the Mediterranean, the resonance of Greek art and history. Ghikas appreciated everything that was Greek but was also deeply curious and sensitive to other, non-Western cultures. He had the open-mindedness of a cosmopolitan, refined man and was one of the few Greek artists to have been recognized internationally.

In 1987, the same year that he was elected honorary member of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, Ghikas donated his work and home on Kriezotou Street in Kolonaki to the Benaki Museum. Held as an expression of appreciation on the part of the Benaki to Ghikas, the retrospective exhibition is also a tribute to one of the most esteemed modern Greek artists.

“Nikos Hadzikyriakos-Ghikas: The Apollonian – The Dionysian,” at the Pireos annex of the Benaki Museum (138 Pireos & Andronikou, 210.345.3111) through January 15.

Nikos Hadzikyriakos-Ghikas Wikipedia page

New Benaki wing to change cultural landscape

The upcoming opening of a one-of-a-kind museum has been billed as unexpectedly good news, a ray of light with regard to local cultural affairs hard hit by the ongoing crisis. The sixth annex of the Benaki Museum and former residence of prominent modern Greek artist Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, is scheduled to open its doors to the public in early April. Located at 3 Kriezotou Street in Athens, close to Syntagma Square, it will showcase the Ghika Gallery as well as the Interwar and 1930s Museum. The building was donated to the Benaki Museum by the artist himself.

by Spyros Yannaras

First published in ekathimerini.com

The new Benaki wing, developed thanks to the persistent efforts of the museum’s director Angelos Delivorrias, offers a panorama of leading examples of modern Greek culture, beginning in the 1920s and continuing up to the 1970s.

The museum will be inaugurated on Monday, April 2, while the following day will be dedicated to the numerous donors who have contributed to its development with a guided tour of the premises.

Meanwhile, news of the opening has been greeted with relief, given that only recently the Benaki Museum had launched an appeal with local visual arts fans to contribute to its financing by suggesting a new program for sponsorships and attracting new members.

On the Kriezotou building’s top floor, visitors can take a look at Hadjikyriakos-Ghika’s fully restored atelier, complete with his library and brushes. The artist’s unaltered living quarters, including the living room, dining room and his office, are situated on the fourth floor, where his triptych piece, “Kifissia,” is also on display. Furniture and personal items have also been restored, creating the feeling of a lived-in space. The third floor is divided into two areas: The first section includes the artist’s art gallery and the last section of the Interwar Museum, which also takes up the first and second floors. The final touches on the second and third floor are set to take a work-in-progress form in the presence of the audience.

The ground floor, which is also divided into sections, is home to the Litsa Papaspirou Hall, a restored interwar residence showcasing 17th-and 18th-century furniture as well as works by various European artists.

The Ghika Gallery is expected to change the city’s cultural landscape.

Related articles:

Obituary Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas (Nikos Ghika)

British Philhellene author, Patrick Leigh Fermor, donates Kardamyli home to Benaki

Obituary Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas (Nikos Ghika)

From the left: Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, John Craxton, Barbara Hutchinson-Ghika, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Lydia Aous, 1958

by John Craxton

First published in The Independent Wednesday, 7 September 1994

Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas (Nikos Ghika), artist: born Athens 26 February 1906; Hon RA 1986; married 1961 Barbara Warner (nee Hutchinson; died 1989); died Athens 3 September 1994.

It was in 1945 that Peter Watson, the owner and art editor of Horizon magazine, asked me to look at some photographs of paintings by a Greek artist which had just arrived through the post. I remember well our enthusiasm for their freshness, clarity and strength. Their subject was inspired by houses in Hydra, the geometry of which was full of Mediterranean light. The style was a revitalised Cubism. It was at once decided to reproduce the paintings in Horizon.

That autumn I met the painter himself – Nikos Ghika – on his first visit to London. I found an immediate rapport with him, talking to this seemingly most English of Greeks, elegantly dressed, serious, charming, approachable. Like so many of my fellow artists then I had a deep desire to go south to the Mediterranean. Greece was very much on my mind. To find a sympathetic artist who would welcome me in his native country gave me added impetus. I mention this first meeting with Ghika, for it is quite typical of how European painters are often cross-pollinated by chance encounters.

Next year, in May 1946, it was my good luck to find myself in Athens. There began a friendship with Ghika which lasted till his stoic death 48 years later.

Ghika was always aware of the importance of influences, both unexpected and those discovered by intent. These happen all the time in the arts, in music especially. In 1922 Ghika determined at the early age of 16 that he would go to Paris to continue his studies as a painter. He was already a mature student, raised in a cultivated European Athenian society, and was gifted with languages. A year later he was exhibiting in the Salon des Independants. His first one-man show was held in 1927 and presented by Maurice Raynal. These years were a wonderfully fertile period for a young painter. Ghika enjoyed a close friendship with most of the leading painters and poets of the time, especially Jean Arp and Jean Helion, with whom he had a joint exhibition in 1934. On this occasion, Ghika showed paintings and some stunning bas-reliefs which reveal how rapidly his artistry had developed.

Back in Athens later in 1934 he began to plan the publication of The Third Eye, a Greek-language monthly review of arts and letters, in which Ghika and his friends published the works of avant- garde painters and sculptors, such as Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, and of writers not previously translated into Greek, among whom were Matila Ghyka, Alfred Jarry (Ubu-Roi) and James Joyce (Ulysses). Ghika himself was represented by his essays on ‘Elements of a Language of Plastic Art’, ‘Introduction to Harmonic Tracings’, and ‘Introduction to the Law of Numbers in Art and Technique’. The seeds of the modern movement had reached Greece, but were broadcast on very rocky terrain.

Once returned to his homeland, Ghika discovered that his rejuvenated philosophy of Cubism already had deep roots in medieval Greek painting: reversed perspectives, dismissal of the horizon line, economical use of colour and colour used emotionally rather than descriptively. These aesthetics are to be found in Byzantine art, for example in the mosaic of the city of Nazareth; in the church of Karye Tzami in Constantinople. What was dismissed in the 19th century as primitive, was now accepted as an escape from the tyranny of photographic representation. Painters were now free to find joy in transformation instead of being restricted by imitation. This was the freedom that Ghika reintroduced to his native country.

From his earliest years Ghika was an outstanding example of what a serious artist must be in order to survive. He was born with a naturally searching mind, the essential equipment of a creative artist. Furthermore, he was intelligent, human, and knowledgeable, inquisitive, learned, and daring. He possessed, too, a towering dignity and an aristocratic presence. Fortunately, he could also be mockingly witty, satirical, and full of fun. How else could he have translated so sympathetically Edward Lear’s ‘Yonghy-Bonghy- Bo’ into Greek?

Night ceremony

Ghika was in his element designing for the ballet and the theatre. He was an architect of originality, an illustrator of books, a superb etcher. He created some of the most lovely and inventive sculpture, much of it inspired by ancient themes. He animated whatever materials came into his beautiful hands. Deep down he was a classicist at heart; form and content always in happy union. There is no mistaking his style; he made no paintings that lacked underlying form and all of them respected the scale and dimensions of his canvases.

Into his sometimes hidden geometries he poured his poetry of light and darkness, infusing colour into his forms with unmatched confidence, inventiveness, and authority. Always hand in hand with imagination, he let the spirit of poetry invade the labyrinthine city and moonlit walls. Here were landscapes radiant and full of joy as well as of enigma and mystery, so rare these days when so much art is paper- thin.

Ghika was a lesson to all young artists for he drew endlessly, helped by an astonishing visual memory. I have never seen a drawing by him that was not searchingly elegant or clearly structural and informative. A recent book of his caricatures is my constant delight. His last years, despite the gnawing loss of his wife Barbara whom he mourned privately, and his failing eyesight, were borne with true stoicism. Fortunately, an Indian summer of recognition in his own land was a solace to him. This final period saw the publication of many superbly produced books on him and by him, among them Ghika: Drawings, by Evita Arapoglou (1992), and Ghika, by Jean-Francois Bonhomme (1993).

It is to the credit of the English that the first retrospective exhibition of his painting was held at the British Council in Athens in 1946, that he had six one-man exhibitions in London from 1953 onwards, and a major retrospective at the Whitechapel in 1968. He was elected an Honorary Royal Academician in 1986.

Like all great artists, Nico Ghika was an inspirer. He would rebuke all who claimed painting to be easy. Those whose way of painting seems to declare ‘I can do that, too’, would do well to gaze on Ghika’s art and recognise his individuality.

Related article:

Paddy’s Illustrator – John Craxton Telegraph Obituary