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"Vasso Katrakis"

The deep seriousness with which Vasso Katrakis has confronted the art of engraving from the beginning of her artistic career is very evident.

When she started out being interested in it as a young girl, she found, as did the German engraver Käthe Kollwitz, her most powerful artistic inspiration in the life of the people and especially in the events that during her time convulsed the working classes which had become aware of the need for education, improvement and social security.

In the period between the two wars, she felt, as did other sensitive artists, the great problem of the retrogressive stance of most art in relation to the new movements which from the beginnings of our century shook painting and engraving, a problem which forced the conscientious artist to come face to face with what the tradition of the realistic school was trying to conserve. The existence of this problem together with the encouragement on the part of some enlightened masters like Kefalinos and Parthenis led to the decision of a group of Greek artists to follow, in art and in life, a path which was totally new, compared to the bourgeois-aristocratically oriented mentality of compromise followed by the best known artists, with the exception of Halepas and Maleas.

Thus a group of painter-engravers, among which Ms. Katrakis was the only woman, proceeded to a kind of expressionism, to a new phase of modern Greek engraving which should be considered after the contribution of Galanis as the most creative in the history of modern Greek engraving.

What is also interesting to the art historian is the dates of the birth of those engravers. They were all born after 1910 and they all grew up during the years marked by the Asia Minor Catastrophe. Ms. Katrakis who felt uprooted many times, formed images full of bitterness, deprivation, bondage and injustice. Her contact with the art of Kefalinos gave her the technical knowledge of engraving which matched her truly great gift for painting and drawing.

Ms. Katrakis' art very often served the ideological and social aims towards which she was already heading during the years of her studies but never, even when she was dealing with posters of calendars for various occasions, has she fallen below the high level of quality which has been her standard of creation for forty years. What distinguishes the work of an artist is certainly not its goal or its message, its sensitivity for man and life, but the way that the artist has of embodying his ideal, and the form of communication, which are the result of an aesthetic interchange within the realm of those ideas and struggling credos. People who express their questioning of their place in society through form, attitude, sensitivity and the throbbing tension between black and white have need of neither symbols nor gestures nor protests. The slender severe figure which elongates itself ex-pressionalistically, which clasps its hands in the fashion of the ancient Greek figurine, which forms groups or stands silently by its fellow men, is in itself the witnessing, the bondage and the pain but it is also endurance, patience and struggle. Two single elements without vitality or warmth, black and white, become in Ms. Katrakis' hands the eloquent creators of a deep inner feeling which culminates in the catharsis of a soul enduring but unsubjugated. There are no frowning faces or even indignant ones because their features are of no interest, since the spots of black and white which grow stronger, fade, disappear, return and become deeper or more shallow, have dynamically undertaken the expression of those overwhelming feelings which nevertheless are withheld in grand dignity. Absolutely original, the appearance of Ms. Katrakis' figures is laden with all the people's demands, it is a voice of protest for inalienable human rights, but it is also traditional in its reserved grandeur like the figures on ancient Greek tombstones which suffer deeply but which stand serious and mute projecting the greatness of the soul and the superiority of the spirit. Moreover, this light whose brilliance seems to pierce the bodies, to activate them, to make them immaterial, is drawn from the light of our countryside. It seems incredible that one can with this interplay of black and white, illuminate the surfaces in such a way that it is as if they were pierced by the burning sun of this luminous land of ours. But this black is not an impenetrable and desperate black because it is matched by the brilliance of white so well that one gets the impression that those two elements have agreed that the one will never yield the leading role to the other. The moments of black with the desperate mood that it carries behind it never have enough time to make their presence felt before a moment of revelation full of hope and light succeeds them, abolishes them and yet in a strange way reinforces them too. Thus the figure just stands there bearing its problems, bearing its fate and becoming it, becoming longing but never a dirge. Those delicate figures with their long necks bear no resemblance to the corresponding formalistic expression of Western European painters and sculptors, (because they lack this reserve and patience, this perfect balance between passion and exultation); the increase and decrease in the volume of the limbs of the figure is shaken by intensity like an ancient Greek column and when they are depicted, the large open eyes reveal the world of the soul. And then sometimes Ms. Katrakis forgets the suffering of this life and she creates simple images full of delicacy and freshness, girls, fishermen, children, who quiver in the sun and tremble with an optimism of strength that they never lose. In addition, the artist mobilizes all the means of the art of engraving that she has at her disposal in order to render the brilliance of the sun. Upright wood, horizontal wood, and a new conquest, sandstone, which allows this special mingling of black and white and also a kind of spreading in space, an exultation, a grandeur. In spite of receiving the Lithography Prize at the Venice Biennale of 1966, Ms. Katrakis remains a modest human being, inwardly intimate. Anyway, who can deny that art is the reflection of a complete personality which has always something to take and something to give.

In agreement with his inner drives the artist tries to find those means of expression that will allow him to reach a corresponding aesthetic result. Art is not technique. If it were, all technical achievements would have something of the elevated breath of art in them. Technique is a means which serves the artist and it can be tamed only by the power of expression of the artist. In the large stones of Ms. Katrakis not only the figure, pain, protest, endurance and light are self-evident elements, but even space; this development within a blanket of white, exists spontaneously and develops generously with the same grandeur that those figures, those sensitive presences have. The work of Ms. Katrakis is characterized by a great development of space through abundant light which is reflected from this white surface and the iridescent form, full of pulsation, passion and inner seriousness. This is a work of engraving which bears the stamp of the truly inspired painters.