Finding Athena at the Athena Standards Residency in Athens Greece
In January & February of 2020, I visited Athens, Greece for a month-long artist residency. I took with me a small scale model that had been cast into fiberglass of the Modern Athena Sculpture. In Athens, I worked with a team of people to figure out the logistics of a 17 foot tall sculpture. We discussed questions like, where will it go? how should it be exhibited? what is a sensible budget? and timeline? etc. Could the marble be obtained in Greece instead of Italy? I had a shared studio space and an apartment down the street. I spent the month working closely with art historian and curator Elizabeth Plessa and the rest of her team on my project. We had scheduled studio visits, gallery openings, and museum shows to attend all month long. On my own, I spent the month researching Athena at museums and historical sites and creating a new series of wing drawings during my Athens Greece Artist Residency. A huge thanks to all my supporters for my successful indiego campaign Finding Athena that funded this trip! Learn more about the Athena Standards Residency Program. Read about my trip highlights below.
January 5, 2020
Off to Athens!! We Did It!!
I’m happy to say that my campaign reached $4305 on Indiegogo with an additional $1500 in individual contributions for a total of $5805. Thank you to each and everyone of you!! I’m so grateful and feeling very excited. My bags are packed and I fly out tonight for Athens. Finding a suitcase for the 32 inch version of the Modern Athena proved to be a challenge for fitting into the flight baggage restrictions, but she is safely packed up and waiting to fly.
I loved that before the holidays, I was interviewed for the Creator Studio Podcast. There were lots of laughs as we chatted about The Modern Athena & the essential aspects of creativity…like having more than one artistic discipline and my encouragement from friends and family…
SoundCloud – https://bit.ly/376aBR8
iTunes – https://apple.co/2QcNLAj
Stitcher – https://bit.ly/2Gwvht0
Google Play – https://bit.ly/2C96Wnz
Huge thanks to Dave Salvi and Jeff Zimmerman for the interview!
January 13, 2020
Chasing the Light
Athens greeted me last Sunday at midnight with dark stormy skies, but the skies cleared and I have been throwing myself into my residency and exploring all that Athens has to offer. I have a lovely studio space that’s about 20 minutes from the city center and an apartment down the street from it. Here’s a pic of the studio space at sunset.
A main focus of mine is drawing while in Athens. It’s one thing to run around taking pictures but it’s a different sort of challenge to sit down and sketch something even if it’s quickly while at a museum or outside. Outside is a bit tricky right now it’s around 35-58 degrees farenheit and if it’s a cold day the sketch is very, very short. In the studio however, I have a 10 foot drawing started of wings and a 6 foot drawing of the pine tree outside the window (pictured above) and I take a small sketch book with me everywhere.
Some museums are open late here, so it gives me time to work during the day and go to them at night. I was able to already visit the Benaki, the Goulandris Foundation and the Cycladic Museums. Each has a different emphasis from a broken head of Athena circa 500bc to Rodin & Modern art to the Cycladic period.
The Cycladic museum was my favorite so far. It is intensely informative and beautiful. I had no idea of the levels of ceramics and marble sculpture that were being created around 3200 to 1200 BC. It’s rather astounding and the museum nicely juxtaposes that with contemporary exhibitions by artists like Lynda Bengalis. Fun Fact: Female Nudes dropped out of style after the decline of the Cycladic period around 1200 B.C. (Actually they only carved women, male statues were rare) And did not reemerge until 400 B.C when Praxiteles carved the first female life size nude to great public shock, however….this elevated women’s status which eventually, during Roman times led to political rights, economic independence and education.
So my days are filled to dos as I work thru all the aspects of the program here in Athens. Every day I study Greek, research and draw. I’m working well with the studio manager Orestis and we are deciding whether or not to do a permanent mold here of the 32 inch Modern Athena model that I can transport back to the States. I have art openings and networking meetings this week with Elizabeth and I’m really looking forward to visiting the quarries that created the city itself and sites like the Acropolis. What I can’t quite describe here though is the quality of light. It’s a modern city…it’s dirty and loud but then there are these magnificent ruins and the sunlight is so golden. As I chase down every museum and path I can possibly follow. I keep seeing this amazing light…At the Acropolis, home of the Parthenon…where there was once a 38 foot tall statue of Athena made from gold and ivory that watched over the city, I sat in the cold for nearly 4 hours and waited for the sun to set just for the right picture. I can’t quite capture the light, but I’m enjoying chasing it down.
January 19, 2020
I Have Wings
…and I’m drawing, drawing, and drawing… For years the drawing side of my portfolio has been neglected. Big drawings for the most part were only produced for commissions and the piles of dust in my studio make it difficult to work on drawings on a regular basis, so I am really enjoying a clean studio space. It’s not just clean; it’s extremely quiet. Due to the continuous construction in my studio building and all the noise I personally make, I have grown used to noise. But here, it’s a library of silence. I delight in it.
Likewise I continue to delight in the museums. This past week I visited the National Archaeological Museum and the Acropolis Museum. For anyone interested in what is considered the earliest computer, the Antikythera Mechanism is on display at the National Archaeological Museum along with many divine sculptures. Enormous rooms are dedicated to a century of sculptures at a time, allowing the visitor to easily distinguish a 6th (600) from an 4th (400) century B.C. sculpture by the end of their visit. Hint: How to sound like you know things… Is the sculpture smiling and looking a bit upright and pole like? That means it’s older, 6th century or more before they hit naturalism in high stride. Below are pics that distinguish two styles.
However, the show stopper is the Acropolis Museum designed by Bernard Tschumi. A gorgeous design that attempts to imitate the top of the Parthenon. It’s as if you are walking in the sky. They rescued all the sculptures from the Acropolis area that had been buried, damaged or otherwise and placed them in the museum. Other sculptures like the Caryatids (the female figures that look like columns and support the roof of the Erechthion structure) were actually removed from the building, (quite a feat of engineering) and replaced with replicas in 1978. That’s a time lapse video that should have been made.
What I was particulary mesmerized by was the miniature crane model for how they moved and placed the stones along with the how to videos. There was a long standing argument about painting marble and the Roman copies of Greek originals were completely white because they thought the Greek were completely white. Actually, most Greek statues were painted and quite colorful. The how to video easily explains this and upon close inspection, you can see lots of colors on the marbles. Since no one stopped me, I blithely made videos of the videos for my records. Overall, the museums are incredibly nice to me and allow me to go within an inch of the sculptures once they realize I’m just sketching.
It was a great week for art openings. On Weds we attended the opening for Alecos Levidis’ “The Myth-historic”, currently shown at the Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika Gallery. The Benaki family founded 3 museums in Athens and I felt very privileged to meet the granddaughter of the founder. Elizabeth then whisked me around on an 8 gallery plus art walk tour on Thursday. I especially enjoyed meeting with Christina Androulidaki, owner of CAN gallery, Athens and curator Theophilos Tramboulis. The galleries have good crowds and are generous with wine which is always a bonus. Most press releases are also in English and even though my Greek is improving, my reading of the letters is still nominal.
And then, I finally went to the sea. The weather was not perfect. The skies were cloudy and it took awhile on public transport, but I ended up at the hot spring fed lake of Vouliagmeni, sketching the rocky cliff as the little fishies nibbled my toes. I love the sea, the openness, the sense of beginnings…
January 26, 2020
The Silence of the Oracles
This week was dominated by my day trip to Delphi. Once known as the center of the world, the history of Delphi begins over 4000 years ago. In the beginning, the site was sacred to Mother Earth and was guarded by the terrible serpent Python, who was later killed by Apollo. Apollo’s sanctuary was then built here by Cretans who arrived at Kirrha, the port of Delphi, accompanied by Apollo in the form of a dolphin around 800 B.C. With the building of the temple and surrounding buildings, the high priestess or oracle named Pythia assumed full power over the sanctuary of Apollo. Pythia is derived from Pytho, which charmingly enough means “to rot”, referring to the sickly sweet smell of the decomposing body of the monstrous Python after being slain by Apollo. The slain python itself was reputed to be female. A questionably auspicious beginning…
In the ancient world, even among the warring city states and beyond, the oracle remained separate from the war torn factions and all sought her advice. The sanctuary was strewn with riches. They would build extra buildings (like the one pictured in the lower right) just as treasuries to hold all the offerings and as you approached the site, gifts of statues lined the way. My particular favorite was the 30 foot tall marble Spinx that used to gaze across the landscape on a tall pole of marble. This unparalleled female power hit it’s zenith around 300/400 B.C. And waned by 600/700 A.D. In Plutarch’s time around 100 A.D. he was already questioning the silence of the oracles. Delphi was not the only place for oracles; there were sanctuaries all over Greece but fewer and fewer supplicants due in part to the spread of monotheist cults from the east and political instability.
Fun Fact: How did the Delphic Oracle prophesize? Accounts differ…however… Turns out if one chews Laurel leaf or what is known in the kitchen spice cabinet as Bay Leaf then one can hallucinate. Greece is also a land of volcanic mountains so a gas was purported to seep up from the earth at Delphi that the Pythia would inhale and thus be able to utter sayings that were then interpreted by the male priest and told to the supplicant. I did not personally encounter any gas smells. If inclined to run to the kitchen cabinet to chew bay leaves, please be aware that the mountain laurel variety was preferred by Pythia and is considered poisonous to humans. You can however scatter common cooking bay leaves around your pantry as an effective insecticide to ward off mice and bugs.
The job of a priestess, especially at Delphi, was a respectable career for Greek women. Priestesses enjoyed many liberties and rewards for their social position, such as freedom from taxation, the right to own property and attend public events, a salary and housing provided by the state, a wide range of duties depending on their affiliation, and often gold crowns. The decline of paganism along with the decline of the Greco Roman Empire around 500 B.C. Marked the beginning of the monotheistic dark ages and the loss of female status but the incredible view remains.
This past week, I was also able to visit the oldest chisel shop in town. Dimitris and I struggled in broken English and Greek but we both spoke the language of chisels. His chisels are all hand made and quite beautiful. I’m looking forward to taking some home with me!!
I’m getting excited about our Open Studio Exhibition curated by Elizabeth Plessa & Varvara Liakounakou this Friday here in Athens!! ? I will be exhibiting my new series of large scale Wing drawings and my other drawings based on my tourism of Athens.
I will leave you with Plutarch, a priest of Delphi and famous writer (Shakespeare borrowed extensively from Plutarch) who wrote the following in Moralia:
“The soul, being eternal, after death is like a caged bird that has been released. If it has been a long time in the body, and has become tame by many affairs and long habit, the soul will immediately take another body and once again become involved in the troubles of the world. The worst thing about old age is that the soul’s memory of the other world grows dim, while at the same time its attachment to things of this world becomes so strong that the soul tends to retain the form that it had in the body. But that soul which remains only a short time within a body, until liberated by the higher powers, quickly recovers its fire and goes on to higher things.”
February 2, 2020
Racing Towards a Finish
Last week was my final week of the residency. It was crammed with meetings and preparations for the Studio exhibition opening on Friday. I began the week with a visit to Hadrian’s Library and the Ancient Agora site. Unfortunately my quest to see a statue of Athena was foiled with sections of the museum being closed. I stood outside the impressive columns and mused about the remnants flanking the exterior. My original series of marble sculptures were all about fragmentation and the disillusion of permanence. To see up close all these broken sculptures is a moving experience and a reminder of the temporal nature of life.
It was a privilege to chat for hours with Afroditi Ziti, sculptor and head of the sculpture department at the Athens School of Fine Arts. She was the first woman to teach at the ASFA, which is the leading art school in Greece, founded in 1837. They have enormous studios for painting, sculpture, drawing and marble carving!! I enjoyed touring them all especially the marble studio with Dimitris the professor for marble carving. As an added bonus, they have huge life size copies of many famous sculptures, which is very convenient for studying vs photographs.
I also loved meeting with one of Greece’s under the radar but one of the greatest sculptors Praxiteles. As luck would have it or his parents had incredible foresight, he has the same name as the ancient sculptor who carved the first female life size nude and whose works were copied all over the Roman Empire. As I wandered around his 2 story studio sipping Greek coffee and bumping into 7 foot tall or more sculptures, we delighted in discussing gods and goddesses and sculpture through a translator. Lizzie and I posed with him by one of his models of Athena that was cast into a life size bronze.
We then got down to brass tacks about the Modern Athena project and sourcing the 16/17 foot tall block. I have already spoken with the main quarry in Greece and others. The quarries say they are unable to quarry it, Praxiteles said he has people that could quarry it because years ago, he had them source a 15 foot tall block, but it doesn’t look very positive for sourcing marble from Greece. The marble is exquisite and the warm white that I love in statuario, but the price is nearly triple the costs in Italy along with being extremely difficult to quarry.
The finale for the residency was the studio exhibition opening on Friday night. I was very pleased to have my first exhibition here in Athens and look forward to more in the future. It included resident artists: Riccardo Buck, Steven Tonkin, Su Wang and Studio artists: Orestis Karalis, Giannis Kikiantonis, Dimitris Makrinikas, Konstantinos Palaiologos, Andreas Vembos. I really love where the new large scale wing drawings have taken me. A sort of effortlessness has emerged.
As I pack up the studio and apartment, I’m looking forward to a less intense week. My boyfriend Ben Stroh arrives and we will do tourist things like a visit to the island of Hydra. I am excited to be leaving the city for a bit before returning to Athens to wrap everything up here like buying tools, visiting more quarries etc.
February 9, 2020
Alpha & Omega
As I photographed my model of Athena poised above the city today, I felt a sense of closure and a sense of beginning. In this past month, I learned so much about the city of Athens and the Greek civilization. All the pieces fit together.
It felt great to get out of the city for a few days to the Island of Hydra. Rubbish trucks are the only motor vehicles on the island – cars and motorcycles are not allowed. Horses, mules and donkeys, and water taxis provide public transportation and your own two feet. Since it’s the low season many places were closed and it felt like we had the island to ourselves. Ben and I hiked everywhere and even though it was cold the fresh air and the sea were gorgeous.
I return again and again to the Acropolis and the Acropolis museum. It was nice to be staying within a 20 minute walk vs two metro lines away. I cannot get over the scale and the quality of the sculptures and buildings that were created over 2400 years ago. I was extremely curious about the crane system for the Acropolis and finally learned all the secrets at the Museum of Ancient Greek Technology Kotsanas. I feel like this museum could be 4 times its’ current size. The exhibits are fascinating and recreate all the marvelous machines that existed during the time of Plato and Aristotle. Robots that pour water and wine, singing birds, automatic door openers, alarm clocks, endless screws, vending machines… Priests at Delphi and the Acropolis and other temples used some of this wonderful technology to their advantage. Why sit around pouring holy water for people when you could instead install a holy water vending machine? A person would put in a coin and thru a system of counter weights and pulleys the water would be released. I’m a believer…
I met with a very talented tattoo artist, Lin and discussed the wing design for the left shoulder and back area of the Modern Athena. Once the 4 foot marble version is finished, I will be staining a tattoo into the marble and I wanted to learn how a tattoo artist would approach it. The large scale wing drawings are all preparatory work as I figure out exactly how it should look. The Modern Athena sculpture will encapsulate everything about the original Athena, the owl, the Gorgon, a weapon but with my own twists to it.
Everything is nearly packed and I’m finishing the remainder of the drawings. I pick up my new chisels tomorrow and wrap up another studio meeting. I feel sad to be leaving but it’s time to return and start chiseling in earnest. All my questions are answered.
February 16, 2020
Kicking Down Doors
My last studio visit in Athens was a lot of fun. Fellow studio artist and friend Su Wong and I visited Konstantinos Papamichalopoulos at his studio with Lizzie Plessa head of the Athena Standards residency and art historian. Influenced by the Orient, we were immersed in Anime, egg tempura & gold leaf… Beautiful interesting works.
I very happily purchased some beautiful carbide chisels and a couple of steel chisels handmade by my new friend Dimitris Kollaros. He and his father have owned marble tool stores for over 50 years and it was a genuine pleasure to shop at his store. I wish I had this level of convenience in Chicago, so I stockpiled small tooth chisels since those are the ones I break consistently and are only available in Greece or Italy.
On the subject of breaking, I have broken through all the rest of my barriers, mental, physical and otherwise. The last time I was in Greece in 1997, I had crashed a motorcycle and rolled for over 60 feet. It’s amazing how many blows a body can take, but I stood up finally completely incensed at myself and walked myself to the hospital. So in the ensuing years, I have avoided returning to Greece and from driving motorcycles. Returning after over 20 years was a healing process, but Greece wasn’t going to let me go easily.
All was packed and ready. My bags and boxes containing the sculpture and the drawings were in storage at the studio. I needed to pick them up early in the morning, then get back on the train and go to the airport. At 6:00am, I entered the studio and went to the box that contained the storage room key. It was not there. I searched around, but there’s a lot of rooms in the residency and this is a small key. I made phone calls, the studio manager answered and then hung up. ( I found out later his phone conveniently died at that moment.) No one else answered. The clock was ticking on the window of time I had to get to the airport for international check in. The airport is nearly 1.5 hours from the studio. After getting locked inside the apartment in the beginning of the trip with a skeleton key lock that broke, I watched a lot of videos on picking locks. At high stress times like these, one can curl up and cry or kick into high gear. I started kicking the door and then searched for a flexible knife. This was not a deadbolt and if I kicked it hard enough, I had a chance of wedging a knife in and jimmying the lock. Ceramicists use flexible knives and I ran to that room that was full of junk everywhere but no knives. I ran into another studio that had steel on the floor everywhere for some project but wedged in the corner was what appeared to be a ceramicist bucket, and in it, a flexible knife.
In a scene out of the movies, I ran back to the door jammed the knife in and up to release the lock and burst into the storage room. I made it onto the first train after a bleeding finger, some bruises, a small hole in the door, two trips down 3 flights of stairs, and entered the metro, shouting at the Greeks to hold the train for me…At the transfer station, two angels helped me carry everything to the airport train that only travels every 30 mins. Once on board, I taped my finger with packing tape and thanked the gods. I arrived at the airport with 20 mins to spare.
For the Modern Athena sculpture, I have to be better than I’ve ever been, a better artist, a better sculptor… everything. I moved slowly on this project in part because I was afraid, my dream seemed almost too big for me in the past, but now I’m ready to kick down some doors and break a few glass ceilings while I’m at it!
It’s time to carve and it feels great to be back in Chicago! A huge thanks to all who made this grand adventure possible 🙂