“Greek society does not seem to need art. It is oriented to other directions”, states in the interview he gave to “Attiki freepress” the renowned sculptor and director of the 1st sculpture workshop of the Athens School of Fine Arts, Mr. Theodoros Papagiannis.

By Marina Provatidou, visual artist

With a multitude of exhibitions to his credit, the creator of great sculptures in public spaces, Mr. Papagiannis believes that we have to “make people love art and this has to be done through school”. As regards his outlook on life, he states that “a lot of hard work is needed in order to lead your life to where you want to” and that “one has to learn to live austerely, not to create major needs and struggle in order to meet them”.

How did you meet with sculpture?

“I met with sculpture when I finished primary school at my village, when I started to carve local rocks creating a head each day. Then, things took their own course”.

It is very beautiful to see your creatures standing in different squares. That is how I see them, like living creatures which communicate with people.

“The sad truth is that it is very rare that I rejoice when I place my works in public spaces. And this is because our cities are so devastated, disorderly, with no areas planned to welcome a work of art. And for this reason, I find myself almost always in a difficult position when I am looking for space to put them up against the backdrop of how people will see them. My works have not had the fortune to find the space that befits them. Our cities are inhospitable to works of art. That is, what you can see in foreign countries is not frequently seen in Greece”.

Do you believe that sculpture has been successful in communicating with the people or something else needs to be done?

“Why does the country which brought sculpture into prominence, which elevated it to such a level of importance in people’s consciousness, not need it? Why is it violating works of art, why is it defiling them, why is it ruining buildings of historical importance? Why does it show such disrespect towards benefactors? Why is it burning down a university? Isn’t it equal to wanting to burn down knowledge?”

What intervention would you like to see sculpture make within cities? What do you think should have been done that hasn’t?

“I do not believe in any communication. Greek society does not seem to need art. It is oriented to other directions, to football, to meaningless chatter, to lounging in cafes, to nothing of significance”.

What do you expect will happen to art in the time of crisis?

“What needs to be done is to rebuild the cities. We have downgraded our life. Do you know that a team of sculptors creates works of art in different cities over the last twenty years? We work voluntarily because we believe that we must bring art in the citizen’s life. What we realize from discussions with people is that people ask ‘What is this?’ and I reply ‘You tell me what you see’ and thus a dialogue starts. What has not been done but must be is make people love art and this has to be done through school”.

What was the element that stimulated you to create?

“From the history of art we know that art flourished in times of prosperity. If a society is going through hard times, if it is hungry, it is certain that it will not turn to art.

What we are already witnessing is that the economic crisis is closing down galleries, museums and archaeological sites. It inhibits exchanges or major exhibitions, in other words, the worst it can do. This is where the proverb ‘when it rains, it pours’ can be applied”.

What do you believe has to change in people and what can people expect? How can we emerge from the crisis?

“The real artist, the true creator has or should have this creative force inside him. It is this that activates the artist to create. If this stimulation does not exist, let him not waste his energy. Art cannot be made willy-nilly. Nor should he wait, as they say, ‘Ah, inspiration will come to him’ this too comes through work”.

Do you believe that we will emerge from the crisis or are we sinking even deeper into it?

“The situation in the world has a dynamic, it is not static, it is constantly undergoing changes. The changes that come about in China for example, are bringing major turnarounds in international trade. The so-called globalization has opened up the borders; the protection that used to exist does not any longer. Now, either you can compete, fight in this environment, or you are cut off. We can see the consequences around us. The whole world has become a single market, if you can, you compete inside it, otherwise you are lost. It will take time to change the situation; the worst is yet to come”.

What is your philosophy of life generally?

“I believe that a lot of hard work is needed in order to lead your life to where you want to. In order for someone  to overcome the difficulties, constant struggle is needed, they need to fight against the difficulties. To learn to live austerely, not to create major needs and struggle to meet them. Not to be slaves to consumption and run after them. Follow the lead of people who lived simply and wisely. To place their life values on things that are worthwhile ‘and if you can’t shape your life the way you want, at least try as much as you can not to degrade it…’ says the poet”.

What did you use to tell your students when you taught?

“To work seriously, art cannot be made between cheese and dessert. To avoid ease and sensationalism. To try to give life content so that their art obtains content too. To observe around them, to keep their antennas up. To take a look at nature, to be taught by great teachers. To read, art besides being manual, is primarily a mental affair”.

When you went to Chicago to put up The Runners, how did you feel?

“The Runners in Chicago was certainly a milestone in my life. Not because I had won an international contest with numerous participations from sculptors all over the world, but because it was placed in Chicago, a city which played its own part in the evolution of art. It was placed at the airport entrance, where millions of visitors pass by every year”.

What is your opinion about all those who blame Greece for the crisis and discredit us abroad?

“I believe that we have given and are constantly giving reasons to be blamed. We ourselves have marred the good image that the world had for us. When we are giving tourists a rough time, when we close down archaeological sites, when we litter sea and land”.

Do you reside in Athens or Epirus?

“I always live in Athens, this is where my workshop is and I cannot live without being there for hours on end. But I often visit my museum in Kastanochoria, Epirus. It is a necessary move for me to breathe in clean air, to drink water from a spring under the shade of a plane-tree”.

Who is your favorite artist?

“It is not one, they are many and I love each and every one for what they are. As Rodin states in his will ‘love great teachers passionately’”.