Melas Karagiannis is a Greek painter in Larissa, a city in central Greece. He recently produced some paintings for the radiology clinic at the Larissa University Hospital.  “I’m actually working there as a cook, because as a painter you can’t survive. Don’t try this at home,” he jokes.

Art can have specific purposes, and this is certainly the case in a hospital. As an artist, Melas says, “If you want to do something, I mean artistically, in a hospital, you should really think, ‘In that place there are people who are not well.’ It’s not a gallery, so you can’t put whatever you want, or whatever you like. There are people who are sick, are ill, and they want to get better, so you should really take care. Be careful of what you are going to produce.”

Cancer patients, their families, hospital staff and visitors all have access to the corridor lined with Melas’s paintings.

“You should talk to the people who are working in the hospital,” he advises. “You should get their advice so they can help you have a better result. That’s all.”

While working at the hospital, Melas wanted to do something for the clinic’s patients. The psychiatrist and psychologist working in the hospital clinic advised that the paintings include cool colors, like blue and green, and remain abstract – that is, without representations of people, animals or other objects. “It cools them down; they relax while they walk. They don’t just see a naked wall, they see something, but it’s nothing in particular. It’s great. The reactions are good. And I’m happy for that.”

Melas is a painter. He has several influences: “Salvador Dali, and also pop art, this kind of mixture…colors, strong colors. I’m trying to provoke in a way, the people around me, to show them something that will wake them up from their routine reality.”

He says that most people either like his work or hate it – which indicates that his work has an effect on people. “These are the reactions which I like – either love it or hate it – because it is very important. The people that are neutral…it means [the piece] didn’t touch them.”

“I’m working on several paintings now, because I can’t work on one. I’m just mixing colors and seeing the result, that’s all. If I don’t like it, I just put some more color on it until I like it, and it stays.  That’s the way it works.”

As an artist in Larissa, he is not alone. There are many creative people in Larissa, professional and amateur, producing art. They paint, sculpt and write.

“Sometimes I think that this city can’t really see what is going on, and it is unable to give all the artists a chance to show their work.”

According to Melas, the state should play a role in helping artists create and display their art. “This is the only way. Nobody else will [do this]. And the artists, by themselves, it’s not a matter of courage, it’s a matter of money, strictly. They can’t afford to pay to have shows.”

He acknowledges that the Greek state will not likely take on this role anytime soon given the economic crisis.

Yet art has an important role to play during this crisis. “To provoke. To wake up. There’s no other role now, it’s the times. Art now should wake up the people, should make them think ‘why’ when Greece is like this: why is the situation is like this, why are we like this. And to show them, every day art should be like a mirror. Around the misery which we are living. Nothing else. There’s no time for beautiful paintings, or flowers somewhere and sunsets. To provoke, nothing else. To wake them up. We ended up like this because we were sleeping. And it’s time to wake up.

When asked if he has any message for aspiring or working young artists in Greece, he says he cannot understand young artists in Greece.

“I understand that it is very difficult to live, just to survive, from art.  It is very easy to say, ‘I have to do what the people want me to do or paint, just to pay my rent.’

But the only message I can give them is: don’t give up. Do what you want to do. This is the only thing that is going to change the world. If you give up, nothing is going to change. It is going to stay the way it is. And you see the results; they are obvious. So don’t give up. And if the younger generations don’t give up, maybe a better future will come. If they give up, then for sure it’s going to be the same.”

Sounds like a message for more than just young artists. We’ll take it.

View some of Melas Karagiannis’s work on his website: http://www.melas-karagiannis.eu/

This is the first in a series of interviews from Larissa. Read the introduction here and stay tuned for the rest!

This article originally appeared on New Diaspora. New Dialogue. on May 9, 2012.

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