Château Royal de Collioure
21 avril-11 juin 2023
Opening hours: 10am-6Pm every day
This exhibition is a retrospective of the work produced by Tina Kambani, a Greek artist (born 1962 in Athens), from 1985 to 2023. The exhibition progresses fluidly through a series of rooms, retracing the various periods the artist has gone through, as well as her themes and major influences. The first room contains three paintings, selected by the artist to illustrate major trends in her work as a whole.
Her "Lonely Rider" (1985) draws on memories of films and western novels from her teenage years, as she traces her personal journey studying art at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts de Paris (1980-1985). The drawing is mocking, childish, full of bright colours, and flirts with the thin line between abstraction and figuration. In her first artistic forays one can detect the influence of the artistic movement known as “Cobra”, one of whose leading figures is Pierre Alechinsky, who was her teacher at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and who taught her the technique that she uses, which consists of acrylic paint on paper with a canvas backing. Kraft paper, a relatively cheap paper that she can buy anywhere, that she can cut in any way she likes according to what inspires her in the moment, that she can put on the ground and turn around to work on, is an easy-to-handle material that gives a flowing quality to her colours, freedom to her movements and strokes, while ensuring a straightforward mounting process. All this very much appeals to Kambani, who opts for the use of acrylic paint at the same time: acrylic paint dries quickly since it is mostly composed of water. This was the only way she painted until 2016.
In "Navigating with No Compass", a large, bright, flamboyant painting (220 x 170 cm), the viewer can see her first small boat, drifting without a captain towards a turbulent horizon after a storm. Her bold strokes gesture towards impressionism. Kambani’s childhood is steeped in the Mediterranean sea, as she travelled on her father’s boat and sailed along the islands dotting the Aegean Sea, fishing with rods and making her body weightless by diving into the blue. All this against a backdrop of deep blue skies ablaze with the hue of the setting sun: the clear light blue of the horizon morphs into orange, vermillion red, crimson and, ultimately, ultramarine violet, forming the artist’s own personal rainbow that will recur throughout her work.
The third painting in the first room is ambiguously titled "No Innocence" (2001, 182 x 141cm): it presents a young boy surrounded by hungry snakes, illustrating the fragility of children, boys and girls alike, potential victims to prowling predators. This painting and many others result from the distressing mark left by images of children who fell victim to sexual assaults (with numerous cases making the headlines at the time) or to the fratricidal war of 1991-2001 that led to the break-up of Yugoslavia, the proud neighbour of Greece, which the artist witnessed.
As the visitor moves through the rooms of the Château, colours coalesce seamlessly before one’s eyes, with brushstrokes appearing with varying degrees of roughness, themes that range from the public to the highly personal, and paintings that vary on the scale of figurativeness. Between 2004 and 2008, Kambani answers to the call of the sea and follows her partner, chief mechanic in the merchant navy, and together they sail across the oceans. She uses the opportunity to collect outdated sailing maps that she transforms into paintings. Since then, her works have remained anchored in motifs of ships ans harbours.
Yet, on 14 August 2015, she leaves / sets sail from a sinking Greece in order to seek refuge in Catalan territory, in the wake of Signac – a kind of reverse odyssey that leads her to her very own artistic Ithaca, beneath the golden-red light that also welcomed Picasso, Matisse, Derain, Marquet… And there, Kambani immerses herself in the study of the use of colours by the old masters: Delacroix, whose "Christ with a Column" she represents in her own way; Bonnard, with a gentleness of character to match that of his brushstrokes; Signac, who produced watercolour paintings of all the major ports and harbours in France. Her gestures become smoother, her colours imbued with the land and landscape of the Pyrénées Orientales, and henceforth she paints only on canvas.
At long last, the compass has been found!