Zafiris Gourgouliatos

FEATURE by Mavis Manus

Many people took the opportunity of viewing the Byzantine style icons of this fine artist when he opened his studio to the public recently. Gourgouliatos was born in Naoussa Imathias, the first child in a family of nine. He was educated in Patras and completed his graduate studies at Texas University in 1990 with a doctorate in the feld of laser applications in medicine.

Although he had always been interested in art, it was at this point he became seriously involved in painting, studying on his own, without any formal training. He turned to iconography in 1990 after years of painting conventional portraits because he felt the character of Greek men and women could not be presented accurately with a contemporary or photographic approach. "It is only the Byzantine style that can fully reach the depth of feelings of Greeks. This style is an integral part of our Greek civilization," he said.

His method was to show his work to various iconographers as well as monks at Mount Athos who pointed out to him the right path, and eventually, after much perseverance, he learned the same historic techniques and materials that were used more than five hundred years ago. Starting with the preparation of the board on which he lays the gold leaf, he mixes his colors using earth pigments and egg yolk as a medium, choosing combinations of colors similar to the golden period of iconography; finally he paints with a natural hair bristle brush.

But he does not see tradition as limiting. "Tradition is the framework for me to express ideas that come from the depths of my subconscious."

His range of paintings is by no means limited to icons, as the still lifes and Greek landscape which crowd the walls of his studio attest, but it is to the icons, especially the larger ones, that one is magnetically drawn, as he has imbued these with great depths of spirituality and beauty.

"We view Byzantine painting as a symbolic style, but history shows that it was regarded at the time as a realistic one and its purpose was realism. Today abstraction and confusion dominate in art, which does not mean that 20th century art is inferior. Styles express the feelings of the people of the periods. Seen with a wide focus, Byzantine art can convey powerful emotions. The element that transcends time is the power of expression and the ability to touch the heart of the people. From this viewpoint, Byzantine art has not lost anything with the passage of time. It is eternal and universal. The same applies to the art of ancient Greeks," Gourgouliatos said.

Ideas come bubbling out; some from external quotidian objects like plates, glasses, fruit; some from the vast inner landscapes of his mind and memory; some from the human form in all its variations. It's not unusual for him to work fourteen to sixteen hours a day until he has satisfactorily expressed his ideas and emotions in a painting. The magical light of Greece is always an inspiration to him; "No matter what else I'm doing, there is always a landscape of Greece in the studio that I am working on. But technique alone does not make art. When the paint is dry, a painting has expressed what the artist has to say either consciously or subconsciously. The development and expression of my feelings is my ultimate goal."

He sees his painting as a personal voyage. "I feel I've travelled from antiquity to the 19th century. Currently I am interested in the arts of the Far East and Africa and the manners of the 20th century so that I can interpret the rhythms of the new millenium," he concluded.

He divides his time between his profession of biomedical engineering and his passion for painting, with the latter just edging out science.

His icons can be seen at Saint Sophia Bookstore and The Greek Consulate at 12424 Wilshire Bl. Suite 800, Los Angeles, and his murals at the restaurants Foscari in Anaheim and Larcari's in Whittier. But for a serious viewing of his work phone him at (310) 575-0188 and make an appointment to visit his studio.