THE OLIVE TREES OF DIMITRA GOUNARI

- Louisa Karapidaki

Louisa Karapidaki, Art Historian of the Hellenic Folklore Research Center, of the Academy of Athens

Dimitra Gounari had been dealing for a while with anthropocentric themes in her work, before she decided to embark on a different formal search, which led her finally to concentrate on the engraved form of the olive tree. This perennial tree, which carries multiple symbolisms and has unique morphological features, has been a permanent reference point and an inexhaustible source of artistic inspiration – for visual artists, poets and writers alike- from the prehistoric times until our days, because, as the poet Stratis Myrivilis wrote: “the olive is a tree that never fails to arouse aesthetically and spiritually, particularly when one is in the midst of an olive grove… their trunks are contorted from their agony; twisted, they kneel in prayer, they raise their limbs, like arms stretched forcefully, elbows, knees and all..”

For this project the artist primarily conducted a lengthy and arduous in situ research, in order to locate the perfect tree ‘models’, then drew those trees on site in great detail and also had them photographed to ensure that every bump and crevice was properly recorded. She then sought the right type of wood to create the woodblocks and the special, handcrafted paper for her prints, took great care in the preparation of her surfaces and made several test prints in order to achieve the desired outcome, and also to make sure that the woodblocks remain clean, as she herself states.

Her creative process begun in the stillness of nature, in remote, serene or barren landscapes, where she drew several sketches, documenting and recording every olive tree under the light of the morning sun. These drawings are the product of careful observation, personal experience and artistic inspiration, where creative imagination plays an important role, but nevertheless succumbs before nature’s truth: “the soul aids the landscape and the landscape aids the soul” as painter Stelios Miladis describes. The olive trees were then captured by the lens of Vassilis Souvatzoglou, an aesthete photographer and the artist’s avid supporter, who managed to accurately render not only the subject’s natural form, but also its internal power. Thus D. Gounari carried with her in her workshop comprehensive images of her subjects, down to the very “flaking chips of the bark”. As if committed to a personal bet, she worked dutifully for over 12 years on this concept -in nature during the summer and in the workshop during the winter- she experimented with different types of wood, engraving techniques and preparation methods and, having reached her desired outcome, she is finally ready to present her series of works titled “the ashen-green olive’s fragrant fruit”.

The exhibition includes a series of prints on extremely thin, specially handcrafted, rare sheets of paper from China, Nepal, Japan, etc. The subject matter is rendered with great success on the prints: on the reverse image of the engraving the malformations and all the natural wear and tear on the trunk of the olive tree have been accurately reproduced from the original drawing by D. Gounari, with great detail and plasticity. The tonal gradations on the monochromatic surfaces and the play of lights and shadows offer a three dimensional quality to the tree trunk, outlining every crevice and every bump as well as the hanging leaves and delicate twigs, thereby confirming the artist’s competence and expressive ability. Her prints dramatically capture the effect of the passage of time on the aging trees, but also their ability to regenerate as seen in the fresh leaves sprouting form their trunks. The poetic atmosphere of her works is an added compensation for the artist’s numerous and time consuming, and unfortunately not always successful printing attempts. Today, as a great aficionada and expert craftsman with her resourcefulness she has perfected her technique, both in large and small scale works, and has achieved excellent results with her unique woodcuts.

Along with her prints in the exhibition D. Gounari has chosen to exhibit the actual woodblocks she used, as separate works of art. She presents the carved surfaces as independent examples of the craft of woodcutting, in an attempt to bestow honor to the craft itself and illustrate the importance of the engraving itself alongside with that of the printed work.

D. Gounari studied in depth the art of woodcut, learned the secrets of the wood from expert craftsmen, tried different types of wood, and after she the wood “breathe”, she started to carve deep and thinner lines with freshly sharpened gouges and cutting tools, all the while keeping in mind that each carving is irreversible. She worked every area with great care until the final image was completed, she created her compositions with careful consideration for the quirks of the wooden surface, combining her knowledge with her fastidiousness and her artistic flair. The exhibition of her prints allows the viewer to enjoy the texture, the smell, the formal qualities and the splendor of the wood. The engraved surfaces, which will probably never be used to print, demonstrate their own artistic strength with their power and aesthetic quality, simply through their naturally irregular surface and the artist’s dynamic intervention. This is essentially the definition of the art of the woodcut, the flawless carving of the woodblock, which is the negative for the actual print. For it is at this point that the artist has full control over his material and is totally responsible for the outcome of his work, and no other factors (such as color, pigments) interfere, but for his own skill and personal inspiration.

D. Gounari was fascinated by the formal characteristics of the olive tree and created exceptional works, with great sensitivity and devotion, products of hard spiritual and manual labor, thus combining masterfully art and craftsmanship. Her carved surfaces and prints are very realistic, display outstanding designs, emit spirituality and speak of a special truth, the truth of nature.

Louisa Karapidaki, Art Historian
of the Hellenic Folkore Research Center,
of the Academy of Athens

Dimitra Gounari

Painter - Engraver

Graduated on painting and engraving at the Athens School of Fine Arts - at the Abbaye de la Cambre, Brussels - Engraving diploma at the Athens School of Fine Arts.

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