Gourgouliatos was born in Naoussa Imathias, of the Macedonia province in
Greece. He was very young when
his family moved to Patras, the city where he grew up, first child in a family of nine.
His father was a
priest in the Greek Orthodox Church. Graduated
in 1983 from the Polytechnic School of Patras with a bachelor's degree in
Electrical Engineering. From 1984 to 1990 he was a graduate student at
the University of Texas in Austin, Texas and completed a Ph. D. program in
Biomedical Engineering. At that time he became seriously involved with painting. After the completion of his doctorate in the field of laser
applications in medicine, he returned to Greece where he lived for two years
and completed his military duties to the Greek army. Back
to the United States in 1992 in Los Angeles this time. He divides his
life between his profession as a biomedical engineer, tango, and his passion for
artistic pursuits include: exhibiting at art shows, wall murals and the
creation of Byzantine icons. He is currently
at work on a series of landscapes, tango scenes, and Byzantine paintings for future
||Five years old
in Patra, Greece
|In Austin, Texas,
||Carol, the girl who
showed me the first
steps into painting.
Austin, Texas, 1987
|Greek Army, 1991
||Los Angeles, 1993
Given to Yper Magazine
columnist Dr. Christos Emmanouilides in February 1997 for the Yper, a Greek
magazine in Los Angeles.
of English text: Valerie Varvandakis)
Zafiris, we know you for about three years, and we know you as a painter.
When did you start painting?
Painting has been my avocation since I was a graduate student at the
University of Texas at Austin. At
that time in my life, science and technology was not able to fulfill my
intellectual and spiritual needs. I
needed a refuge. In the
beginning, painting was a refuge to me, then a hobby and now it is almost a
full time preoccupation.
Painting art requires technical skills. How
did you acquire your technical skills?
At first I realized that I could not express my inner thoughts because of a
lack of technique. So I studied
it on my own. I did not get any
formal training. In the beginning
I started with sculpture. Then
realized that in order to create certain forms I had to be able to draw them
on paper, so I got heavily involved with drawing.
Drawing brought the need for color.
During my study I have copied hundreds of drawings of other artists and
have drawn numerous drawings and sketches as a part of my training.
Many of these become the first stages of my paintings.
My studies on color have paid off and now I master color techniques
that help me create some of my images effortlessly.
Did you use to paint before coming to the United States?
Now and then. When I open old
notebooks I find here and there some drawings.
I did not take it seriously at that time.
The environment where I grew up was a strict, middle class setting.
The idea that I might be involved with anything outside practical
science or outside something that would guarantee me a job in the public
sector was considered inappropriate. I
was a model child then and did not cultivate my artistic talents.
When I came to the United States I was able to find myself. It was around 1988 when I discovered that art was what I
really wanted to do.
But you had some artistic inclinations since your childhood.
Did you see something then or did you discover it at a later age?
I had some sensitivity to the arts in general.
I was following the artistic activities that were happening in the town
of Patras where I grew up. When I
visited other cities I never missed a visit to the antiquities, the museums
and the old churches. Some of
these churches are monuments of Byzantine art.
I observed the Greek art with fascination and amazement.
It never occurred to me that art would become a part of my life in the
years to come.
As far as I know you have a doctorate degree in the field of laser
applications in medicine and you have not abandoned this field yet, a field
that requires a lot of devotion. Where
do you find free time and what portion of it do you commit to painting?
There is no free time. I steal
from my sleep, do not have a television set or a video at home, and last year
I quit my job, to make more time for my art.
When I paint, I become very involved.
There are breaks now and then, but when I work I paint fourteen to
sixteen continuous hours a day.
You mean that you enter a creative frenzy and work non stop?
There are some breaks when I get tired but I usually work until I exhaust
What motivates you to work at such a painfully pace?
When I paint, I loose all sense of time.
I do not quite understand how it happens. The effort drains strength from an internal drive to express
myself. I have to admit that many
of my themes come from ideas that were developed three to five years ago.
It is only now that I find the time to express these ideas. My current
ideas may not materialize for many years.
How do you choose your themes?
Wherever I turn my eyes I imprint images.
During the last few months I have painted many Greek landscapes.
There are many memories from Greece accompanied by a plethora of
drawings, sketches and photographs, some mine, some collected from here and
there. All of these contribute to
my paintings. There are also the
everyday objects: plates, glasses and cups, fruits, flowers and trash,
candles, chandeliers and knick knacks; all become my models.
To these we should add the human form with its infinite variations.
Anything around me trigger ideas for my paintings.
In California we have the blessing of this exquisite light, a light
that is very similar to the Greek light.
I hope that in the near future I find the time to paint California
Tell us a little bit about the Greek landscapes you have painted lately.
I have seen some very beautiful paintings of Cycladic islands and
churches. What are these to you?
To me these are my homeland and a part of my life. The summers I spent in the Aegean have left deep imprints in
me. My paintings are a way to
carry the Aegean with me and to show people the legacy and beauty of Greece.
The light in Greece is breathtaking.
This light is my motivation. There
is always some painting of a Greek landscape in my studio that I am working
Do you think that your painting would be different if you were not a Greek?
Definitely. But I have no way of
You have also done set designs. Tells
us about your theater experience?
The theater gave me the opportunity to paint on a large scale and taught me to
paint quickly. Through the
theater I have met many very interesting people and have made many friends.
Tell us about your Byzantine themes. I
have seen many of your icons and they inspire deep spirituality.
How did you learn to paint in this style? Which rules do you follow?
Which techniques do you use? Byzantine
painting seems so distant from Western painting.
I turned to iconography after I had painted many portraits in 1990.
I found that the character of the face of the Greek men and women can
not be presented accurately when it is painted with a realistic or
photographic approach. It is only
the Byzantine style that can fully paint the depth of the feelings of Greeks.
This style is an integral part of our Greek civilization.
My studies of Byzantine paintings helped me realize that the Byzantine
style is the direct evolution of ancient Greek painting without any historical
gaps. This discovery motivated me
to study the Byzantine style with vigor.
I got assistance from iconographers, mainly from a student and
collaborator of Fotis Kontoglou (Rallis Kopsides) and from some monks at Mount
Athos and learned quickly. I made
some icons and showed them to these people.
They showed me what was right and what was not.
After repeating this a few times, I picked up the technique.
My facility with the Western painting helped a lot.
I mastered the Byzantine techniques quickly and easily.
Of course, there is always room for improvement.
Letís note that technique alone does not create icons that reflect
spirituality. The expression
emanates from the heart of the iconographer.
Regarding the technical aspects of Byzantine paintings, I am using the
same techniques and materials that were used five hundred or a thousand years
ago. I start with the preparation
of the board, lay the gold leaf, mix my colors using earth pigments (the same
ones that have been used for centuries), use egg yolk for a medium, and
finally use natural hair bristle brushes.
I paint the faces with combinations of colors that are similar to the
manners of the golden period of iconography.
This is like Cretan school of the middle ages before it was influenced
by the Venetian and Renaissance painting.
In a few words, you are faithful to traditional ways.
Of course. I do not see tradition
as something limiting. Tradition
is what gives me the vehicle to continue what was developed by my
predecessors. I add my own style, without changing the character.
Tradition helps me follow a certain path and give expression to ideas
that come from the depths of the subconscious.
I get a great joy when I see that this effort is giving results.
I can verify this myself without any doubts.
I would like to point out that some of your best paintings, regardless
of theme, are your icons. Do you
see our Byzantine paintings able to stand independently in the universe of the
academic and Western art. How
would you judge it comparing it with other styles of painting?
There is evolution in painting and like everything else, painting has periods
of rise and periods of decline. Byzantine
painting is the evolution of the Hellenistic painting with elements of
Eastern, Greco-Christian, and Western civilization.
Today we view Byzantine painting as a very symbolic style.
It may seem strange to us when history shows that the Byzantine style
was seen as a realistic one and its purpose was realism.
and Byzantine painting were at the same stage of development prior to the
Renaissance. European painting
developed through an evolution beginning with the Renaissance.
This evolution continued through styles such as mannerism, baroque, and
all other styles that have names ending in -ism (i.e. impressionism,
expressionism, cubism, etc.). Today abstraction and confusion dominate.
That does not mean that 20th centuryís art is inferior.
These styles expressed the feelings of peoples of these periods.
art did not go through such an evolution.
Considering the evolution in the art, Byzantine style belongs to the
past. Seen with a wide focus,
Byzantine art can convey powerful emotions.
All the contemporaries agree that the element that transcends time is
the power of expression and the way that it touches the hearts 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.
What do your paintings offer to the Greek immigrant and to the
On the surface the needs of these two groups seem very diverse.
In essence their needs are very similar.
Painting expresses feelings. The
same applies to other forms of art, to our everyday behavior, even to cooking.
Painting is a form of communication.
In my case, this communication is mainly expressed by images.
The Greeks will recognize my Greek elements immediately.
At the same time we are members of a larger community.
This duality helps me create messages for all peoples, regardless of
their race or nationality. Sometimes these messages move the Greeks a little more.
They are strong enough, though, to move others.
What does one need to do in order to see your paintings?
If someone wants to study or buy one, what must he or she do?
An exhibition of my works on Greek themes is currently taking place at the
Greek Consulate in Los Angeles and is going to last for a few months.
The paintings are going to be interchanged periodically and new works
will be added on a regular basis. The
offices of the Consulate are open to the public during business hours.
There are many works in my studio and anyone is invited to visit after
an informal arrangement. There
are also some paintings in public places such as restaurants and churches.
The number of these places is increasing continuously.
of my works in private collections have been documented and some are stored in
a digital format. My archives are
open to anyone who is interested. Many
of my works can be accessed in their digital format through the internet.
In the future there may be some retrospective shows of works that are
privately held, but their availability can not be guaranteed.
When a painting is sold, I lose control over it.
My new paintings, when they are not commissioned, are generally
available for sale. I usually
have a hard time parting with some of my older works that still belong to me.
How do you see your painting in the future?
This is hard to define. Until now the style of my paintings has been realism.
I do not see myself departing from this style soon.
The last few months, I have painted images that were created in my mind
three or four years ago. Many of
my latest ideas are still subconscious and not fully developed.
It will take some time before they can be expressed.
I see my studies as a personal voyage.
Until now I have focused on European painting from the antiquity to the
nineteenth century. Currently I
am interested in studying the arts of the Far East and Africa and the manners
of the twentieth century. This
will help me interpret the rhythms of the new millennium.
Do you see that you will reach some maturity in your work?
My character is such that I do not rest on previous accomplishments but search
for constant renewal. As I evolve
in art, I will probably not be conscious of it myself. Time will tell. I
would like to see a greater richness of expression and symbolism in my
paintings. Observing my work in
chronological order, I see it becoming more complex and the painterly
expression more facile.
If we take into account that I started painting about ten years ago, I
should be in my artistic childhood. However,
what matters to me is progress. Today
I can express a broad range of feelings in a wide variety of mediums. The technical aspects of art are no longer an impediment.
Technique alone does not make art.
When the dust settles, a work of art expresses what the artist has
inside him either consciously or subconsciously.
The development and expression of my feelings is my ultimate goal.
What would you like to expect from the public that sees your paintings?
I hope that my art gives them something meaningful. I would also like to awaken their artistic spirits and
motivate them to express themselves in art, regardless of their age or
Thank you for taking the time to speak with Yper Magazine. We wish you many successes.
The life of an artist in
pictures (coming soon).