To Vima, Avgoustinos Zenakos, 05.16.2004

To Vima, Avgoustinos Zenakos, 05.16.2004

In the memory of George Zongolopoulos

''to exist…''

An unpublished conversation with the sculptor that passed away some days ago.


Almost every time that an important artist passes away it is written that ''all art people mourn for the loss''. It is common to say that this trite use of words make them lose their meanings. Therefore, in the case of the death of G. Zongolopoulos who was an incredible sculptor, painter and architect, I cannot find a proper way to express that loss. The artist lived a long life; he was born in 1903, according to dictionaries, and many people said that he was even older. The sorrow however concerns the fact that he is gone. We miss him.

Everyone who knew him argue that he was ''young in mind'. The same comment was made by one of his good friends Michalis Katzourakis: ''George at the age of 70 embarked on different approach to his previous work from what he did until then. Other people, at that age end their professional life while others start a new one.''

I must admit that for years I wished to find the opportunity to meet George Zongolopoulos. It wasn’t easy. His character, not wanting to give interviews and speak with journalists and his age, were the reasons why I gave up hope of meeting him. Finally, I went to his home, for the first last time, thanks to our common friend, Yiannis Delikostopoulos. I went with a strange feeling like I was going to a party uninvited because I did not even know if the artist had been told that I was a journalist.

Of course he knew. Entering his home in Psychiko, I wondered if there was anything that this man did not know. A brilliant person stood before me, with humor and self-sarcasm. I wanted to reassure him that the only thing I wanted was a conversation with him and not an interview; which was something that could be done in the future.

''In the future?'' he asked me smiling. I did not published our conversation then not because there was no reason-as the artist suggested- but because I felt it was something more personal. ''Look, I will give you material for the interview now. You can use whatever you need from our conversation whenever you think there is a reason. It is just that I think there is no reason now. Do you understand me? I have published everything. Everything I have done. All of my works. Whatever you see in here.''

Although I knew he was right, I told him that the reason might be his sculptures that are installed in the centre of Athens. ''But these have been presented too. Actually, when I completed that piece in Syntagma, the attacks began. People said that Zongolopoulos was paid 100 million. Ok…'' The press wrote that? ''No, no'' he answered. ''Some artists''. Internal fights, I told him. ''Whimpering'' Zongolopoulossaid. ''That whimpering was a common attitude in many artists. The thought however was simple, the people who asked me to undertake the work thought correctly. They asked from some people to make suggestions. And I admit that at my age I am entitled to give an artwork without contest.'' He looked at me. ''Consider that as an interview. Part of the material.'' I thanked him.

''So, at last the sculpture for Omonia was made. You know, it was the sculpture that I had presented in Venice, on the platform. For many years I had been going to Venice and presented one piece of my work. Now, of course, you will ask me why I am doing it? To feel that I exist. To exist…''

''If you have lived for 100 years, a moment comes when you think to yourself: Basta! (:Wait)''

 Apart from Omonia, I told him, there is also the sculpture near the National Airport. ''Yes, yes. In that case we made a sort of deal, a loan. But, if I die, they will keep the sculpture!'' and he laughed.

Then my friend, Giannis, asked him the question that I probably wouldn't have dared to: ''Are you afraid of death?''

''If I am afraid?'' said Zongolopoulos. ''If you have lived 100 years, a moment comes that you think to yourself: Basta (:Wait)! Your physical strength drops and, to tell you the truth, this scares me the most, not death ''.

However, the work doesn’t seem to stop. ''I must admit that I have great assistants.'' I decided to change the subject and I asked him why he doesn’t have a sculpting exhibition, for example at the National Gallery of Modern Art? ''I have been asked to by the Gallery'' he answered. ''And I wanted to do it. That young lady, Anna Kafetsis, is very active, she travels, she finds new ideas. But I will not conduct an exhibition if I don’t have the material. I don’t put on an exhibition if I am not ready''.

I have the feeling that George Zongolopoulos is always well-informed about what is going on in the arts field. ''I cannot attend two openings in one day. I cannot stand it. I try however to go at least to one when there is something that I want to see''. What is really special? ''My friend Michalis Katzourakis is a good sculptor. He is the person that you should interview''.

I told him that I had already interviewed Katzourakis, both for his exhibition at the Macedonian Museum of Modern Art and for his exhibition at the Factory of the Athens School of Fine Arts. ''Oh! You talked to him? Great. Also, Xenakis is one of the best artists. He is not better than me however. And from the younger generation, George Lappas is also very talented. George Gyparakis too. He is very young but very talented and he has a future. This kind of work needs lots of time. The cultivation of the eyes is a very long process. And a difficult one. I remember when I started understanding certain things. It was when I saw Picasso's 'Guernica' at the Spanish pavilion in 1937. Then I started to understand. You have to get into that world. Either you are not interested and you don’t get there at all, or gradually you understand what is going on. It is not about whether someone is a realist or an abstract artist or whatever else. And it is not age related. Yiannis Pappas for example altered his style when he was old.'' So did Zongolopoulos I said. ''Yes'' he answered.

At just then, I saw outside the window, on the grass, a huge turtle that was passing by. I sounded like a child when I enthusiastically said: ''A huge turtle!''. ''But of course'' Zongolopoulos replied. ''We have two of them here. They get laid all the time!''

We left from his house laughing and thinking that maybe we tired him. After the news of his death I often recall this conversation that we had. The last time I saw him was a couple of months ago at a friend's exhibition. We offered him a chair, he sat and watched. Beside him stood the painter Dimosthenis Kokkinidis. A female friend of mine escorted me to the event. A tall and beautiful lady. I came close to Zongolopoulos to greet him. ''You see master?'' Said Kokkinidis, showing the girl. ''You see?''.

''The only pleasures that are left to us at our age are the visual ones!..."