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Restoration is My Sense of Saving Things

13 July 2010 / 10:07:00  GRReporter
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Ilias Papageorgiou, artist-restorer of antiques and artwork, was interviewed by Anastasia Balezdrova

- When did you start painting?
- I believed that I have talent in painting when I was at high school. And the teachers told me: “you have to become an artist, to study at the Art Academy.” And I believed that I was a “great” artist. I painted all the walls of the class room. But as I grew up in a small village in the Fthiotida district, I had never seen a real painting. All paintings I had seen were from newspapers and magazines, so they were very small in sizes. When I finished high school I had to choose a profession and I really thought I should study at the Art Academy. At the same time I had the chance to travel across Europe. I had the Interrail railways card and trips didn’t cost a lot. So I had the opportunity to visit and see many museums. And when I went and stood in front of these huge paintings that I had seen only in the size of a postal stamp, I told myself: “What can I paint?” I thought that others had achieved everything in art long ago and that if I ever do something, it will be very mediocre.

- How did you decide to deal with restoration of artwork?

- My uncle is an artist and then taught art in Madrid. We talked and I had even decided to stay in Spain to specialize. He was the first person who told me about the restoration of artworks. He proposed me to deal with this and this idea excited me. The chance to have in my hands the artworks that I admired without being able to get close to and to touch them for a few days inspired me. And my quest in restoration began.

- You have studied abroad. When did you return to Greece and how did you start your professional career here?

- I did not know nobody and nobody knew me when I returned to Greece. I met some priests who helped me in the beginning as I asked some work. So I found the icons, because I had previously worked only with paintings. I went to Italy with the Erasmus exchange of students program and in Venice we restored ancient ceilings of houses. Otherwise, I worked only with paintings.
- What was your first job with the icons?

- My first job - and I want to stress on it - was commissioned in 1995 by the Metropolitan of Veria, who invited me there to renovate several icons. Besides, I had no job since I returned from Switzerland in 1992. The Metropolitan wanted to restore the icons, which he intended to exhibit in a small museum. He trusted me and it was a tremendous opportunity, because I worked with many old and valuable icons – there are precious things in Veria. So, I gained experience with icons. Distinction with paintings, of course, is insignificant. I perceived  icons as objects of worship and I had never thought that they could be damaged because I believed that God protects them. I believed that we should not touch them, and that the more dark is an icon, the more valuable it is. Before I got involved into restoration I could not imagine that there are bright colors behind this dark layer and that icons need restoration. I started to be interested in Byzantine art, which I previously did not know in depth and 90% of my work was related to icons. You have to know how to restore them, to know the history of icons art. It may seem like something different, but it’s not. I'll tell you a very typical example.  Someone restored the icon of Pentecost. It represents the appearance of to the Apostles. In Byzantine icons the Holy Spirit is depicted as one red drop over their heads. The restorer has thought that the drop had fallen accidentally and removed it. Thus he seriously damaged the icon because he was not aware that this is the Holy Spirit’s depiction.

- How old is the oldest icon you restored?

- It was an icon of St. Demetrius  - it was 1400 years old. A very valuable icon, part of my first work with icons.

- What is the artwork that you restored the hardest?  

- An iconostasis in the Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of Our Lord on the island of Skopelos. The iconostasis was made in 1750. They decided to put a new floor 80-90 years ago, because the old was made of small coastal stones and was worn-out. They covered the old floor with soil, put tile on top and the iconostasis sunk about 20 cm in the floor. As a result, moisture and fungus destroyed its foundations and the entire bottom. The iconostasis, which in fact hung in the air, by sheer luck, did not collapse on people who visited the temple. The scale of the damage became clear in the preparation of the recovery plan. The iconostasis was 3 m high and 6 m wide. We lifted it with the help of pipes and thus managed to strengthen the foundation and restore its damaged bottom. The old floor of small pebbles was then rebuilt. The iconostasis is a very valuable, its carvings were very skillfully made. I am particularly proud of this significant work. But I do not know whether I would try to do something similar again. I arranged and a small museum at the St. Cosmas and Damian chapel on the island of Amorgos and the result was very good.

Tags: Icon restorationArtsInterview
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