Design & Decoration S01 ep14: Stavros Michalarias, Michalarias Art, [Athens]
Interview with Stavros Michalarias
Most of the artists, they cannot control the talent they have. It is an explosion inside them. Because I know about talent, because I know about artists, I manage somehow, like a restoration, to handle these difficult things that they cannot handle. So I understand that little bit. Sometimes I am very hard with them, sometimes I am very short with them, sometimes I am like a dictator with them.
You know my story. I started as a restorer in Greece, I went to the Louvre, I
went to the National Gallery of London, I worked for important patrons in
London but in the past I had very good connections with Picasso, D’Elvo,
Margritte. I was advising Francis Bacon. Why? Because I was a technician
and artists always have problems with their art, and when they are
contemporary, they have more problems. So I advised them how to paint.
Contemporary artists they have something in their mind and they would, let us
say, want to use newspapers. Newspapers are not meant to last forever. A
restorer would advise them how to prepare them so they last longer. Picasso
for instance, had problems of cracking with his paintings, because he used a
lot of paste in the later ones. When you use a lot of paste and a lot of colours
it cracks, so you have to employ a special medium to do the work.
Now we are almost like an institution. I have a license to deal in antiquities and
icons, which is an official license here in Greece. In my gallery, you can find
things from the beginning of Greek time until today.
Greece is a love affair. Greeks are like me. They are made from old and new
materials. People visit because honestly I think that it is one of the "real"
places on earth now. Greeks have no reason to change and they change
gradually and slowly. We have the chromosomes of great people. Greece is
the motherland and you have to walk on the ground to get energy.
Greece exports art from the beginning of time. 2500 years ago they exported
letters, they exported music, they exported sculpture, they exported paintings
and all the rest of the world was buying this production of Greece.
Art is talent: talent is spirit. What do artists use? They use oxidized colours,
just powder colours, so this man has received the gift from God, whoever God
is for everybody, to be able to transform this simple, inexpensive material into
something moving, something acceptable by everybody, something that could
change the world. So the molecule of that is art. Art is very powerful. It is like
a volcano, and it will sit and sleep for a very long time but eventually it will
When I was young I studied in Belgium the analysis of pigments, to try to
discover fakes and how art can be created. Why should I sit in front of a
painting and I feel small, or a good example is when you listen to Luciano
Pavarotti or Maria Callas if you are an artist, first of all you feel angry. Why?
Because God is telling you, that you don’t have such a spectacular talent.
So you are a little bit like Sallieri. Sallieri thought he was the representative of
God at that particular time in music. Then eventually, one day, Mozart’s wife
brought him one of Mozart’s manuscripts and Sallieri questioned her: "What is
this? How many times has he written this?" She replied: "I am sorry he has not
rewritten this, this is just the first draft".
So Sallieri realized that God had cheated him and given the talent to Mozart.
Talent is something, it make any difference who has got it. Maybe he looks on
the outside ugly. Maybe he looks on the outside dirty. Maybe he is an
individual. Most talented people are not easily accepted by society but what
they have is God’s gift to transform things.
Art it is the only thing that would last, art is the only thing that civilized people,
cultures, countries, they will do after they have fed the hunger. After you have
fed the hunger for your body you have to do something for your soul. The only
close thing to the world we live in is art, and art is very powerful.
I’ve been trying all my life to understand. When I was younger, I had a
Swedish friend who was a specialist of electron microscopes. What I wanted to
do was to take a sample, like urine, or blood, from an artist put it under the
microscope, put it in the computer and the computer will tell me if this man has
got it or not.
It didn’t work.
If a blacksmith takes a piece of steel and is making a horseshoe, the steel is
changed. He has added something of his own self into it. This is material and
he gives it spirit.
So in other words, people don’t somehow understand that art is not a simple
People are simple. Countries are simple. Politicians are simple. All these are
simple, they are all predictable.
You know exactly what happens, you can analyze it and put it on computer.
Try to put in the computer the concept of art. Try to tell me who has got the
talent and why. Tell me why somebody can be so mean, like John Paul Getty.
I work for the greatest of people, Getty, Livarnos, Niarkos, many people. Why?
Because I was a restorer and they had things to restore.
But Getty he was very mean, when he died you know what he did? He gave
everything to art. Because he was feeling maybe sorry and he wanted to have
immortality and he did.
How did he achieve immortality? Because he had oil? Because he had
money? No. Because he created a museum. It is incredible, I mean art is
KM: What is the modern incarnation of what an icon was 2000 years ago?
Art is like a language.
Art is like a language – it is like letters. The Greek alphabet has 24 letters and
with these 24 letters you can do anything you want. You could write a bad
letter, you could write a good letter, you could write a love letter, you could
write a poem, you could write history, you could do philosophy, you could write
music you could do anything with letters. Art in fact it is that. It has not been
Henry Moore was the greatest of all sculptors in England. He had an exhibition
and in 1960 he pronounced:
"Greek art is dead. All this Greek art, Praxitellis and like are all dead. We have
new things now, now we are doing modern things. We don’t have to…. why
should we go back to these dead bodies".
In 1975 I met him because his wife is Russian and they have a couple of icons
in their house. I met his daughter who was pretty and she invited me to come
and meet her father. He was a big man Henry Moore, as big as Picasso when
Picasso was alive.
So I went there and I met this fantastic man who was a monument and we
became friends. And he said to me…. I have to tell you it was around the late
70’s and he said to me: "I have to tell you how sorry I am because of what I
said in 1960. I said that Greek art is dead. Now I realize, now I’m almost 80
years old I have achieved fame as an artist that I could never achieve this
In other words, when you look at Greek sculpture you have to look at a micro-
photography of it. If you are going to look at a great painting you have to look
at a micro-photography of it -a magnification of 1 millionth of the surface.
That is where the perfection is. Henry Moore realised that a lot of his
sculptures did not have this perfection.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Stavros Michalarias, Michalarias Art, Athens