George Kokines, Untitled (1967), pastel 22 3/4 x 34 3/4 (photo courtesy of the National Hellenic Museum).
Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts
Promoting a mission to collect, preserve and portray the legacy of Greek history and culture in America, the National Hellenic Museum has the largest collection of Greek American artifacts and recorded oral histories anywhere. Located 333 S. Halsted St., The National Hellenic Museum will introduce its newest exhibition — George Kokines: Layers Revealed on September 20, 2018. The first ever retrospective of the artist, George Kokines: Layers Revealed traces Kokines’ artistic development and accomplishments in Abstract Expressionism as well as his journey to embrace his Greek American identity.
Kokines’ art employed free-form organic and geometrical forms, abstract figures and intense spaces of color. He inserted humor, references to Greek mythology and his life experiences into his work. When working with nontraditional materials like wax, plaster and concrete, Kokines often carved through the layers he had built up on the surface. He was known to rework older pieces many times over. Palimpsest — something altered that bears visible traces of its previous form — was a concept that is apparent in much of Kokines’ work.
In 1993, Kokines traveled through Greece, making stops at his parents’ hometowns on a trip that allowed him to connect his history and artwork to ancient Greece. Later in his life, Kokines was deeply impacted when he witnessed the events of September 11, 2001 first hand, watching as the World Trade Center fell. The largest installation of his career, September 11, was created in remembrance of the day and will be exhibited. The installation includes the painting Agios Nikolaos, representing the small Greek Orthodox church that also stood at Ground Zero.
Kokines was born in 1930 in Chicago to Greek immigrant parents. He studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, earning a BFA in 1960. Early in his career he received critical acclaim and was a prominent figure in the Chicago art community. Once the subject of controversy, he said, “All contemporary painting should defy description.” In 1966, he moved to New York where he lived and worked for nearly 40 years. In 2005, he returned to Chicago and continued to paint until he passed away in 2012. Kokines’ work has been exhibited in galleries and museums nationally and internationally, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum, the Richard Gray Gallery, the Centro Cultural in Buenos Aires, Argentina and the Palazzo Massari in Ferrara, Italy.
The works in this exhibition exemplify Kokines’ improvisation and the textural and large-scale style of his work. Demonstrating his mastery of abstraction, this exhibition reveals the brilliance and skill of George Kokines. Related educational programming, docent-led tours and field trips for school children will be offered throughout the year.
For more information about George Kokines: Layers Revealed and other programs, membership, special events, facility rentals, or giving, visit www.nationalhellenicmuseum.org.