Stelios Ghikas

Interview: Avgi Kalogianni | Photos: Vaggelis Fragkakis

Τhe potter on the mountain

A graphic designer, a potter, and president of the Cultural Association of Archilochos on Paros. I interrogated Stelios Ghikas on his three commitments one morning of May, when I went uphill from Kostos to his observatory, following a sign that read: Yria Ceramics. I found myself in front of a minimal and elegant complex: the Shop, a pottery show and sales room, the enclosed Herbarium and the pottery studio. My attention was drawn to the red slide entitled “Indecision” and crafted by Dimitra Chanioti, which I had only seen in photographs, as well as Ingbert Brunk’s marble sculptures.

Ghikas, the graphic designer
I studied graphic design at Doxiadis School, where I also took up design, which I later pursued further on my own. I have pencil-drawn landscapes, churchlets and paths of Paros. I also studied freehand design at a ceramics school in Italy. Graphic design has helped me a lot in designing ceramics, translating designs into forms, and searching for themes. I first practised graphic design alongside my Doxiadis School teacher, engraver Takis Katsoulidis, at MIET (National Bank Educational Foundation). But then I felt that Athens did not do for me. I was born on Paros, in Parikia, where YRIA CERAMICS shop stands today.

Back in the army, I decided to veer off course prompted by one of my art-loving officers. With the help of Mytaras, whose friend, Panos Tsolakos, was a teacher at Faenza, I managed to get into the School, which was far from easy, where I studied ceramics design and technology. And then I came back to Paros.

Ghikas, the potter
I set up the pottery studio in Parikia in 1977 along with my wife, also a potter, who had studied in the U.S. It was initially located in a backstreet, then, seeking for more space, we moved to a neoclassical building, across the Aegean School of Fine Arts, but there was not enough room there either. We became a sort of wanderers and, finally, the locals’ reaction sent us heading for the mountain. In Greece, such pursuits and crafts used to be met with a different reaction from that they generally received abroad. Remarks of the kind “How will these guys be able to make a living?” were interesting to hear. Surely, in time, it became clear that what we were doing was viable and stimulating, and more so for the visitor, who manages to discover this place even up here on the mountain.
Also, as it turned out, despite our 40-year-long efforts, we weren’t able to develop into a staff-employing studio. Children are not into handcraft, which, of course, has to do with education.

In the ‘60s and ‘70s, we as children used to frequent craftsmen’s studios, saw-mills, marble yards, shoemaking shops and tailoring shops where we would run errands and pick up the craft. I haven’t been able to have youngsters learn the craft – they come, get paid and insured and, finally, they leave. They prefer to do delivery jobs or serve coffees. The choice of the location also indicates distanciation, although we, as a family, are always there in everything that happens on the island. One of my brothers, Yiannis, has set up the local library, the other one has established NOP (Paros Nautical Club). I also have to say that those who inspired us to set this space in motion are two great personalities, two charismatic figures who have now passed away: the potter Yiannis Kydonieas and his wife Virginia Foifa, an Athens School of Fine Arts graduate.

Yiannis Kydonieas was a friend of my father’s whom I’d always admired. Mr. Giannis with Mrs. Virginia were something of a myth to me… Rather forward-looking people for their time, constantly delving, on the part of Yiannis Kydonieas, into ceramics technology. It was quite touching how they would come to Parikia to visit us and we, in turn, would go to Lefkes to see them over a glass of ouzo or two. There was a level of communication then that is hard to find these days. They say that the older generations were reluctant to pass on the secrets of the trade. I don’t think this is true –there are simply no waiting ears to hear. These people were extremely open and very special. They also had to move about a lot and didn’t get to be accepted by the community here. We meant to hold an event for these people in Archilochos, but we couldn’t make it after all. Now I hope we’ll be able to organise it at Lefkes.

Where we stand, friends come over and have exhibitions. We also have a permanent exhibition of marble sculptures by Naxos-based sculptor Ingbert Brunk. At the Herbarium, we had aspired to dry Parian herbs, but it never operated because there were no people available to pick the herbs.

In my ceramic art, I’m interested in the functional part of the object. I make functional pots, not souvenirs. At a conference on Skiathos, the writer Elias Papadimitrakopoulos once mentioned dunkings, Papadiamantis’s dippings of bread into sauce. I, therefore, created this tilt-angled dish that allows the sauce to collect and you to eat as much of it as you want – it’s reversible; or this serving vessel for snails or shrimp with a lid for the shells. What strikes me is that in local gastronomy festivals people don’t use local pots like the ones made on Sifnos. Papadimitrakopoulos and his wife Niovi are extraordinary people. They came to Paros and dived head-first into creation.

Ghikas, the president of Archilochos
Archilochos mainly deliver events scheduled by the Municipality, since the latter does not have an events hall. The state has failed to provide for that. While an indoor gym is among the local government’s plans, possibly a second one too –though living in Greece is practically open-air, especially on the islands– a space of culture is not. Through a series of lectures entitled “to eu tou Χ,” we made an effort to bring forward people who engage in interesting activities –Giorgos Anoussakis, for example, who investigates the caves of Paros, or Yiannis Dendrinos, a painter-cum-construction worker who featured on an Athens Voice cover last year. Nowadays, those who survive are the mediocre, while those above average remain in the sidelines. There’s a need for information, for communication. We see people who use the association but are not interested in the association itself, in participating in it. People are well settled in their lives; they don’t need Archilochos to tell them what’s going on – they have the TV for that. We’re holding the movie screenings but they’re not too enthusiastically embraced by the local community. Teachers are more interested.

The Municipality covers the rental expenses of the premises where the association is housed. These 19th-century buildings ought to belong to the Municipality. The front structure used to be a discotheque called Splash, the other one serves as the headquarters of Archilochos, and the third used to house the electricity board offices. The latter was recently bought by a foreign entrepreneur who intends to purchase the Archilochos building as well. This is good, it gets us going, but we see that the interest is coming from abroad.

What Archilochos does could also be done outside its present premises – in a public place, on a hill, where events can be held, such as the Park of Ai Yiannis Detis that’s so interesting and convenient; it’s an example to follow. At the onset of Archilochos’s operation, the association didn’t have its own premises. I’d love to see a space like this set up outside the city, at a location untouched by either construction or traffic. The state cannot support such a project, while there has been a long line of local councillors responsible for culture who are unfamiliar with the task at hand.