Demetrios Papakostas: abstract geometry and a collaborative vision for Quebec artists
With a personal multidisciplinary painting practice spanning over 22 years, and a thriving gallery, Montreal native Demetrios Papakostas plays a unique hybrid role in his local art circuit. In an intimate conversation with LUXE, Papakostas describes the evolution of his work, and how his gallery is helping to strengthen Quebec’s contemporary art community.
An evolving passion for abstraction
Papakostas made the decision to become a full-time visual artist at the age of 40, following a career in graphic arts. His first painting teacher, prolific watercolourist Heather Midori Yamada, encouraged him to “just go for it!” Papakostas didn’t need more prompting, “I loved being creative; experimenting… I wanted to do it all the time.”
Early on, Papakostas was heavily influenced by abstract expressionists like Mark Rothko, Joan Mitchell and Willem de Kooning, incorporating the freer, more gestural lines of abstract expressionism in his own painting.
In 2014, Papakostas began learning the intricacies of hard-edge geometric abstraction. Of this period, he recalls, “My brain was opening up.” The style requires sharp lines to be rendered with the help of carefully placed tape to divide the surface into precise spatial planes. The work of Quebec hard-edge masters Guido Molinari, Yves Gaucher, Fernand Leduc and Claude Tousignant became a guiding light for Papakostas during this time, as did Barry Allikas, whom he credits for teaching him how to “get hard-edge right.”
Papakostas first explored the movement by painting representations of doorways and gateways evoking mystery, anticipation and the desire for new discoveries. “From there, I was trying to learn my craft really well and present different shapes in new ways. It’s an ongoing process—very technical, with a big learning curve.”
Today, Papakostas has turned his attention to monochromatic painting. His recent exhibition, Catch the Light, plays with reflections on the surface of opposing brushstrokes using very dark pigment. Viewers who take the time to approach these paintings are rewarded with surprising depth and variation. It is an antidote to the breakneck pace of life that has become commonplace. “We want instant gratification; we don’t stop to look. When we do, we explore other levels and dimensions. Minimalism is challenging, but it brings forward simplicity, movement, serenity… In a way, I am looking for my own peace and serenity, and doing it through art.”
Galerie Erga: at the locus of endless possibilities
Frustrated with the barriers to exhibiting in Quebec, Papakostas searched for a place to call his own. Somewhere that would allow him to produce and exhibit his artwork. He felt gallery representation was sorely lacking for Quebec artists, it was difficult to gain entry to established venues and the affordable rental galleries were run-down. In 2016, Papakostas fell in love with a storefront on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, just south of Little Italy, that would soon become Galerie Erga. The space had plenty of room for a private office and working studio, as well as a versatile gallery area with high ceilings and a full-wall window facade letting in plenty of sunlight.
Papakostas realized that Erga could be a catalyst for encouraging dialogue and collaboration in the contemporary art community. “There’s not enough connection between my fellow artists. We’re all in the same boat, but always isolated in our own worlds.” He began renting out the gallery to individuals and groups on a revolving basis and is always surprised and amazed by what each artist chooses to hang on the walls. “What’s more exciting than a gallery that changes every week?”
“Art is a really hard business to be in. Erga is a gallery where artists can put on their own show. It’s about giving freedom back to the artists and allowing them to go further.”
In the future, Papakostas hopes to transform the gallery into a collaborative hub for artists with programming that will include open discussion groups, critiques and meetups. “I envision a sort of art commune, where we can all come together.”
Art sur Papier: a new annual art happening
Papakostas is also bringing artists together and increasing public art programming in Montreal with a new annual tradition: Art sur Papier. The community initiative celebrates the beginning of summer in the form of a two-week exhibition at Erga, featuring the art of over 20 local artists working on paper.
The show is intended to celebrate artists and to introduce them to new audiences and clients. Painting, drawing, collage, printmaking and papier-mâché sculpture have all been featured at Art sur Papier, and all work is available for sale to the public.
Demetrios Papakostas is currently represented by Denison Gallery in Toronto, and Objets Trouvés Gallery in Oklahoma City.
Writer: Jennifer Laoun-Rubenstein
Cover: Demetrios Papakostas with his work, Sunshine, oil on canvas, 48 x 72 in © Demetrios Papakostas