Faithful to the same art that has been practiced in this very area of the Aegean Sea since the pre-Cycladic civilizations, thousands of years ago, Santorini sculptor Gregory Kouskouris has made a name for himself because of his exquisite marble creations.
However, he is just as eager to introduce the island’s international visitors to the world of sculpture as well.
With his family history dating back to three generations of marble sculptors, Kouskouris admits that this acknowledgement was enough to make him perceive from a young age what he would like to be when he grew up.
“Marble has dynamism, sensitivity, endurance, and plasticity, plus many more qualities, such as color, light, transparency and contradiction. In the sense of how a piece of hard material can obtain such movement, through the hands of a sculptor, that it makes you wonder,” he explains to Greek Reporter.
“In the end, that attractive piece becomes a work of love, and that’s how it all began for me,” the Santorini sculptor notes.
Learning sculpture on idyllic Santorini
Born on the island of Tinos, 160 km (99 miles) north of Santorini, Kouskouris settled into his new home as a child, when his parents chose to set up their own sculpture workshop on the world-famous volcanic island.
After he developed as an artist, he successfully took over the workshop and then took the initiative of launching sculpture courses for visitors in 2014.
“The idea stemmed from customers who had wanted to feel the magic of the art, the contact with the tools and the individual effort to understand the material and the way in which it can be worked,” Kouskouris says.
“We invest in forming strong bonds with our visitors and they may come to the workshop for as many days as they want — or, better put, for as many days as they can endure, because it’s somewhat strenuous working the marble,” the Santorini sculptor points out.
His motive for teaching sculpture to the visitors of the island, whether they are from Greece or elsewhere, is the exchange of ideas, the transmission of knowledge, and the sharing of insightful moments in the process.
“Four, five or even 10 hours of courses won’t mean anything if the visitor doesn’t feel comfortable and welcome. Only then are they going to let themselves free and be able to feel their material,” he acknowledges.
Santorini sculptor offers classes at Spira Marble Art Work
Dozens of visitors have taken courses at Spira Marble Art Work, and Kouskouris is proud to say that he keeps in touch with most of them. He recalls a lot of stories about his sculpture students, but one particular Greek-American woman definitely stands out from the rest.
“Daphne Valentina first came here to shoot some footage about my work. She ended up staying three months and creating a small series of wonderful little sculptures. The following summer she came back and stayed even longer. We became very good friends and I am expecting her to turn up again this year to create a new series.”
Since most visitors only spend a few days on Santorini, they usually have very little time for anything other than sightseeing.
“Nonetheless, it’s really worth dedicating a few hours of your holidays to sculpture, if interested in the subject, to feel the sense of contact when holding the tools and to hear the sound which is made when carving the marble,” Kouskouris explains.
“For some, it’s an experience of a lifetime; for others, simply a pleasant moment. Everybody, though, is impressed by the marble and how such hard material can acquire movement and plasticity.”
The role of sculpture in the modern world
Contrary to common belief, Kouskouris doesn’t see sculpture as art for the elite.
“Sculpture has been, and will be, for everyone; we just address the elite that can afford the fruit of our labours. This is not necessarily bad, but really, most inspiration in art comes from everyday people, not from the elite”, he opines.
As he has always enjoyed talking with people, he has seen both the very wealthy as well as many more ordinary people pass through the door of his workshop.
“All of them have bought art made by my hands, because, at the end of the day, it is about being able to offer to everybody. Art is joy, and even a sad-looking piece of work can make one lucky buyer very happy,” he believes.
According to Kouskouris, the timeless significance of sculpture, and of the arts in general, in our lives, is testified by the great attention that iconic works, from across human history and throughout the world, still garner today.
“Through the art of sculpture, we see our evolution, the innovations of the past; the revolutions of artists by dint of their works.
“Today, while robotics have started to replace the human being, it would be good to add more sculpture and classical arts in our lives. In that way, they will play an even more important role for each of us.”
Kouskouris tries not to bond with his works, staying a bit apart from them emotionally so that visitors can develop that relationship with them. The initial idea is of utmost importance to him, and for each idea, he singles out a particular type of marble right from the beginning.
“I am very fond of the white marble of Tinos, but it’s not suitable for all my sculptures. It’s very special though,” he notes.
His influences come from people in his everyday life, from events that he experiences — including the neighborhood where he grew up, on his journeys, and during his studies.
“The images that I saw and my internal fears helped me to come up with some of my best known sculptures.
“I did and still do admire the Cycladic civilization, which I find a form of breakthrough, of course. However, it did not influence me totally in my way of thinking; maybe it did in my technique for creating with marble,” the artist reflects.
More recently, Kouskouris declares that he has developed an obsession with adding to the imaginative dimension of haute cuisine by creating artistic marble plates for special dishes at renowned restaurants on Santorini.
“I have a discussion with the chef and, depending on the dish, we design the respective marble plate in a manner to make it become part of a ‘painting’ consisting of food and marble”, he recounts.
In the meantime, Kouskouris is preparing for an exhibition in which he will present the fifth generation of Kouskouris sculptors to the world; his daughter Chloe, who has just turned eight years of age.
The sculptures of both father and daughter will be exhibited on Santorini in August of 2022.