August 31, 2017 at 16:00 the Branch of the Hellenic Fpoundation for Culture will host the opening of exhibition Exhibition “110th Anniversary of Nikos Engonopoulos, 1907-1985”.
Nikos Engonopoulos was a renowned Greek poet and artist, one of the most prominent representatives of the Greek generation of the 1930s, and the leading figure in the Surrealist movement in Greece. Born in Athens on Jctober 21, 1907, he was the second children in the family of Panagiotis and Errietti. His father came from an old family of Phanariotes known since the late 18th century. After the burst of the WWI, he moved to Constantinople.
Starting from 1923, Nikos studied for four years in a lyceum in Paris, and upon his return to Greece, he went to serve in the army. Later, he worked as an interpreter in a bank, a secretary at a university, and a designer in a ministry. In 1932, he entered the Athens School of Fine Arts where he became a student of Konstantinos Parthenis. Simultaneously, he took classes at the workshop of the writer and artist Photis Kontoglou. He got acquainted with a great poet Andreas Embirikos, a great artist Giogio di Chirico and other artists such as Giannis Tsarouchis and Giannis Moralis.
In 1938, Engonopoulos for the first time exhibited his artistic works, tempera on paper showing old houses from Western Macedonia, and published his first collection of poetry “Do not distract the driver”. In his own words, “The first poet to influence me was Solomos… I was also much influenced by Baudelaire… I discovered for myself a great poet Hölderlin. To this list of my teachers, I shall also add the Turkish-Albanian Chatzi-Sechret. At a certain time, I was fascinated with the French Mallarmé, and I also learned much from Apollinaire, Lautréamont, Karyotakis, Kavafy, Embirikos“.
In November 1939, there opened the first personal exhibition of Engonopoulos’ artworks, and he also participated in an exhibition of Greek artists in New York.
Odysseas Elytis recollected that those years Nikos “was not easy-going in meeting new people, and in nine out of ten instances you were clear that he would drive you away. At the same time, he would do so with all his inherited kindness but much of sarcasm. He was a person in the state of constant poverty but with the dignity of a real prince. He immediately rejected the hypocrites as well as insults… No one was proficient in the French poetry better than him”.
In January 1941, Engonopoulos was mobilized to the Albanian front and sent to the “line of fire”. In April 1941, he wrote, “I was taken prisoner and together with my colleagues kept unlawfully by Germans in concentration “labor camps for prisoners”, I escaped, wondered around on my feet, walked across more than a half of Greece…”.
His most known piece, “Bolivar, a Greek Poem”, the poet wrote in 1942-1943 (in the period of German occupation) and published in 1944 in Athens. Translations of the poem were published in Paris in 1976 and in Venezuela in 1983. In this ode to the South American revolutionary Simon Bolivar, the poet used symbols, associations and allusions to tell history of the Greek people.
In the middle of 1944, he writes: “When the Germans showed much interest in what I was saying in the “Bolivar”, I had to hide myself…”.
From May 1945 till August 1973 he intermittently worked in various organizations including the National Technical University of Athens (Department of Design and Drawing), the Ministry of House Construction and Reconstruction (design of new buildings), and the Ministry of Public Works.
In 1976, he received a title of Professor Emeritus.
Nikos Engonopoulos was the first among Greek artists and poets to gain the fame as a surrealist. In his 1963 lecture at the National Technical University, he said: “I never joined surrealism. Surrealism grew inside of me, the same way as did my affection with painting from the very moment of my birth”.
The works of Nikos Engonopoulos as an artists have been recognized through his multiple personal exhibitions and his participation in many national and international exhibits including those in New York, Venice, Vancouver, and Ottawa. For his works, in May 1966 he was awarded with the Royal Order of George I.
In March 1983, the Greek National Gallery presented the retrospective exhibition his works composed of 105 paintings.
As a poet, Nikos Engonopoulos considered surrealism a legitimate desire. The main motif of his post-war pieces was his wandering with a purpose of freeing himself from both the external enemies and, as shown in the “Bolivar”, the internal fears – he strives to separate the hope and the passion by using, as the main motif, travelling, namely, the way in the mist and in the rain.
His literary pieces are written in a very simple (as the poet called it himself) language, which presents organic coexistence of the Katharevousa (Phanariote version) and the Dimotiki. Engonopoulos is the author of many published and re-published collections of poetry. In December 1971, he was awarded with the Order of the Phoenix, and twice, in 1958 and 1979, with the First State Prize of Greece in Poetry.
The generation of the 1930s, in which Nikos Engonopoulos belonged, introduced a n innovative approach that rendered the Greek poetry a more comprehensive character and brought into it a lyrical tonality, spiritual depth, and musicality.
In his career, Engonopoulos designated a special place for design of books and exhibitions, church painting, elaboration and design of costumes and decoration for theatrical performances including “Menaechmi” and “Truculentus ”by Plautus, “Ion” by Euripides, “Prometheus Bound” by Aeschylus, “The Threepenny Opera” by Bertolt Brecht, “Caesar and Cleopatra” by George Bernard Shaw, and “The Bourgeois Gentleman” by Molière.
Nikos Engonopoulos actively participated in national and international exhibitions of theatrical decorations and costumes and the exhibitions of architects.
In 1976, Stefanos Boulanikyan wrote: “Nikos Engonopoulos always works in his workshop and receives all his guests and admirers with sincere nobility and kindness… The mysterious surrealist, “the crafty man”, as he was frequently referred to, with a calm face full of sincerity and generosity. In Robert Lévesque’s words, Engonopoulos was the “truest angel of light”.
Nikos Engonopoulos was married twice, to Nelly Andrykopoulou (March 1950 – Summer 1954, son Panos born in 1951) and Eleni Tsiokou (from March 1960, daughter Errietti).
Nikos Engonopoulos died October 31, 1985 from cardiac arrest. He was buried at the First Athenian Cemetery for public funds.