Hydra 1936-1986

by Els Hanappe, January 2018

Hydra 1936. Crumbling stone mansions testify to the glorious seafaring past of this long, bare and rocky island, close to Athens and across from the mainland of the Peloponnese. Less popular than its Saronic sister islands, Aegina, Poros and Spetses, its dwindling population struggles to make ends meet and its men travel to the coasts of North-Africa to scrape a living by diving for sponges. The main town of the island, eponymously called Hydra or Hydra town, is interspersed by open spaces, gardens and ruins between the traditional white houses. In the picturesque bay-shaped harbor a few fishing boats are moored and donkeys, the only means of transport over land, bray out over the sea toward the horizon. Natural sources are sparse as is produce from the land: olives, honey, resin, eggs. [1] Water supply is limited. Evenings are spent dancing and drinking at the few local tavernas where wine flows from the goatskins and barrels. Returning sponge divers and local fishermen are joined by the cadets from the National Merchant Marine Academy that started operating in 1749. Life is simple, uncomplicated, poor and quiet, with few people living side by side with nature. Greek painter Michalis Economou painted some of the most iconic images of the island that attest to this period during the early 20th century. [2]

That same year, artist Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas arrives on Hydra, full of childhood memories of summers spent at his maternal home in the small neighboring fishing village of Kamini. Captivated by the familiar sounds and smells, by a world of senses, he decides to restore the large mansion, the former seat of the shipping family to whom he belongs and whose days go back to the early 16th century, when many of the orthodox Albanians fled conflict and Ottoman rule to descend via Epirus, the Peloponnese and Athens, to Hydra, where they settle high up on the hill protected from pirates, bandits and the enemy. Only during the 17th century does the exiled population slowly move down toward the seashore and the natural port to make a first modest attempt at ship building which allows it to trade with other cities and countries. The enterprise flourishes and brings riches thanks to the progressive economic system of cost-and-risk sharing: ships are built in increasing sizes, all interested parties invest and receive a share of the profits equal to their investment. The Hydra fleet becomes so successful, so efficient, and so powerful that it plays a major role in the War of Independence from Ottoman rule in 1821.

Athens 1936. In the offices of the Athens School of Fine Arts in the Averoff building on Patission Street, recently appointed director Konstantinos Dimitriadis meets with artist Periklis Vyzantios to discuss the latter’s idea of opening up school branches in various locations across the country where students can stay at low cost and have access to studios and to topical landscapes to carry out their artistic work. Eyes are set on Delphi, Mykonos and Hydra, and on Hydra, the acquisition of the Tombazis mansion, an imposing stone building on the right side of the port, is negotiated. Periklis Vyzantios becomes the director of both the Delphi and Hydra branches and from 1945 of Hydra only. Both Ghikas and he promote the island to friends and visitors, urging them to buy one of the cheap houses before they disappear as the local population has resorted to selling the stones for income, to restore them and thus preserve the character and residential ambience of the island. Ghikas, who has now fully restored his own mansion, receives in 1939 the acclaimed American author, Henry Miller, who will eternalize Hydra for his many and diverse readers in his memoir The Colossus of Marousi, in which he describes his newly found friends and the many sites in Greece they visited together during his one and only journey in that country. He writes:

Hydra is almost a bare rock of an island and its population, made up almost exclusively of seamen, is rapidly dwindling. The town, which clusters about the harbor in the form of an amphitheatre, is immaculate. There are only two colors, blue and white, and the white is whitewashed every day, down to the cobblestones in the street. The houses are even more cubistically arranged than at Poros. Aesthetically it is perfect, the very epitome of that flawless anarchy which supersedes, because it includes and goes beyond, all the formal arrangements of the imagination. This purity, this wild and naked perfection of Hydra, is in great part due to the spirit of the men who once dominated the island.[1]

Ghikas, who studied in Paris and, following his return to Greece, formed a strong bond with London through the acquaintances and activities of the British Council in Athens, hosts many more writers, intellectuals, and guests in his house during the years to come, up until 1961 when the building burns down in his absence due to the negligence of one of its staff members.

Ghikas belongs to the so-called Greek Generation of the Thirties who, inspired and energized by prolonged stays in major European cities such as Paris, Munich, Berlin, Dresden, Vienna, Rome and others, and through personal contacts with modernist movements and their representatives, returns to its home country eager to revolutionize literature, music, architecture, dance, theater, art, photography, and philosophy. This renaissance in Greek culture was cut short by the outbreak of the Second World War and the ensuing Civil War but continued in the Fifties and Sixties until the rise of the military Junta in 1967.

The succession of two world wars marked a whole generation who grew up with parents deprived of basic goods, with a feeling of constant threat, of loss, pain, and disillusionment. It is a generation that longed for peace through mutual cultural understanding, for freedom of movement and for spiritual enlightenment. Young people from all over the western world flock together to experiment with alternative lifestyles in defiance of their parents’ bourgeois stifled attitudes. They spread out over continents, not to colonize but to learn, taking an interest in different cultures and religions. As William Pownall says: ‘We were travelers, not tourists’. They could be considered the last of the Romantics from a long line that started toward the end of the 18th century in opposition to industrialization and rationalization. Some are in search for a simpler, more authentic life, others escape or flee conventions and expectations. The world is on the move.

In Reims, Christian Heidsieck, eldest son in the family that inherited the Charles Heidsieck company, founded by Christian’s grandfather Charles – Champagne Charlie –, decides at age nineteen to the dismay of his parents to leave his hometown seat of the family, and to forsake his place at the helm of the company for an unknown future and career in pottery making. He travels to the south of France and on to Italy to train in the local techniques of faience and majolica. He arrives in Athens in 1948 where he takes up further training at the Kerameikos, Amarousi and Lavrio workshops and factories. He is joined by his future wife, Iranian national of Russian descent, Lily Mack, who grew up in Athens following the family’s exile from Russia at Lenin’s death and who, by way of Tehran and Paris, ended up with likeminded orthodox relatives in Greece. The young couple, disillusioned by world events, decides to opt for the simple, quiet life of Hydra. Once they buy the house they first rented with the support of Christian’s parents and get married, Christian, with the help of a local neighbor, sets out to build a kiln and for the next few years the YDRA pottery produces unique pieces of heavy sculpted earthenware, inspired by Martinware, hand-modelled, incised, and decorated in relief, all of which successfully sell locally. [1]

During that time, life on the island gradually alters. More travelers arrive from abroad, mostly young creative individuals, artists, writers, and poets, who hope to live off their artistic output rather than compromise with and adjust to the modern economy. Ghikas’ mansion remains an important magnet. John Craxton, whom Ghikas met in London in 1945, is a regular visitor from the neighboring island of Poros where he resides. He writes:

That autumn I met the painter himself – Nikos Ghika – on his first visit to London. I found an immediate rapport with him, talking to this seemingly most English of Greeks, elegantly dressed, serious, charming, approachable. Like so many of my fellow artists then I had a deep desire to go south to the Mediterranean. Greece was very much on my mind. To find a sympathetic artist who would welcome me in his native country gave me added impetus. I mention this first meeting with Ghika, for it is quite typical of how European painters are often cross-pollinated by chance encounters.

Next year, in May 1946, it was my good luck to find myself in Athens. There began a friendship with Ghika which lasted till his stoic death 48 years later.[2]

From the mid-Fifties, a new nucleus forms around the attractive and charming couple, George Johnston and Charmian Clift, who take up residence on the island. Artist Sidney Nolan visits his writer friends and fellow Australian expats from London and rents part of the Ghikas house where he stays with this wife Cynthia for about 7 months. American artist Timothy Hennessy is a guest of Ghikas in 1957 and decides to buy his own mansion on the island, which he later shares with his artist friend, Ioannis Kardamatis. Word and fame spread. Hydra forms the setting for a number of popular Greek and international movies, celebrities mingle with the locals and Hydra is established as a hot spot. [3]

Hydra born painters Nikos Nikolaou and Panagiotis Tetsis had left the island during the Thirties to study art first in Athens and subsequently in Paris and Rome, taking up academic positions upon their return to Greece and sharing their innate love for the island with students, colleagues and clients. In 1949, the progressive artists’ group ARMOS is formed, counting many illustrious artists among its members and many Hydra related artists such as Ghikas, Tetsis, Nikolaou, Georgios Mavroidis – who often hosts Ghikas on the island after the fire destroyed the mansion, Yannis Tsarouchis, Yiannis Moralis, Nelly Andrikopoulou, Nikos Engonopoulos, Aglaia (Bouba) Lymberaki, Margarita (Rita) Lymberaki, and others. Tetsis, who resides permanently on the mainland, nevertheless keeps a studio on Hydra for the rest of this life, encouraging students to visit and take up residency at the local School of Fine Arts branch.[4]

When Christian Heidsieck returns to Hydra after a two-year absence due to his enlistment in the French army to serve in the Algerian War, he expresses his disenchantment with the changing nature of the island, the growing invasion and the loss of authenticity, a lament also heard from the local population who, although aware of foreign cultures, habits and mentalities through the many sea travels of their ancestors and the recent excursions to North Africa, was equally concerned with the rapid transition. In 1949, Yiannis Latsis, future shipping tycoon, starts a regular boat service between the Argosaronic Gulf and the mainland with his famed Neraida; international travel becomes faster and more frequent, commercial aviation takes off and more effective infrastructure is continuously being developed. By the end of the Fifties, life on Hydra remains cheap, simple and continues to attract young people. Demetri Gassoumis arrives from San Francisco, as do Harry Jacobson and Sturges Mower, Norris Embry arrives from Chicago via Italy, Norman Peterson, Jane Motley, Sam Fischer, Brice and Helen Marden, Stephen Mueller visit from the United States, Marios Loizides – Cypriot national – crosses over from Rafina, Brenda Chamberlain moves from her isolated Welsh island to the Greek island, Robert Owen and William Pownall travel from Australia, Anthony Kingmill-Lunn from Great Britain, Marcella Maltais from Canada, as do many others from different parts of the world including France, Norway and Germany. Americans and the French follow in the wake of Henry Miller, Canadians of Leonard Cohen, Australians of Johnston and Clift. What starts as a European tour often ends up in permanent stay. Many try to buy a house and stay on for years, others never leave. Income is hard to come by and regular travel to the mainland and abroad to major European city centers is a must to trade one’s wares, to publish a book, hang a show, promote a single, execute a commission, organize a performance, or take up a teaching assignment. Marios Loizides, in a letter addressed to Rovertos Saragas[1], explains that he sells to tourists and receives invitations for international exhibitions from visitors. [2]  Every day, foreign residents and locals alike look out for the boat to arrive; the foreigners expecting pending payments for their creative output, the locals to get paid – through those payments – for long outstanding bills.

Visitors usually arrive on Hydra via Athens. With the mainland to the right and a stretch of island to the left, the ferry – or nowadays the catamaran – plunges ahead through the sea waves and only after the ferry turns toward the harbor, does the town spread itself in front of the eyes of the passengers.

The ship approached a long, thin island of forbidding aspect that looked to be uninhabited until a deep port was suddenly disclosed, surrounded by tightly clustered white houses against a backbone of rock.[3]

Typically described as an amphitheater with cafes set around the central stage, the houses rise up, filling the three flanks of the hill crowned by mills and monasteries. Transport other than donkeys and boats is not allowed, one of the major charms of Hydra. The adventurous tourist who sets out to discover the town will need to climb many a step through a maze of narrow streets before reaching the top and the splendid view from above. Simultaneously private and serene with its thick whitewashed and stone outer walls, enclosed gardens and courts, all residents sooner or later have to descend to the port – named “the communal living room of the island’ by Panagiotis Tetsis: Hydra offers something for everybody. Residents choose to keep to themselves and enjoy their large outdoor terraces that look out over the sea, or to partake into the cosmopolitan life around the port. The stone mansions, austere from the outside, hide impressive interiors with attention to luxurious details, beautifully laid stone floors, finely latticed wooden ceilings, metalwork, wooden doors and staircases. Furniture was imported by ship from France and Italy and this mixture of sheer force with an elegant touch, softened by the use of embroidered fabrics, is typical of the Hydriot style. The island is not known for its sandy beaches but the sea is everywhere and plenty of opportunities to swim exist. From the main town, the visitor takes the coastal road toward Kamini or, from the opposite side, to Mandraki, or a taxi boat to one of the pebbled beaches at Vlychos, Plakes, Bisti, Agios Nikolaos, Limnioniza and others. Days are filled with early morning and late afternoon swims, socializing at the port, working at home, and meeting with friends for a meal. Life is pleasant and languid with few modern amenities and, as travelers continue to arrive, settled-in foreigners help out and accommodate the newcomers thus perpetuating the strong sense of community. Pavlos Pantelakis, who, in 1963, succeeded Periklis Vyzantios as director of the School of Fine Arts, is even more passionate about the preservation of the island and can be regularly seen with binoculars watching hawk-eyed any alterations, constructions or extensions.

Toward the mid-Sixties, George Johnston and Charmian Clift with their family of three children decide to return to Australia, thereby closing a chapter and leaving a void. The locals are friendly, receptive and tolerant but the differences in education and cultural background, the language barriers, the adherence to a traditional, religious lifestyle with little or no interest in art when so many other basic needs require attention, strengthen the distance between the two social groups. The wealthy Athenians who are increasingly interested in investing in the island, located conveniently close to the capital, are equally conservative and set in their bourgeois ways, and disapprove of the bohemian mindset of the foreign community. Occasionally groups mingle, at the local tavernas, sharing a coffee, ouzo or a game of backgammon in the port, tending to the ever-growing yachts moored at the dock, skippering, attending parties or dancing together at the cosmopolitan Lagoudera night club.

Brenda Chamberlain, Welsh writer and artist, who spent a tough few years on Bardsey Island off the coast of Britain, where the weather lashes out and the tiny population is withdrawn and suspicious, discovers Hydra in the early Sixties and moves there until the arrival of the Junta. Disapproving of the glamorous life around the port, she chooses to withdraw high up on the hill and occasionally to one of the monasteries where she observes local life, its traditions and celebrations, whilst uttering sharp criticism at the habits and ambitions of her fellow international residents.

International travellers throw an unreal glamour over the port, but step out of the harbour and you will come upon club-footed boys, women withering in the sun’s luminosity, mal-fed children grossly fat, dwarfs with sun-smitten faces.

A powerful duality exists on this island of 3,000 souls and 300 churches.[1]

For the locals, living conditions without modern amenities was less than idyllic and poverty and hunger were epidemic during the Fifties and the beginning of the Sixties.

The wild black-eyed woman who lives in the hovel beside the mansion opposite was singing into a black night and a heaven of stars her grief and despair, strong and inevitable as the fall of waves against the land; a primitive, lost cry of the heart of a savage woman in a poor cottage lost on a Greek island, with endless washing under the tree, her children going to the well for water, no mind or book-learning, only grief marking the night for us so that we throw the doors wide open, throw open another window. She is singing of the sadness of life.[2]

Intimidated by the worldly polyglot foreigners, their frustration combined with pettiness and boredom, intrigue and gossip inherent to small confined communities occasionally made for a toxic blend, harmful to some.

This is an uneasy island, ghost-ridden, and with black danger in the air.[3]

Equally sharp in observation is the Greek novelist, Margarita Karapanou who, herself of a depressive nature, is sensitive to the underlying tension that reigns on the island.

In summer the light licks you, it swallows you with its marvellous brilliance; the sun never sets. But the light is mysterious and shadows lurk menacingly. In summer the light spills over the mountain like fire.
In winter, you are more mystic. Under the wind and the rain, more mystic still.
In winter your rock breathes like skin, the houses have eyes; they contemplate the waves and shiver.

Both women talk about an undercurrent of violence, both describe a murder, blame the oppressive heat, the desire and impossibility to escape and the pretense of posing as artists.

[…], it is because we are cooped up here between the sea and the mountains, trying to be artists, or pretending to be artists, exiles in a strong context, in an island too strong for most of us to fight against.[5]

Dear darling island, how I hate you, you’re a prison smothered in flowers, I’ve never been more eager to leave a place. I can’t stand this enchantment anymore, I can’t stand being bewitched in this way—when I look at you, my gaze turns to nothing but a mirror of light, I’ll be staring at you for ages, hypnotized, and when I stop seeing you I’ll feel you, and when I stop feeling you I’ll die.[6]

Both women die prematurely, Karapanou at the age of 62, Chamberlain at 59 by suicide.

Rumors are heard about excessive drinking, drug use and promiscuous behavior among the foreign community, putting at risk those with families, but also about self-discipline, routine and hard work.

As Hydra progresses so thus the rest of the world and the island is far from isolated. Regular contact with the mainland, international travel and contact with visitors from abroad ensure full awareness of political, economic and cultural developments. The counterculture that has its roots in the Fifties with the beat poets – many of whom visited Greece and Hydra, including Allan Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Harry Norse – gives way to the Summer of Love in 1967 and the hippie movement. The Cold War reigns and democracy is on the defensive, having to constantly define itself in between totalitarian regimes both left and right and social liberation movements. Modernist art movements give way to post-war modern and contemporary art styles such as abstract expressionism, color field painting, Art Brut, Arte Povera, minimalism, conceptual art and more. The lyricism, intimacy, and humanism of modernism are replaced by an art with grander aims, more cynical, calculating, cosmic, and public.

Life on the island is sweeter and artists are less inclined to large gestures. Michalis Economou shows a place in its original state, devoid of people, of noise, simple in its natural habitat, lonely, an image reflected in Tetsis’ watercolor some 60 years later. Christian Heidsieck, disillusioned by war, seeks refuge in the simple and straightforward life on the island whereas Sidney Nolan, traumatized by war through personal experience as is fellow Australian George Johnston who bares his soul in his classic novel ‘My Brother Jack’, relies on his memories to deal with the psychological after effects. In his homeland, Nolan had most famously explored the blend of mythology and history in his epic series of paintings on Ned Kelly. Stories and tales are set in the vast and uncharted landscape of Australia. It is the same blend that attracts him to Greece, and on Hydra he starts out by discovering the similar rough landscape until he stumbles upon Homer’s tale of the Trojan War. Inspired by an article by Alan Moorehead, he substitutes the Greek warriors and heroes with the ANZACS – the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps – who for the first time joined the allied troops in 1915 at Gallipoli, roughly the same geographic area as ancient Troy. [1] The allied campaign against the Ottomans was a drawn out battle that exhausted both sides and left thousands of soldiers dead.

He wanted to paint Troy, he said, in its pitiless heroics, in the true brutality of its images, within the impassive void of cosmic indifference; to alter those prettified costumed conceptions of Achaeans and Trojans so cloyingly fixed by the painters of the Renaissance; to give the story back the savage, sweaty, cruel, dusty, unadorned human grandeur that Homer had sung.[2]

The intricate patterns of the main town are initially grappled with through linear sometimes cubist drawings that trace the shapes and forms of the houses before the artists set out on more individual courses. Lines build up to geometrical compositions as with Ghikas who displays a particular love for  architecture, and in early Nikolaou, are diffused into impressionist dabbles as in Vyzantios or into expressionist strokes as in Tetsis and Gassoumis, according to the personalities and styles of the artists. The celebrated Mediterranean light, so intense in Hydra, gives rise to opposing interpretations, leading some artists to perceive the brightness as bringing out all contours and outlines, colors and patterns, stimulating a realistic style as in Maltais, a decorative or stylized approach as in Ghikas or a technique of assembled flat surfaces as in Craxton. Others, such as Vyzantios and Pownall, watch the light dissolve every shape into patches without definable edges or into fields of monochrome color. Konstantinos Vyzantios, known for his figurative painting, regularly visits his father Periklis from Paris and paints an impression of the light and the reigning color schemes through a composition of purely abstract patches. This interplay between abstraction and figurative is strongly felt in the work by Marcella Maltais who, initially steeped in the international tendency toward total abstraction, turns fully to figurative painting while on Hydra. Marios Loizides, who started out more conventionally, slowly turns to a meditative abstraction whereas William Pownall, influenced by American color field painting conceptualizes his seascapes into bands of color. American artist Brice Marden carefully researches colors in nature such as the silvery dark green of the olive tree leaf, which he then applies to his canvases in monochromatic fields.

Ghikas and Tetsis repeatedly draw or paint the zigzagged wall that runs down the slope at the western edge of the town, forming a pattern. Other patterns appear, most likely the hydrea, shaped after the mythological serpentine water monster with its multiple meandering heads that lived in the Lake of Lerna in the Argolid where it gets chopped and burnt to death by Hercules. These twisting and turning movements  return in Marden’s characteristic and influential interlacing crossing bands of color, executed with a technique influenced by Chinese calligraphy in which he holds the brush at arm’s length to allow for free-flowing lines. Decorative patterns are sourced from further afield, historically, geographically and psychologically, from Byzantine and Eastern culture, philosophy and religion, and from psychedelic experiences. Ghikas distorts the flattened picture planes from a Byzantine aesthetic with a cubist perspective whereas John Craxton strings them together as in mosaic art; Timothy Hennessy and Ioannis Kardamatis, inspired by the classic heritage as carried over by Byzantine art into the Renaissance, create a splendid interior, the former through ornamental textiles and taints of gold and the latter by iconic figures. Following the Zeitgeist, the East provides a newly discovered source for spiritualism. Every morning, Jane Motley embroiders a small mantala, a ritual symbol that also appears in her paintings and that originates in India where the Hindu and Buddhist practices of meditation require a mantala as spiritual guidance tool to establish a sacred space and microcosm of the universe. Mandalas are also at the heart of the work by Stephen Mueller who regularly visits his New York peers and fellow artists Brice and Helen Marden on Hydra from the middle of the Eighties onward and whose vibrantly colored paintings and watercolors often refer to Greek concepts, Hydra, Meltemi, Kefi, … Similar references can be found in Harry Jacobus’ works with titles such as Siftateli, Bouzoukia, and Spasimo at Taverna Lulu.

There is the global and there is the local. Norris Embry looks around him in the taverna and the kafeneion to the painted ceramics on the walls or on the tables translating the imagery with his preferred expressionist strokes, taken up in Florence while studying with Oskar Kokoschka in 1949, into mixed media works that combine mask like faces, words and other elements into a footprint of the artist’s life. Scrabbling into notebooks, such as the ones preserved from his years in Greece during 1960-61, he observes life and restlessly fills page after page with carnivalesque, sometimes nightmarish drawings and anecdotal single objects like a coffee cup. Embry’s bipolar character may explain the horror vacui in his works and the highly personal, intimate and self-reflective language. Anthony Kingsmill paints a faceless portrait of the artist Norman Peterson as a captain in his chair surrounded by dark brooding colors. The more somber war generation merges with the younger more revolutionary generation. Bjorn Saastad paints psychedelic works with colorful skies full of swirling stars.

There is the inside and there is the outside. Community members gather around the tables in the harbor or the backstage tavernas to discuss and fraternize but work needs to be done at home or in the serenity of their studio where silence, so necessary for creative output, prevails. Artists rent and eventually buy houses so that they can make the necessary living and working arrangements. Demetri Gassoumis owns a spacious, professionally equipped studio with a large window for light that allows him to collaborate with artists and assistants and to create large scale works such as folding screens, stencils for wall paintings, theater sets and interior fixtures. French artist Guy Allain on the contrary merges living space and studio into one multifunctional cluttered space housed in an old stable. Adam Shapiro who starts painting after he receives paint materials from departing artist Sam Fisher, rents and later buys the same small house high up on the hill where he prefers to work outside, repeatedly painting the same valley in view, situated on the road from Kamini to Vlychos. At some point, the valley becomes the site of a planned luxury development by British entrepreneur Richard Branson who invests in a plot of land for the construction of some 60 houses, causing controversy. Although there are voices that support the potential increased income for the island, the opposition wins, claiming that the main town, already connected from behind the hill to Kamini, needs an open green breathing space. If not outside, Shapiro watches the outside from the inside, the valley painted as a window onto the world. Months of warm and balmy weather allows the artists this constant interaction with the in and the out. Timothy Hennessy and Ioannis Kardamatis who make full use of their extensive terrace with a splendid view over the town, nevertheless direct their gaze toward the inside and turn the interior of the mansion into a sort of Gesamtskunstwerk. Most impressions of living and working arrangements come through old photographs but Angelika Freitag actually records some of the more intimate details in her India inspired miniature etchings and watercolors. The intimate turned inside or outside as the reclining nude with her voluptuous shapes that form the landscape, the mountains and valleys of the island, as can be seen in paintings by Nikos Nikolaou and William Pownall and in a small stone sculpture by Valerie Sidaway, long-term resident and previous assistant to Demetri Gassoumis

The arts on Hydra were represented also by writers, poets, architects and musicians and, confined to this intimate setting, cross-fertilization was inescapable. Early on, Ghikas listened to architect Dimitris Pikionis whereas artists Brice Marden and Jannis Kounellis entrusted into studio spaces to architect Christos Papoulias. Chamberlain in particularly benefitted from collaborations that opened up new avenues into her work. She started out by making linear drawings that follow the movements of dancer Rovertos Saragas, a fruitful collaboration that results in a performance at Lamda Theatre, London, with British actress Dorothy Tutin reading poems by Brenda Chamberlain with Saragas dancing. [3] From there followed a similar collaboration with Egyptian composer Halim El-Dabh with Brenda making musical connotations based on the music played by the composer. After her forced return to Wales, Chamberlain continued to stage a theatrical performance, The Protagonists, in resistance of the Greek military dictatorship, thereby definitely barring her reentry into Greece.

Many of the artists stay permanently or reside regularly on Hydra throughout their lives including Hennessy, Kardamatis, Gassoumis, Pownall, Shapiro, the Mardens, Maltais, and Kingsmill. Others move away such as Marios Loizides, terrified by the invasive crowds of tourists and visitors. Some only lived on the island for a relatively short period of time but its influence remains with them throughout their oeuvre. Sidney Nolan continues to work on the many preparatory drawings and paintings that form his acclaimed Gallipoli Series long after his departure from Greece. Periklis Vyzantios returns to Athens once his tenure is over but keeps on painting the landscapes and daily scenes of the island. Under the influence of the light and its brightness, Australian artist Robert Owen and American artists Harry Jacobus and Stephen Mueller claim lasting effect on their work and continued interest in bright colors.

Works are scattered in private homes all over the island and beyond whereas in situ wall paintings remain as witnesses of a bygone era such as Chamberlain’s dance drawing in Jeannette Read’s house, Gassoumis’s at the Pirate Bar, and poet Gregory Corso’s at the Heidsieck home.
Many more international artists passed through: Jane Porter, John Jacobs, Norman Peterson, Sturges Mower, Dick Hart, Michael Fitzjames, whereas a new generation has taken roots: Tom Powell, Panagiotis Rappas, Alexis Veroukas, Jill Appert and others, proving the lasting charm of Hydra as an artistic magnet. And although tourism has changed the conditions, during the winter one can still find many a day when serenity reigns, the streets empty, nature at rest, and the air breathing mysticism and expectation, just like Michalis Economou’s painting

[1] Vanderpool, Catherine, Hydra, Lycabettus Press, 1980

[2] See Select Artists’ Notes

[1] Miller, Henry, The Colossus of Maroussi, Colt Press, San Francisco, 1941, p. 55    

[1] Martinware is named after the Martin Brothers, English Victorian pottery manufacturers first based in London and later on in Middlesex throughout the last quarter of the 19th Century and the first quarter of the 20th Century.

[2] John Craxton, Obituary: Nikos Ghika, in: The Independent, 6 September 1994

[3] See Select Filmography

[4] Studio donated to the Kontouriotis Museum – open to the public

[1] Rovertos Saragas: Greek dancer, choreographer and director

[2] Letter dated May 15, 1962, American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Gennadius Library Archives, Rovertos Saragas Papers

[3] Chamberlain, Brenda, A Rope of Vines – Journal from a Greek Island, Parthian Books, Cardigan, Wales, 2009, p.5

[1] Chamberlain, Brenda, A Rope of Vines – Journal from a Greek Island, Parthian Books, Cardigan, Wales, 2009, p.1

[2] Chamberlain, Brenda, A Rope of Vines – Journal from a Greek Island, Parthian Books, Cardigan, Wales, 2009, p.31

[3] Chamberlain, Brenda, A Rope of Vines – Journal from a Greek Island, Parthian Books, Cardigan, Wales, 2009, p.11

[4] Karapanou, Margarita, Hydra February 2002, introduction to the ‘Hydra through the eyes of 20th Century Greek artists’ catalogue, Historical Archives Museum of Hydra, 15 June – 31 October 2002.

[5] Chamberlain, Brenda, A Rope of Vines – Journal from a Greek Island, Parthian Books, Cardigan, Wales, 2009, p.129

[6] Karapanou, Margarita, The Sleepwalker, translated by Karen Emmerich

[1] Moorehead, Alan, Return to a Legend, in: The New Yorker, April 2, 1955 Issue, p. 104

[2] Johnston, George, Sidney Nolan’s Gallipoli Paintings, in: Art and Australia, September 1967

[3] Piercy, Jill, Brenda Chamberlain: Artist & Writer, Parthian Books, Cardigan, Wales, 2013

Els Hanappe is an Athens based art historian (MA, University of Gent, Belgium) involved with exhibition and collection management. She has been active in the international contemporary art world since 1995. She owned and directed two private contemporary art galleries, managed a private collection, and curated and organized numerous exhibitions in both capacities.