By Els Hanappe, November 2018
Every morning for the last three years, as I was walking royally over a pink and white harmony of oleander petals stretched out like a wedding carpet toward the tram, through a street lined with majestic eucalyptus trees underneath which grow elegantly clipped oleander trees, I contemplated the modern history of the Greek island of Hydra.
Exhibitions and publications have been devoted to those Greek artists who depicted the island in their work, to their artistic relationship to the island, research has been conducted and conferences organized on the writers’ community of Hydra, greatly thanks to the legacy of and work by Australian writers George Johnston and Charmian Clift, and with the recent passing of world renowned musician, poet and song writer, Leonard Cohen, the attention has expanded exponentially.
From the very start, our focus was a different one, namely to research the international community of visual artists that had on and off resided on Hydra for shorter or longer periods, starting from those Greek artists that opened up the island to visitors through to the eighties when the island becomes increasingly crowded and the sense of community slowly disappears. Bill’s Bar, run by owner Bill Cunliffe, closed its doors in 1986 thereby moving to a new location, and thus closed the meeting place for foreign residents and of an era.
I am not an island person. I avoid the trappings and confinements of small communities – the gossip, the intrigues, the intimacy. As a result, my approach was neither romantic nor emotional. I remained the outsider – observing, listening, recording. But the mystery of its attraction and the happenstance of the community remained. Why did young people from Australia, Canada, Great Britain, the United States, Norway, Germany, France and other countries descend on this small, rocky and bare island in the Saronic Gulf and decide to stay on?
The idea was not to compile an exhaustive list of names but to make a first attempt at outlining the circumstances, catching the spirit and motivation of the time, the attraction that brought so many creative individuals to Hydra. What was the influence of Hydra on the individual works – its landscape, its lifestyle, its light…? How did the local population react to this colorful cast of sometimes eccentric characters? How – if any – was the interaction between the different social groups, the locals, the international artistic community, and the wealthy Athenians who would visit the island over weekends and holidays?
Research focused on the thirties when the foundations were laid, and picked up again at the end of the forties, following a devastating Second World War and Civil War, when the first travelers in search of a quiet, peaceful and simple life arrive. As the island becomes more popular, not in the least as a result of publications and movies set on Hydra, complaints about the increasing invasions combined with noise, outlandish behavior can be heard, starting from the late fifties onward as Hydra turns into a tourist haven.
These two forces, the delight at island life and the undercurrent of frustrations, claustrophobia and excess can be found in various writings. In the exhibition they are respectively represented by the colors pink and dark brown.
Many of the original residents have passed away in recent years. Others have long moved away and are hard to track down. Most of the art works were sold privately and are hidden away in private collections or homes. Little or no public information is available and putting together the pieces of the puzzle required time and extensive research.
For now, documentation gathered will be archived in this dedicated website in the hope that one day an exhibition will be realized with the necessary support and sponsorship. However, an exhibition, such as any larger undertaking, is a people’s undertaking. It is the result as a buildup of communications, insights, opinions, and suggestions. I am therefore grateful to all those voices that contributed to the story.