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The birth of Greek style in the Sixties November 7, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Exhibitions Greece, Arts Museums, Books Life Greek, Media Radio TV.
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The golden era of graphic design as seen in the work of Michalis Katzourakis, Freddy Karabot and Agni Katzouraki > The GNTO’s albums and leaflets bore the unmistakable style of the three designers. In one of their photographs, a piggy bank takes the place of the globe in one of Citibank’s first advertisements in Greece.   

Once upon a time there were three friends. Actually there were two friends and a couple. Michalis Katzourakis, Freddy Karabot and Agni Katzouraki met in Athens in the late 1950s and left their mark on the golden era of Greek graphic design.

Their posters, for the nascent Greek tourist industry, logos, and advertisements ushered in sweeping changes in the field. Fans of modernism, they introduced a fresh minimalist look that was also very Greek. With direct and indirect allusions to antiquity, the Byzantine tradition and folk art, suffused with humor, they created an internationally recognizable Greek look and were the forerunners of an attractive, modern Greek style.

Their contribution, little known outside their field, is now coming to the attention of a broader public, thanks to a new book «Design Routes» in progress, and an exhibition that will be held at the Benaki Museum early next year.

In 1957, National Technical University of Athens professor Panos Moliotis introduced Karabot, a graduate of Chelsea and St Martin’s School of Art in London, to Katzourakis, a graduate of Paul Colin’s school of graphic arts in Paris, who had also done a brief stint at Greka, a leading advertising firm. A year later, Karabot recommended Katzourakis to the publicity office of the Greek Tourism Organization (GNTO), where the former was already working.

In 1961, Katzourakis won the second prize at the International Advertising Poster Exhibition in Leghorn in Italy. In July the following year, he rang Karabot and said: «K and K.» This time they had won the first and second prize at Leghorn, among 1,300 posters from 40 countries. Katzourakis took first prize for his poster «Daktyliolithos» and Karabot second for «Greece: Reflections of an Island» both published by GNTO. That year Picasso won a prize in the same exhibition for his poster, «Cote d’Azur».

Soon afterward the pair founded their own promotion and advertising firm, K & K. «Our logo had one K in black and the other in red, so we got along well with everyone,» recalls Karabot. They brought in two more friends as colleagues, Dimitris Tsopelas with vast experience in publishing and graphic arts, and Panayis Kanavos for exhibition and indoor and outdoor installations.

«Our endeavor,» explains Katzourakis, «was to take posters beyond detailed illustration to acquire a vital visual function by linking a spare visual element with a clear message.» They introduced concept to Greek advertising.

At that time terracotta and blue dominated posters on the subject of Greece. «We designed posters with photographs of ancient sculptures in clear, bright colors, using a lot of red which was very daring at the time.»

Also at the time, he explained, there was a lot of personal contact with firms. «We spoke directly to employers, presidents and managers. They had chosen us, they trusted us and we could work with complete freedom. Now, to get a proposal through, it has to go past dozens of people, marketing…»

The initiative for the book came from designer Dimitris Arvanitis, a fervent admirer of the two Greek design gurus. «My involvement in the book was a debt to my roots, our roots. For more than a year I gained experience by observing their approach to every problem of visual communication they had to solve.»

It wasn’t easy. Arvanitis had to scour archives for newspaper cuttings, and logos stowed away in files. They look «as fresh as if they had been drawn yesterday,» he notes. «Posters that take your breath away. Difficult work in its simplicity, which remind you that simple isn’t easy. I admire their work, much of it done 40 years ago. And I’m amazed at their daring, innovative ideas and designs.» He sees their emergence in the early 1960s as signaling the beginning of the development of design into a new art.

Among the discoveries was Agni Katzouraki: «What I hadn’t realized was her talent and separate existence in design. Now that the files and the signatures on the work are being classified, what has been revealed to me is her extraordinary illustrative maturity. Logos, illustrations, books, full of freshness and brilliance, are the maestro’s legacy to young graphic artists who must, and I am sure will, soon discover them.»

The venture lasted 13 years. In 1975, Katzourakis bowed out. «By the end, we were signing a packet of letters a day, marketing came into our lives in a big way, and what came out was, after much analysis, often not right» Katzourakis concludes: «We lost our zeal, because up until then we’d been a group of friends who did creative work while having fun». That group left Greece a characteristic trademark that is still recognizable half a century later.

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