“What business does the bust of a Refugee from Smyrna have in Neo Psychiko [Athens]? A bust created in New York by a Greek-American?” was the reasonable question of many Athenians a few days ago, after the unveiling of the sculpture created by George Petrides.
Initially, the story may sound confusing. In essence, however, the work examines the meaning of Homeland to an individual and to a people. A people seeking their Homeland, remembering and honoring it.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
The sculptor, who was born in Athens but lives and works mainly in New York, chose to return to the place of his teenage years to honor the many refugees who were forced to leave their homeland in Asia Minor in 1922.
…And why in Neo Psychiko?
As the Mayor of Neo Psychiko, Mr. Dimitris Galanis points out, in the heart of that suburb, around the square of the Church of Agios Georgios, many refugees from Asia Minor, mainly from Vourla and Meli, settled in 1929-1930.
In fact, this particular church is a re-building of a church of the same name first built in Vourla around 1550.
George Petrides, working closely with the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor for Culture and Sports Mr. Charalambos Bonatsos and the Deputy Mayor for Municipal Administration Mrs. Eleni Zeppou, committed, worked hard and created the first bust in the municipality dedicated to the Asia Minor catastrophe. His intention was to contribute to the ceremonies for the centennial of the Destruction of Smyrna organized on September 14 by the Municipality of Filothei-Psychiko. Although the piece has a special cultural significance, it is also very personal.
The extraordinary sculpture, entitled “Refugee – The Woman of Smyrna,” is a tribute to the persecuted of Asia Minor as well as to the artist’s Asia Minor roots. The bust is 132 cm high and 100 cm in diameter and is placed on a 140 cm base.
The main three parameters that define the work of George Petrides are:
-The history of sculpture
In the first stage of creating this particular work, he researched broad printed and online material, family diaries and photographs, combined with the lived experiences of his mother and grandmother.
In the second stage, the artist delved into art history to see how earlier artists dealt with similar themes. The work that spoke to his heart was Michelangelo’s Florentine Pietà located in the Museo dell’opera del Duomo.
In the third stage and in line with his creative process, he integrated all the above elements. He imagined his grandmother at a young age arriving in Piraeus from Smyrna in 1922. He tried to convey all the overwhelming emotions, the loss, the strength, but also the dignity that these cosmopolitan people carried with them.
From Wall Street to Art
Raised in a family of artists and business people, he initially pursued a career in business. For the first decades of his working life, he worked on Wall Street, enjoying a highly successful career in mergers and acquisitions.
Starting with his studies at Harvard College in the liberal arts, he never stopped engaging with the arts, taking classes at every opportunity for over twenty years. More recently he graduated with a degree in sculpture from the New York Studio School, the school that produced leading contemporary artists such as Christopher Wool and Cecily Brown.
Now the accomplished artist George Petrides has left behind a successful career on Wall Street and has established another path in sculpture.
With his works, he “grafts” Greek culture all over the world, with exhibitions in Athens, Boston, Dubai, London, Monaco, Mykonos, New York City, Southampton (NY), and Washington (DC), spreading the spirit of our homeland.
An illustrative example is the traveling exhibition entitled “Hellenic Heads: A Personal Exploration of Greek History and Culture over 2,500 years.” The exhibition was presented with great success at the Embassy of Greece in Washington (May-June 2022), where, as part of the Europe Day celebrations, it was visited by over 2,000 people. Then the “Hellenic Heads” were exhibited at the Muses Cultural Center in Southampton, New York (July-September 2022). They are currently being presented at the Maliotis Cultural Center (Boston), and other destinations will follow, including Chicago, Los Angeles, London, Paris, the United Arab Emirates and finally Athens.
The purpose of “Hellenic Heads” is to promote the universal character of Greek culture through intercultural dialogue and cultural diplomacy, which are vehicles for the mutual understanding of peoples and of their cultural heritage. In order to unravel the thread of time but also to artistically “map” the points of the route that potentially resonate with each of us, the sculptor chose six pivotal historical periods for his exhibition:
- Classical Greek Period (510 BC – 323 BC)
- Byzantine Period (330 – 1453)
- The Greek Revolution (1821 – 1829)
- The Asia Minor Catastrophe (1922)
- Nazi Occupation and Civil War (1941 – 1949)
- The Present
For each historical period he created an oversized bust that is informed by a specific work in the history of art and is related to a member of his family. The sculptor’s creative process is of his own invention and always intertwines the ancient with the modern. He often begins the form in collaboration with a live model, resulting in a head or a body made of various traditional materials (clay, plasticine, plaster). He then keeps developing this first form, either by working with a live model, or by drawing material from his memory and imagination.
Then, he uses a 3D scanner to create a file to process in sculpting software (a process that can take months). When he completes this work, he restores the sculpture to its materiality (usually on a larger scale than the original) through 3D printing in resin. Then, more manual work again in combination with power tools and building materials.
Often this final form ends up in a foundry in Greece, where it is cast using methods not so different from those used by the ancient Greeks. Petrides tends to push the potential of each creative phase to the maximum, which is why his works may take over a year to complete. As has been said, good things take hard work, and a prime example is the “timeless” George Petrides, who declares himself artistically blessed by the appeal his works have with the general public.
As our time together came to a close, the artist explained to us that he has to rush back to his studio in New York, as there are pending orders for custom works, mainly busts, for New York’s cultural and financial elite. At the same time, however, he left us with the promise that he will soon be back in his beloved Athens.
His next public work, a sculpture of a nude woman, 2 meters high, is already in the production phase and will soon be placed in a prominent place in Athens.