Vaso Katraki, Family of Fishers
Family of Fishers is a stonecut by engraver Vaso Katraki. A graduate of the Jean Kefalinos workshop, Katraki developed into an important figure of 20th century modern-Greek engraving. She worked on sandstone with an unparalleled technique. Her prints depict humanitarian subjects. They are commentaries on social inequality and the dramatic historical events that marked her time.
Subject and figures
Family of Fishers depicts a 4-member family of fishers:
- The father is carrying a fish net on his shoulders.
- The mother is holding their 2 children by the hand.
All 4 figures are facing forward and have an archaic immobility. They are familiar and accessible, clean and flat.
The heads are round. The bodies seem dematerialised and asymmetrical. They have irregularly long necks, long arms and short legs.
The abstract background
The white, neutral background emphasises the human presence even more. As the subject dominates the abstract frame, the surroundings are eliminated.
Style and light
The shapes of the bodies form the vertical axes of the composition. The handle of the fish net creates a diagonal which:
- Disrupts the balance.
- Solidifies the composition.
The absolute contrast between black and white defines the shading.
The subject is presented directly through the texture of the stone. This is a very particular characteristic of Katraki’s style.
Other elements of her work are:
- An expressionist and abstract tendency.
- Simplification through the shapes.
These elements are more evident in this piece and in her later works.
Symbolism in the stonecut
The print captures the everyday labour of a poor family, without being too descriptive or detailed.
In Family of Fishers, the figures of Vaso Katraki have become almost dematerialised. The spectral man is presented only as a symbol and the work becomes a commentary on social inequalities.
Her life in a nutshell
Vaso Katraki (1914-1988) was born in the town of Aetoliko, Aetolia-Acarnania. She showed her interest in art from an early age.
Between 1936 and 1940 she studied at the Athens School of Fine Arts:
- Painting, under the renowned painter Konstantinos Parthenis.
- Engraving, under the famous engraver Jean Kefalinos.
During the German Occupation she joined the United Panhellenic Organization of Youth, known as EPON, to resist the Nazi invasion. She was also a member of the Artists’ National Liberation Front.
During the Junta she was exiled to the island of Gyaros. There she painted on pebbles, using a black marker.
After the reinstitution of democracy in 1974, she devoted herself to her art.
Her studies at the Jean Kefalinos’ workshop led her to focus exclusively on engraving. This was the workshop that produced the first generation of Greek engravers, who shaped the course of engraving in Greece: Kostas Grammatopoulos, A. Tassos and Yiannis Moralis.
Vaso Katraki was later able to formulate her own, purely personal and distinct style. Many of her prints show influences from the aesthetics of black-figure pottery.
Katraki’s first pieces were inspired by the quiet living at the town of Aetoliko. Later on, the human form became her main subject. Her prints acquired a social dimension, making a direct or less overt social critique.
Her themes fall into different units:
- Icaruses and horses.
- Men and tree trunks becoming one.
- Figures elevated to symbols.
Other than the emotional element, the works of Vaso Katraki are also dominated by experiences:
- Symbolic themes of intense protest.
- Memories of dramatic historical events from the German Occupation, the Resistance, the Civil War, the exile and the Junta.
Made of wood and stone
Initially Vaso Katraki worked with woodcuts. After 1950, however, she turned to a new material, sandstone. It is a stone formed by sand grains that are fused together.
Her technique was quite simple. She removed the material around the figures she wanted to depict, so they would appear black on the print. She accented their volume by cutting a few lines on their surface.
The artist herself had said: “In my quest for the material that would fulfil my expressive needs, I stopped at the sandstone, which, with its rough surface and unexplored areas, opened for me a way into large shapes and broad, free gestures. With hard cuts, harsh scratches, sharp or light passages from black to white and vice versa, I am attempting to conquer the language of this unknown material.”
A recognised artist
In 1955, after a series of experimentations, Katraki presented a sequence of works titled Stonecuts at the Zachariou Gallery in Athens. They were received as an interesting and original proposition by artists and audience alike.
In 1966 she was awarded the international Tamarind Prize at the Venice Biennale.
In 1976 she won the Intergrafik award at the international engraving exhibition in East Berlin.
18 years after her death, in 2006, the Vaso Katraki Museum – Engravings Art Centre was founded at Aetoliko, her birth town. The museum is home to approximately 700 of her works.
An important asset
Family of Fishers is part of the Alpha Bank Art Collection. It is one of the first prints that Vaso Katraki worked on stone.
The work of art in our publications
The piece Family of Fishers by Vaso Katraki is referenced in the Alpha Bank publications:
- The Alpha Bank Collection. Paintings – Prints – Sculptures, edited by Irene Orati. The publication marks the 125th anniversary of Alpha Bank.
Buy the publication The Alpha Bank Collection. Paintings – Prints – Sculptures on the Alpha Bank e-shop (only available in Greek).
- The Alpha Bank Collection. Greek Art from 1920 until Today, edited by Irene Orati. The publication accompanied the Art Collection’s exhibition at the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki.
Buy the publication The Alpha Bank Collection. Greek Art from 1920 until Today on the Alpha Bank e-shop.
- The Alpha Bank Collection. Greek Art from 1950 until Today, edited by Irene Orati. The publication accompanied exhibitions of the Collection in Nicosia, Limassol and Larnaca in 2008.
In other literature
The print is also referenced in the books (in Greek):
- V. Katraki. Engraving 1940-1980 (collective work), 1980.
- K. Stavropoulos, V. Katraki. Finest Interpreter of Human Tragedy, 1998.
- Yiannis Bolis, “Contemporary Greek Artists: Vaso Katraki”, Ta Nea, 2009.
- Vaso Katraki, In White and Black, Teloglion Fine Arts Foundation, AUTh, 2013.