Jannis Kounellis was born in Piraeus, Greece, in 1936, but he lived and worked in Italy for most of his life and died in 2017. He was accepted at the school of painting, Accademia degli Belli Arte in 1956, but in the late 1960s he decided to abandon painting in order to find a different way to express himself artistically. He joined the group of Italian artists whose work was denoted as Arte Povera by the art critic and curator Germano Celant in 1967.
Jannis Kounellis (b. 1936). Foto: Steen Gyldendal
Arte Povera represented a break away from painting, particularly the expressive tradition. By employing humble, primitive materials such as coal, iron, rocks, and basic foodstuffs the Arte Povera artists created a kind of anti-commercial and anti-formal art with strong political and art-critical undertones. The translation of 'Arte Povera' as 'Poor Art' covers some of the meanings of the original term, but 'povera' can also mean e.g. 'deceased'. The many meanings of the term are difficult to translate into other languages.
Revolt or resistance to the status quo remained a keyword in Kounellis´ art. His art represents a struggle carried out for the sake of the poetry of everyday life and history.
SENSE OF MATERIALS
Kounellis worked with a particularly keen sense of materials, as revealed in his objects and installations. These range from rows of tethered horses to searing gas flames. Kounellis' use of materials often incorporates strong historical references. As components in his works the materials still carry within themselves some memory of their function. Kounellis grew up in a harbour town, and there can be no doubt that his own memories of the atmosphere and setting of the harbour played a part in his art.
Several of Kounellis' works assume something of the nature of paintings. They are works which hang on the wall, yet they are not painted, but built and constructed from a range of different materials. As mentioned above, Kounellis abandoned painting at an early stage of his career. Nevertheless he described himself as a "painter". The surface remains the starting point of his art, regardless of whether that surface consists of paper, walls, floors, or large iron-clad sheets.
Encountering the works of Kounellis can be an overwhelming experience. This is concept art without a list of ready-made answers. Kounnelis' works are open-ended; they appeal to our senses and involve us unconditionally. Only in the encounter with us as spectators, with our memories and experiences, are the works completed. This is to say that it is up to each individual to complete the narrative – or perhaps to start a new one.
Kounellis' works is featured in many major collections worldwide. In Denmark his work is represented at Louisiana in Humlebæk and at HEART.