Machi Kanistra was born on 13 July in Patras, Greece. She studied painting at the Athens School of Fine Arts - ASFA, with scholarship granted to her for earning distinction in the art history courses by Professor Pantelis Prevelakis. She received a diploma of painting in 1954 with distinction for portraiture and composition; and a certificate of theoretical and historical studies in 1956. After her graduation in 1958 she competed for a scholarship abroad at the State Scholarship Foundation - IKY, and though she was successful amongst three competitors with equal rating, the scholarship was awarded to one of the other three.
ARTISTIC ACTIVITY: From her student years she was distinguished for her insistence on correct composition but also for the accomplished design of the composition's individual parts. The color scale of her works of this period are minimal, pale - matt, executed with simple technique (rubbed paint, oil, on absorptive surfaces) while the generalization and efficiency of volumes with color and somehow slightly flat forms is most obvious. The overall impression referred to the cool texture of fresco, by contrast to the prevailing direction of academic teaching at the workshop of Andreas Georgiadis in which she studied. Subsequent she revealed a preference towards post-impressionism. In 1957 she had already appeared publicly for the first time (after review and selection) in two very important exhibitions - the Panhellenic Exhibition of Athens and Moscow Festival with works of nocturnal interiors painted with a range of rich warm color scale. It is worth noting that for the exhibition in Moscow there was a historical committee comprising Agenor Asteriadis, George Bouzianis, George Gounaropoulos, Alex Mylonas and Spyros Vassiliou.
FROM REPRESENTATION TO ABSTRACTION: In her next appearance in the Panhellenic Exhibition of 1960 she presented an outdoors nocturnal composition observed from life. There is evident a strong tendency towards abstraction. The black color taking the lead spreads and support the composition from edge to edge of the composition, while simultaneously eroding the shapes that in turn collect the light and display a strong presence of color. The composition';s parts insinuatingly declare their presence as they are gradually immersed in darkness, without descriptions and outlines. This composition signals the beginning of an investigation that develops around a basic problematic, from a central nucleus to which she constantly returns deleting ever wider circles, and which methodically leads her towards abstraction. In her words: "With direct observation and the study of nature [in nocturnal conditions], I had the opportunity to study all the subtle changes of light on natural forms. That is, how light gradually receded and almost ravenously and aggressively the darkness spread, eroding, altering, and finally devouring them. How at the same time new [forms] emerged as a resistance (as a trace of life), only if you had the perseverance to seeks them in absolute darkness, in the void's surface (a kind of pause, silence and death), to discover these imperceptible forms, to recover them and to represent them. [...] Such a space was suitable for abstract solutions and I was progressively led to an advanced form of abstraction, giving up for a period the clear physical picture, perhaps influenced by the climate of the early '60s, but not completely removed from it." In her first personal exhibition in 1963 she displayed a strong cold geometricality and a diffusion of light in a careful composition.
THE IN-DEPTH TARGET: Very soon she resumed research of the struggle, the resistance of light (and any form of track life) in the upcoming darkness. She abandoned forever the direct observation of nature, prepared herself her canvases and her painting material (glue) that give new opportunities and "the gradual removal from the physical space leads to another liberal and autonomous one, which offers possibilities of combining and engagement the physical with the perceptible space, that is the objective space that is powered by the dynamics of artist's subjectivity. The function of re-call and re-formation - the memory and imagination - allow the simultaneous mix of forms that are more or less abstract, more or less voluminous, while the black accompanied by a fluorescent blue surrounds the forms and determines the context of their development, working together with them as the work's factural component." [Kanistra 2000, p.8] She presented such works of this technique of advanced abstraction in which the presence of the image is quite insinuated, eroded by the darkness, in her second personal exhibition in 1964 and the International Exhibition of Young Artists in Paris in 1965, representing Greece upon being invited by a special committee. These exhibitions opened the horizons for further participation in international fairs abroad. Herewith an extract of the critique by Eleni Vakalo in Nea Newspaper (14/2/1964). "Machi Kanistra works powerfully on abstraction. Warm tones that alternate depth with intensity form shapes, which derive from the same patterns that are caused by the broad vertical brushstroke. Their condensation is given by the concentration of light while in the margins shadow plunges the composition to its end. The black, which is mainly involved in the conflict and to support the intense colors, gradually penetrates between the shapes, even in the transparency that the color allows facilitating the picture's illusion of movement. At this stage Machi Kanistra achieves the gradual conquest of her material, which simultaneously acquires more agility. The pulse enriches what was already warm in her work." ... "Machi Kanistra paints abstractly, but her subjects are sources from life and nature", writes Michalis Konstantopoulos. "She abstracts, yet not by chance. The emotion begins from the real and the existing. I recognize her sensitivity, the richness of her chromatic program, her spiritual and deep sensibility. Of her works I would particularly like to site her Orthros (Matins), which is dominated by the first morning light framed by the dark of night, which retreats defeated, her Astrofegia (Starlight), her Katachnia (Mist), her Nychterino (Nocturne) and her Synthesi (Composition). The colorful art of Kanistra is thoughtful and charming..." [Konstantopoulos, Apogevmatini Newspaper, 6/3/1964]. "The paintings of Machi Kanistra exhibited at Nees Morfes demonstrate that this new artist has a confidence in the expressive use of media and especially the use of color. She treats tones with a particular poetic feeling. The deep blue, the bright red and orange, the gray and yellow appear and reappear in her compositions, without monotony, renewed each time by a variety of consonance, demonstrating a mature joy and a power that has gained awareness..." [M.G. Anagnostopoulos, Eleftheria Newspaper, 7/3/1964]. With the confidence of having conquered a personal visual vocabulary, Machi Kanistra subsequently worked tirelessly without jerky shifts of interest and resumed with perseverance and continuously deepened her investigation by enriching and transforming her work. Gradually she became lean on her personal exhibitions and chose to participate in large and important group exhibitions organized by official bodies. However it is worth mentioning that in 2000 Machi Kanistra made her presence strongly felt with the work of 1992-2000 and a total of 50 artworks "that demonstrate her deepest concern about the genesis and the roles played by forms on the picture. Starting from the functions of light and color the forms reveal the stages of disappearance and reappearance, in the dimensions of space and time... Correlations of codifications, memories and allegories, observations of the flow of phenomena, and withdrawals of archetypes come to light, through the very works of the exhibition, highlighting a series of procedural changes of the picture... Machi Kanistra, an artist who has over many years furthered her reflection, does not describe the world around her, nor the memories that reflect her images. The qualities of her brushstroke and stylistic nuance in her works, do not simply express their impressionistic tensions in the name of the forms that appear or disappear in her works. The painter aims deeper; touching the curbs of necessity and the conditions of presence of the work of art per se, as it essentially pictures thoughtful theorems, with the persuasiveness of flesh and bone of a truth that is questioned by illusion..." [Athina Schina 2000, p.6-7]. "Such an attempt to infiltrate darkness may lead to a reflection of reality, to recall memories, to create imaginary symbolic images, or to embarrass one before the mystery of the unknown and the absolute silence, and to make one encounter the void and threatening or promising flashes, and to invite one to give one's own answer. My wandering in such a field of investigation of forms of expression and the awareness of the unlimited formatting of concepts, functioned as a challenge to my step-by-step search of my own capabilities. The works of this exhibition represent three broad targets that may form respective modules: Parallel Memories; Blazing Night (explosions, winds of fire, flashes); Ana-Thymiamata (externalized energy). The first module is the overtone of previous investigations. Upon observing the flow of events images are projected, especially from memory. Herewith, light works together with the dark in shaping the space. In the subsequent modules the dark is inactive and the light sometimes works as threatening energy, initially enhanced by the power of the glowing red, and at other times through blue or black, which spreads like atmosphere, the light with the golden glow is diffused and becomes either an element of ambience or a light beam (like externalized energy), which surrounds the forms and makes them self-luminous, strongly indicating their predominance over darkness." [Machi Kanistra 2000, p.9]
TEACHING EXPERIENCE: In 1964 Machi Kanistra was appointed as teacher in Second Primary Education and this opened a wide creative path towards an orientation parallel to her artistic activity. Since then her two activities associated and fed one another. It is known that in the past, lack of information particularly in art education - a field that is often misunderstood - lead to teaching errors and created a misconception about the role of art in schools. Anachronistic curricula, formal instructions that contributed to the deterioration of the content of the course, teachers abandoned to their fate without additional training and unsuitable premises, cold and without stimuli, composed the climate in which the teacher without assistance, often with little pedagogical and specific teaching skills, had the duty to activate the creative powers of students and create an appropriate climate for the intellectual development of communication with them [Machi Kanistra, Paint with Tempera, Balloon Magazine, 1989]. From the beginning Kanistra focused on psychism of children, approached and encouraged each separately with the acceptance and recognition of each effort. Very quickly the results were astonishing. Since the first year of teaching pupils of two schools (10th and 3rd Boys School) won a gold cup and 1st prize respectively (committee including Agenor Asteriadis, Alex Mylonas and Spyros Vassiliou) in a World Exhibition. This exhibition was characterized as cultural events and was highly publicized. Many more awards of International Exhibitions to her students followed. She taught at several schools in the country, at Maraslios Pedagogical Academy where she contributed significantly to disseminate the new spirit of artistic education as well as training seminars for teachers of Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education from 1984 to 1990. She participated in many committees of Chamber of Fine Arts of Greece - EETE, and the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs YpEPTH and the Hellenic Pedagogical Institute for the drafting of proposals for new curricula for all levels of education (1984-1989). She was responsible for monitoring the implementation of art education in the country's Multi-Branch Lyceums from 1988 to 1991. In recent years (since 1993) after the death of her husband, renowned artist and teacher, Vrassidas Vlahopoulos, she teaches drawing for candidates of the National Technical University of Athens at the art workshop that Vlahopoulos himself founded many years ago.
EXHIBITIONS: Machi Kanistra presented the following personal exhibitions: Athens College, Psychiko (1963); Nees Morfes Gallery, Athens (1964); Melina Mercouri Cultural Center, Athens (2000). § She also took part in the following group exhibitions: International Exhibition, Moscow, U.S.S.R. (1957); Panhellenic Exhibition, Athens (1957,1960,1963,1965,1967, and 1975); Nees Morfes Gallery, Athens (1964,1965,1966 and 1968); 4th International Exhibition, Paris (1965); Galerie Zygos, Athens (1965,1967,1968); PanEuropean Painting Exhibition, New York (1969); World Exposition, Osaka, Japan (1970); City of Athens Cultural Center, Athens (1975, 1985, 1990); ASFA Alumni Exhibition, Athens School of Fine Arts, Athens (1979); EETE Traveling Exhibition, Chamber of Fine Arts of Greece, Athens (1985); Korgialenios School, Spetses Island (1986); Municipal Gallery of Athens, Athens, Athens (1996). § Artworks by Machi Kanistra are kept at the following institutions: The American College of Greece, Athens - Ministry of Culture, Athens - Gallery of Athens.
Machi Kanistra is a member of the Chamber of Fine Arts of Greece - EETE and the Union Teachers in Art Education. For the greatest part of her life to the present she lives and works in Athens.
[Megakles Rogakos 07/2009]
SCHINA, ATHINA Machi Kanistra: Night Journey - Blazing Night 2000 Melina Mercouri Cultural Center, Athens