Telemachos Kanthos is considered to be one of the ‘fathers’ of Cypriot painting and was the first engraver on the island. He originated from Alona, a village in the highlands of Pitsilia. In 1929, he went to Athens with the intent to study architecture at the Polytechnic University; at the same time, he enrolled in a Fine Art course, which he chose to follow instead. He was taught by tutors Spyros Vikato, Dimitris Biskinis and Oumvertos Argyros. He was admitted to Gianni Kefallinos’s engraving class in 1934, a subject at which he excelled. Along with fellow students G. Moralis, G. Tsarouchis, N. Engonopoulos, G. Dimou, D. Daniel, Tassos, G. Manousaki and others, Kanthos is a member of the infamous “Generation of Thirty”. When he was still a student, he had the opportunity to work as his engraving tutor’s assistant on the luxury editions of books. In 1936, he lived and worked in Corfu for a few months at the Aspiotis Graphic Arts Laboratory (E.L.K.A.), a company he continued t collaborate with upon his return to Athens.
Due to the war in 1939, Kanthos was forced to go back and remain in Cyprus, where he struggled to get by. For the first two years, he was shut off in Alona, engraving and painting for himself; later, he was asked to work as a stage and costume designer at the newly established ‘Lyric’ and ‘New Lyric’ Cypriot Theatre. Concurrently, in this period, he created hundreds of portraits, drawings, watercolours and a few oil paintings.
His work is wholly inspired by the landscape and the people of Cyprus. His personal journey into finding his own visual style began with the study of 19th Century landscape painting. Kanthos’s pieces are distinguished by their expressive power and lyricism. Since he was particularly interested in topography, he studied Cypriot light and the colouring of the land in depth. His objective was to freely interpret what he saw and translate it into his art, not faithfully copy the external features of his subject matter. Apart from his attempt to give character to the light, he did not ignore or alter the essentials that marked the Cypriot landscape; he discreetly simplified these characteristics and shaped or removed complementary or anecdotal motifs. An artist comfortable with colour, he used it boldly, sensitive to how it would impute to the overall theme of each piece. He also used it to give volume and perspective and, ultimately, to complete the expressive nature of the work itself.
Kanthos described his artwork as ‘Experiential’; in direct correlation to his experiences in life. In contrast to his paintings which are poetic and have a lyrical quality, Kanthos’s engravings – especially the pieces made during the Second World War in 1941 and after the tragic occupation of Cyprus in 1974 – are robust and dramatic with a tremendous amount of expressive power. They have simplistic compositions and a symbolic, omnipotent essence. A prime example of the intimate nature and expressive strength of his engraving work is a series of twelve woodcuts entitled ‘Hard Times’ which was awarded a prize in 1984 at the XV Biennale in Alexandria, Egypt.
Telemachos Kanthos, Prayer, 1972, Oil on canvas, 44 x 47 cm