Nikolaos Ventouras was born the 31st of August 1899, in a noble family of the region of Venice, Veneto, which was included in the Libro d’Oro. The family settled on the island of Corfu around 1730. In fact one of his ancestors was the writer Isabella Teotochi Albrizzi and Ioannis Kapodistrias, who was his great uncle. He had one brother, married 2 times, had a daughter from his second marriage and a grandson. He studied chemistry but became one of the greatest engravers of the 20th century. He did not study further , but since he was familiar with a number of languages, he acquired his own, deep education, particularly around issues of art and philosophy.
It has been written about him “if etching had not been discovered, surely he would have discovered it”.
Nikos Ventouras passed on April 1st 1990.
The first years
As he notes on his resume, drafted in 1981, “already from the early classes of elementary school, I was taught sketching”.
In 1916 he took a 2-year class to study chemistry in Athens at the Academy of Commerce and Industry, but never worked as a chemist. Although he had no academic studies on art, his devotion and persistence guided him in his work.
During the 20s he served in HMS Ramillies.
Nikolas Ventouras was a passionate photographer and never missed a chance to capture ‘life’ with his Rolleiflex. It is noteworthy that some of his photos were chosen by the National Geographic. He also loved traveling, motorcycles and bicycles. In 1923, from March 16th to May 5th he travelled from Brindisi to Vienna with a group of cyclists.
It can be agreed that the starting point of his artistic career were the watercolour lessons he received from Angello Giallina, from 1931 to 1937.
He started printmaking, specifically etching in wood, zinc and stone (a relatively new technique, invented by the German Alois Senefelder), as early as 1932, feeling reluctant in respect to his tutor. But engraving won him over and he focused his interest in perfecting it. In his résumé he notes he took some lithography (etching on stone) courses in 1937. Primarily the evolution of the engraving was personal and he evolved several variations of known techniques.
His complete work consists of dry-point, vernis mou, aquarelle, oil, wood etching, zinc etching, lithographs, lithograph on zinc, printing fabric, photogravure, monotypes and custom prints for Ex Libris, books, magazines, stamps, greeting cards etc.
The study of chemistry and the study of bees helped him experiment with materials and corrosion times, which helped him achieve the exact level of detail he intended.
Due to his persistence and his evolution in the area of etching he is considered a pioneer of printmaking.
He draws his inspiration mainly from the local tradition of Corfu focusing his on themes of the city life in the Corfu town, rural landscapes and the ships, using the human form only in complementary roles. Other thematic sections, but to a lesser extent, can be identified as his landscapes, the famous Constellations, impressive processions, religious performances and his completely abstract compositions. Color was used to accentuate his feeling and therefore it is not uncommon to find variations of his works with color. Furthermore, he uses the visual styles of the European era with equivalent expressionist, surrealist and cubist elements, which are reflected in his works.
With seemingly fast lines that give a capacity in his works, he manages to give an abstract character which differentiates them from conventional standards of his time. This brings etching side by side with the modernist tendencies of Greek art. His works reveal a modernist approach, especially for his time, as the building blocks of visual configurations released by the initial visual stimuli and simultaneously incorporate his personal expression. He uses an expressionist idiom, but not distinguished for its brutality in a more poetic character.
Nikolaos Ventouras was the only Greek artist who served printmaking with such dedication, persistence and consistency for over half a century and has maintained throughout his vroowork morphoplastic idiom.
He was very meticulous keeping detailed notes for each work and excellent organization of the workshop, tools, apprenticeship. In the file kept detailed notes, the emotion that he intended to capture, the time of taking a task and when finished, the technique used and materials. Noted that perhaps the same project after a long time or even several years, noting the progress of each project and its progress. The raw materials were thoroughly registered. Especially for paper, he noted weight, type, date and origin and how that affects the result of “printing”. The colors were always clean and he made himself the blend of colours and chemical compounds in order to achieve the desired result.
The perfection and meticulousness that characterized him allowed Nikolao Ventoura to print the same project in different sizes with the exact same detail. He also figured out a way to print the etchings without pressure marks and even upside down. He was very strict with his work and made notes -in the judgment of quality performance in his own metric ranging from “kachektypon” (misprint) all they through to “exeretikon” (perfect).
With these efforts left behind an innovative project rich in expression and meaningful content.
From his first works until 1937, Nikolas Ventouras, carves landscapes. His work is calm and filled with light; his subjects come from Corfu and Venice.
During the years of the Second World War and immediately after the war, 1945-1948, he floods his projects with inspiration and expression drawn from post-war ruins, disasters and perspective distortions. His work clearly reveals his psychological state influenced by the historical events. This period can be identified as expressionistic.
1949 to 1950 shows his diversity; few lines, strictly calculated expressing serenity and tranquility, his works are again full of light.
1955 is the year Piraeus changes the scene for Ventouras. He introduces plurality in intercepting forms which, in time, are simplified. He uses, smokestacks, winches and cranes whatever is necessary in the background to complement the harbour, and show how live it is. His lines and some “drops” of color complete his works.
Mr. Manolis Hatzidakis in a 1963 speech given at the “Athens Technological Institute” notes: […] By simplifying things, we would say that we feel to exhale from the work of Mr Ventoura a new lyrical sense of the world ernment so disciplined to laws purely disciplinary. People, landscapes and people, transformed into works of art by a lyrical fantasy goes beyond appearances and things and which found expression within too simple: the search for the essential, and the rejection of unnecessary lent the works of Mr. . Ventoura a cleaner spiritual quality. […]
In 1928 he illustrated an ethography of Constantine Theotoki “The Life and Death of Karavela”, using India ink. The illustration was bought by Vassileiou’s publishing house and the relevant printing plates were created. Before these are printed, Mr. Vassileiou passes, and the project stops. Finally, in 1961 his son issued the book with a small number of the drawings as they could not find all of the printing plates.
The prints carry the nickname N. G. Viros (as per Ventouras’ request)
He worked and was friends with other major Greek artists such as Nikos Hantzikyriakos – Gika, Alamanos Spyros and Eleni Vakalo.
He first presented his work in Athens, at the 1948 Panhellenic Art Exhibition in Athens and continued to exhibit his work every year untill1969. Nikolaos Ventouras has participated in individual, group and international exhibitions in Greece and abroad. It is noteworthy to mention that he also participated at the Biennale of Sao Paulo (1955,1957), the Alexandria Biennale (1957), the Venice Biennale (1964).
His first solo exhibition was presented in 1963 at the Athens Institute of Technology. A retrospective exhibition of his work was held a year after his death, in 1991 in Athens. Art Gallery Hyacinth. In May 29th 2016 the “Municipal Art Gallery” in Corfu opens its doors to a retrospective exhibition, in memory of “Nikolaos, Ada and Fanny Ventoura”, and is titled “Persistently Modern”.
Although he experimented and printed in all kinds of surfaces, it was etching on copper plates that won him over.