Whenever I travel, I like to take a day or so to visit the museums of the place I’m staying in. I always thought places like art museums hold the best of what humanity has to offer, and art museums that highlight the respective culture of the town or country is even more special. And in the case of Crete, it shows just how important art has always been and always will be to the Cretan people.
It’s true, Crete is not known for being an artist colony. Perhaps it should be. Towns like Rethymno and Chania have elegant artist workshops tucked away in their alleys and byways, often covered in flowering trellises with their art hanging on door-frames and windows. From the brightest colors in hyper realistic paintings of the sea, or paintings of olive trees done in an impressionist style, or stunning charcoal works of boats in harbors, these hidden gems line the walls and are stacked upon tables for those willing to look through the vast number of artworks. Sometimes you can catch the artist in their work, electric fans whirring above them, the smell of cigarette smoke wafting through their open windows and into the street. A still life all its own unfolds before you, and if you’re smart, you’ll walk away with one of these paintings or pastels or charcoal drawings that serve as a better representation of that magnificent island than any photo ever could.
These artists are continuing a long history of Cretan art. Visit the archaeological museums in Heraklion and you will see, the people on this island have been connected to art since the Minoans ruled the island. Frescoes were the most prevalent examples, such as the dolphin fresco that once adorned the wall of the Queen’s Megaron, private apartments at the palace of Knossos. It hangs now in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, where the rich blues and uncanny fluidity of them entrance visitors from all around the globe. How did this fresco come to be so blue, you wonder? Historians may be puzzled, as the color was so unusual for the late Bronze age, but any artist could tell you how and why: the island inspires bright and vibrant colors, it inspires movement, it inspires life in its art. If you doubt me, take a look at the Bull-Leaping Fresco in the first floor of the museum, a work of art that, like the Dolphin fresco, used to adorn the palace walls at Knossos. A charging, angry reddish-brown bull with horns of gold is framed against a sky-blue background, as three men take the animal by its horns and catapult themselves over it, gracefully somersaulting over his back as the bull rages on. Grace in the face of certain peril, captured in all its wondrous fluidity and color. It is life in motion, captured forever in stucco.
Life in Crete is vibrant. It is loud, always in motion, and always colorful. Perhaps that is why the art style has always reflected as such. It is unique, and even if Crete hasn’t been acknowledged as a haven for artists, those who come here with no expectation leave here marveling at the beauty of the world around them…as seen through Cretan eyes. It is a celebration of life.
What more can you ask of an artist?
By Katarina Kapetanakis