Greek-American Artist Amalia Kouvalis: A New Twist on the Classics

Meet Emerging Chicago Greek Artist Amalia Kouvalis. Learn about her work and find out her antidote for the “very fast and loud” pace of life.


Meet Chicago Greek Artist Amalia Kouvalis

Amalia Kouvalis is an emerging artist who works and teaches in the Chicago area.

“I’ve been told my work is melancholic and mysterious. I always wanted my work to have a heavy tone, so I feel like I’ve accomplished that. I want people to take a moment and appreciate quiet melancholy because life can be very fast and loud.”

Now if you’re a Chicago Greek, you’re thinking, “Kouvalis – why does that sound familiar?” Read on to find out and learn more about this up-and-coming artist.

 

Greek-American Artist Amalia Kouvalis with 'Librium', an oil-paining
Greek-American Artist Amalia Kouvalis with one of her favorite oil paintings, ‘Librium’, 2016, oil on canvas, 22×28. IMAGE: amaliakouvalis.com

 

Immigration in Her Blood, Passion in Her DNA

Chicago Greeks may recognize the name. Amalia’s father, Alex Kouvalis, was born in the mountainous Arkadia region of Greece and immigrated to America as a teenager in the 1950s. After first living with an uncle in Wyoming, he relocated to Chicago and graduated from Austin High School, where many Greeks attended. Following that, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics and economics. Intelligent and ambitious, Alex worked as a physicist for Sunbeam, Zenith, and Argonne National Laboratory, per a 1995 article in the Chicago Reader.

His final position at Argonne required travel and was demanding, so Alex left and started his own real estate agency. After that, he bought the historic Patio Theatre in Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood. The Patio was one of the city’s grand old movie houses that Alex restored and operated as a second-run theater which became popular in the neighborhood. It was a labor of love for him and an occupation he considered his semi-retirement, per the Reader.

He met his wife, Amalia’s mother, there. Magdalena was a young woman from Poland, who worked for him selling tickets at the theater. He told the Reader, “She was from the old country, with nice values.”

 

Training in the Arts

While she was growing up, Amalia took private piano lessons. That was her serious study, while art was a way for her to have fun. She taught herself with books and tutorial videos. Her family was supportive of both endeavors, but she eventually chose to pursue art over music. Her formal visual art training came at the School of the Art Institute (SAIC), from which she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2015. She has high praise for Adam Scott, an associate professor of painting and drawing and an artist who has exhibited worldwide.

“He exudes wisdom in a very energetic and interesting way. I could listen to him talk about art for hours, and I have. I took two classes with him and would’ve easily taken a third because he always brings something new for his students to think about with obscure assignments.”

While at SAIC, she switched her concentration from painting to printmaking because of stylistic differences.

“I felt pretty out of place and often disagreed with teachers and peers. Printmaking gave me the satisfaction of what I love to do: labor intensive art. Etching requires so many necessary steps, materials and techniques in a specific order and that always felt exciting to me. There’s always something magical about revealing a new print under a press.”

The artists who have influenced Amalia are varied, but are consistent with her interest in the human figure. They include Henry Darger, Chicago’s most famous outsider artist; the surrealists Max Ernst, Man Ray and Rene Magritte; the avant-garde photographer and filmmaker Maya Deren; the contemporary baroque painter Nicola Samori; and Romantic painter and printmaker Francisco Goya.

 

Inspired by Greek mythology

Female figures and feminine power are dominant themes in Amalia’s art. Some of the women’s faces are veiled while other times they stare with exposed vulnerability. Their bodies are often nude and in acrobatic motion. She draws inspiration from Greek mythology, and hopes to soon create a series based on those stories and characters.

“My most favorite etching is ‘My Turn’, which is a curvy, seductive, and classically beautiful portrayal of Medusa holding the head of Perseus.”

In the myth, Perseus murders Medusa and holds her head triumphantly as a prize. That scene is depicted in “Perseus,” a bronze sculpture by Renaissance artist Benvenuto Cellini. In Amalia’s piece, the situation is reversed, and Medusa displays the severed head of Perseus.

 

Greek-American artist Amalia Kouvalis with her artwork.
Emerging Chicago Greek Artist Amalia Kouvalis showed her work at a recent exhibition. IMAGE: amaliakouvalis.com

 

From Dreams Comes Art

Another influence on Amalia’s art are her episodes of sleep paralysis, a state when a person is conscious, but his or her body is still asleep.

“During those moments, I have to count in my head, and sometimes it can last several seconds or minutes. Other times, my mind plays tricks on me; I believe I actually woke up, got ready, and started my day, until something unusual happens like a large bug crawls out of my mouth, or I see a dark shadowy figure, and then I begin to have that mental clarification where I recognize I am dreaming, but feel trapped because my body is still asleep.”

 

Oak Park Art League membership

Amalia found a good fit as a member of the Oak Park Art League, which, according to Executive Director Julie Carpenter, has a strong appreciation for representational art, both in its exhibitions and art classes. Julie explained that the art league’s Carriage House Gallery is within walking distance of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio and Ernest Hemingway’s first home, forming a cultural triad that draws tourists and locals alike. Amalia currently teaches oil painting and exhibits her work there. Julie spoke about Amalia’s work.

“She’s wonderful at what she does. She’s most adept at how she treats light in her work.”

 

Lillstreet Art Center residency

Amalia also teaches etching and painting classes at Lillstreet Art Center, where she begins an artist residency starting this fall. The art center, located on Ravenswood Avenue on Chicago’s north side, holds both classes and art exhibitions. In addition, Lillstreet offers residencies in which artists have 24/7 access to the studio with a minimum requirement of 20 hours a week in the studio with eight hours spent on managing and maintenance tasks.
Amalia reflected on her philosophy on art making and teaching.

“I absolutely love this quote from Bob Ross: ‘Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do.’ So many people believe that to be an artist is to be born with talent, which simply isn’t so. To learn the fundamentals of art theory and to understand a specific art medium is to become dedicated to the craft. It will be frustrating and there will be many moments when artists doubt themselves, but those who are truly invested in learning how to draw, paint, sculpt, etc. will achieve so much throughout their artistic journey.”

 


Connect with Amalia Kouvalis: website, Facebook, Instagram


Article about Alex Kouvalis and the Patio Theatre in the Chicago Reader


 

Read about other Greek artists:

Diane Thodos: Passion for the Arts is a Family Affair
Markos Kampanis – A Man of Many Talents

 

See more in our Arts & Entertainment section

Katie Copenhaver
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Katie Copenhaver

Katie Copenhaver is a freelance writer/editor, teacher, and poet. She previously worked for the Chicago Artists’ Coalition and attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she recognized the visual artists she met as her kindred spirits.
Katie Copenhaver
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