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Meet the Artist's Very Good . . . Er, Friend

Konstantin Kakanias' alter ego, who appears in hundreds of his works, is his constant creative companion.

September 03, 2000|HUNTER DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP | Hunter Drohojowska-Philp is a frequent contributor to Calendar

Mrs. Tependris frets as she paces her living room full of antique furniture and ancestor portraits. Her makeup is intact, her hair groomed, and she remembered to put on her earrings, but she worries about family dramas, recent humiliations. It's all too much. She needs a change of scene, a fresh start. Where to go? Los Angeles, of course.

Mrs. Tependris is the alter ego and creation of Greek artist Konstantin Kakanias. In drawings and paintings, she has traveled around the world with him, most recently coming to L.A., where Kakanias has lived for the past three years. Her impressions of the L.A. art world have been recorded by Kakanias in dozens of clever watercolor drawings with texts in "Her Hollywood Years: Part I" at Works on Paper Inc. from Saturday to Oct. 21.

The announcement for the show is tantalizingly irreverent. "Are You Depressed?" asks the hand-lettered leaflet that looks similar to the ones you see tacked to utility poles. After a laundry list of symptoms, it suggests that if you have not responded to Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Zoloft or Luvox, you should meet Mrs. Tependris: "a living legend, a lady of healing, a style guru."

Kakanias estimates that he has memorialized Mrs. T in hundreds of works so far. Some of them are more or less narrative--her decision to escape New York by running away to L.A., for instance. But most of them are little illuminations of current art history--Mrs. T amid the works, the artists, the trendy galleries, the whole art business. The line between the character and her creator is left intentionally fuzzy.

Kakanias' dark eyes dance with self-deprecating humor as he speaks in seductively cross-pollinated accents. "Mrs. Tependris," he says, "is this friend of mine who I have created to give me the liberty to play and to revise things from another point of view. The woman is me, but I'm not her. We share opinions, but not about everything."

One critic, responding to a show of Kakanias' drawings and painted ceramics in New York last year, called his art "wickedly flippant and completely irreverent." Another observed that Kakanias has taken on "the subject of celebrity worship, from which the art world is hardly immune, neatly debunking its trendier figures while mythologizing them at the same time."

Kakanias is inclined to agree about the mix in his work: "It's comedy," he stresses, "but it's not satire--not ill-spirited."

Tanned and trim, Kakanias, 38, is wearing shorts and a T-shirt on a sweltering summer afternoon in his Western Avenue studio, the same used for many years by Pop artist Ed Ruscha. The walls are aflutter with dozens of sprightly watercolors of the rich and bored Mrs. Tependris' adventures in L.A. In her helmet hair and Manolo mules, she goes to the Chinatown art galleries where she loses her toy poodle but puts up fliers offering a $10-million reward. Another day, she tries to drive to the notoriously well-concealed Bergamot Station art galleries but cannot find them. Flailing wildly behind the wheel of her convertible, she screams into the car phone, 'You are where? Where?"

For the most part, however, Kakanias inserts Mrs. Tependris into the prototypical works by celebrated artists. In homage to a famous David Hockney painting, she stands at the edge of a pool looking down at a nude boy swimming under water. In the manner of Conceptual artist John Baldessari, there is a painting of her bejeweled hand pointing at a box containing an emerald necklace and earrings. As Chris Burden, during his performance art period, she has herself locked in a locker for five days.

Mrs. Tependris has acquired a taste for the more daring of the younger set as well. In another drawing, she stands in for Las Vegas-based installation artist the Rev. Ethan Acres, levitating her poodle from a Louis XIV chair in a play on Acres' own rapturous depictions of pets raised into heaven. Since Kakanias is a big fan of Acres' art, Mrs. T also copies a recipe for "oeufs Francis Picabia" from the Alice B. Toklas cookbook, emulating the actual acts of the reverend's wife, who publishes her husband's favorites in the magazine Art Issues.

"This is like a reprise of art history since she redoes the recipe of Mrs. Ethan Acres by redoing the recipe of Toklas," Kakanias says, laughing. "It's, like, who is enough of [an art] gourmet to know all of the references in this piece?"


Kakanias, a native of Athens, moved at age 18 to Paris, where he studied fashion and fine art. He says that his late father, an industrialist, collected art and that his mother "collects pearls." His family remains in Greece, and Kakanias maintains a residence on the Aegean island of Parros.

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