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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 13 June 2015
14 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 13 JUNE 2015 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Keeping tradition From Albania to Greece, and now down under - Anna Prifti discusses her passion for iconography, its symbolism and her journey as an artist ANASTASIA TSIRTSAKIS Nineteen-seventies communist Albania - that's where Anna Prifti's deep-seated appreciation for Byzantine iconography stems from. With religion and all religious representations, including iconography, outlawed, it was an oppressive and turbulent period for the pious. However, on her many trips to the museum as an art student, she would sit before the Greek and Roman statues, iconography plastered on the walls in the background, "only for cultural purposes", she says with a smile that suggests otherwise. "That's how I started - I would see them at home and I would see them at the museum, and I would make the connection. Children are curious - they ask questions," she tells Neos Kosmos. Enrolled in the Academy of Arts in Tirana to pursue studies in monumental painting, her growing interest in Byzantine iconography led her to Greece - a decision that would change her future direction in ways the artist could never imagine. "I was travelling back and forth to Greece and came across this iconography studio run by monks from Mount Athos - they had come to paint the local church. I applied to work with them and they said, 'yes, we do need assistance, but we need a man'. They thought: 'We will train her, but she will only work in the studio, she will not help us with the scaffolding.' But I didn't have a problem with heights. I don't know why life gets in the way of women," she says. "I told them I was good at drawing and making coffee, so they said 'draw for us and we'll see how good you are first.' Then they said, 'Okay you're hired, now make a coffee'. In iconography few people have a very good drawing foundation, so that's why they hired me." With churches in Greece varying in size and reaching epic proportions, in a word Anna describes her profession as "tough", often being required to work under harsh conditions, climbing scaffoldings 40 metres high. "The job is really demanding, but for me being single, it was really convenient. I studied hard to get to where I am," she says. Born in Albania to an Albanian father and Greek mother, following the completion of her studies, the then 20-year-old relocated to Greece permanently, where she trained tirelessly as an apprentice, working 14 hour days. With significant meaning attached to each detail of the icon, every aspect requires a certain level of skill and knowledge, commencing from the very beginning with the priming of the board. "You need to prime it with traditional gesso, rabbit skin glue and marble dust, and lots of warm layers. You apply up to 16 to 18 layers, and with various degrees of sandpaper you sand through them until it becomes fine and smooth like a mirror," Anna explains. The techniques, employed to this day, date back to antiquity, when the iconographer would collect stones and minerals, which they would then grind together, sieve to extract the impurities and make a pigment to work with. Today however, new developments have made it far more practical and accessible for people to recreate the Byzantine style no matter where in the world they reside. Once a budding iconographer has mastered the base, they then move on to drawing the landscape and architecture. The impressive trullo in the Greek Orthodox Parish of The Presentation of Our Lady To The Temple, painted by Prifti. "Sometimes you see crooked b y d buildings that don't make sense and you think 'Oh, this iconographer doesn't know how to draw'. Well, there's a reason for that. I In iconography the buildings s start large at the back and then come toward you because it's an i inverted perspective. Everything i is supposed to come towards you, t toward the viewer," she explains. The next step is learning to m d T h u o l t p t p l Melbourne-based iconographer Anna Prifti completing a commissioned piece for St George Orthodox Church in Thornbury. T t t t t master the geometric style used to draw garments worn by the saints. This technique, Anna explains, helps to draw the viewer to look up at the most significant feature of the icon: the face, and the luminous light surrounding it. After two years of labour-intensive training, she was finally granted permission to draw the faces, and therefore complete a commissioned piece from start to finish. But why the need for such lengthy training and precision? "The faces take much longer. The feathering, the cross-hatching, the fine layers that are involved to create the luminous skin tone, the highlights on the face - you take much longer to perfect that.
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