‘The Mount Athos for artists’: The Greek island of Hydra

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Hydra has become the destination for creatives, being used as a locational muse for artists from Henry Miller to Leonard Cohen.

It was 62 years ago that a young, undiscovered Leonard Cohen purchased a dilapidated three-storey house on the town’s upper edge.

Leonard Cohen playing guitar on Hydra in 1960.

The island may be a far cry from the image of primitive simplicity that first drew bohemians of the likes of Cohen, but it still represents an artist’s mecca.

“So many of our heroes, so many of our idols were here,” Alexis Veroukas, a Greek painter who moved to the island a decade ago, told The Guardian.

“It is not too much to say it is a holy place, the Mount Athos for artists.”

In agreement is British painter William Pownall who says the rugged natural beauty has played a vital role in anchoring him in Hydra.

The 87-year-old was not only a friend of Cohen’s but has fond memories of the island’s incomparable hospitality.

British painter William Pownall in his Hydra studio. Photograph Helena Smith / The Guardian

“The Greeks were very good to us foreigners,” he recalls in his waterfront studio, canvasses stacked along the walls.

Speaking of the life on the island, Pownall speaks of the early wake-ups, the midday rests and the sound of water.

“It can bring the tranquillity you are looking for when you are trying to convey peace and stillness,” the artist says.

The essence of the island and its metaphysical dialogue between the contemporary and the ancient can be perfectly encapsulated in Jeff Koon’s Apollo exhibition which is on show until October 31.

The exhibition features the iconic image of Apollo’s wind spinner as well as contemporary offerings to the sun god in the form of feasts and polychrome bronze sneakers.

Jeff Koons, Nike Sneakers (2020-2022). Photo: Eftychia Vlachou

Koons promises an immersive multi-sensory experience. To get more of the full effect, French journalist Judith Benhamou-Huet’s video from the site is worth a look.

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