Artist draws on both sides of family

Jimmy James Kouratoras looks after his son Pouwhare as he works.  PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Jimmy James Kouratoras looks after his son Pouwhare as he works. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
The birth of his fourth child during the Covid-19 
lockdown and the death of a beloved mentor and friend made 2020 a year of both joy and sorrow for Auckland artist Jimmy James Kouratoras. He tells Rebecca Fox about its effect on his new work.

Jimmy James Kouratoras’ heritage has always been reflected in his vibrant art works in one way or another but, for the first time, his Greek heritage is front and centre.

Maori on his mother’s side (Ngati Tiipa, Tainui) and Greek on his father’s, Kouratoras grew up on his nan’s homestead close to a marae and travelled back to his father’s homeland of Crete regularly over the years.

It was on his last trip to Crete that he took special notice of the large ancient urns at the Temple of Knossos.

Urns like these at the Palace of 
Urns like these at the Palace of Knossos in Crete have inspired Jimmy James Kouratoras. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

"They’re really beautiful sculptural pieces. I looked at those and thought they are like bodies, they have their own energy and presence."

For the past few years, Kouratoras has been painting large tiki and exploring different media to bring out the forms, but last year he decided to explore his Greek heritage alongside his Maori one and began painting Greek urns and incorporating text.

"It’s been an adventure, new forms and new shapes. They’re more like portraits, very colourful and bright, layered with whakapapa, layered with stories overlapping each other."

Ranginui to Papatuanuku by Jimmy James Kouratoras.
Ranginui to Papatuanuku by Jimmy James Kouratoras.

Late last year, close friend Dr Rangimarie Turuki Pere, a Maori spiritual elder and leader and one of his biggest supporters, died.

She had given permission for him to incorporate extracts from her book Te Wheke in his new work.

"This collection, therefore, is very special and, like the Grecian urns which carried precious substances, it too, is a homage to my past and those who have filled my life with their goodness.

"Having recently completed these artworks they carry the Wairua of all that has recently happened in my life — both my joys and sorrows."

Incorporating text for the first time has allowed Kouratoras (48) to educate himself and strengthen his understanding of Maori proverbs and the ways of knowing indigenous spiritual pathways.

"We are part of a big universe. A lot of my work brings that to attention, reminds people we are part of a bigger universe, to think about those things rather than getting lost in the daily chores.

"The text is very deliberately strong so people understand what I’m about."

Tohu Tamariki

While he is nervous about the exhibition opening, he believes artists need to take risks or they become complacent.

"A lot of artists push themselves to expand their own bandwidths of creativity. I feel really good about it all — I’ve got my ancestors on my side. That has come through in my work and because of the confidence they have in me I can take risks and be worthy of them."

Kouratoras developed his skills in the film industry as a scenic artist painting backdrops for 22 years and working on shows such as

Hercules, Xena, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Last Samurai and many local and international commercials.

In 2012, he gave it up to concentrate on his own work but credits the years as a scenic artist and the talented people he worked with for helping him develop essential skills.

"I worked with a lot of senior artists who taught me a lot about backdrops and scenery, replicating text and paint effects.

"I was able to really hone my craft and learnt to deliver what people want and at the same time think about what I wanted to do."

An Ode to My Grecian Urn, Jimmy 
James Kouratoras, Artbay Gallery, 
 Queenstown, tomorrow until 
February 22

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