Essay on Artist.

By: Dr Adelina Modesti

La Trobe University

Florentine Council of Advisors, Advancing Women Artists Foundation.

Joanna Kordos “Artist”



    There are many strings to Joanna Kordos’ creative bow: painter, photographer, designer, curator, builder. What unites these multiple personae is a single minded dedication to quality and to her art that explores the beauty and mystery of life. Joanna’s art is a journey through life’s experiences that pits human endeavour and aspiration against the backdrop of a metaphysical sublime Nature. A Nature that can be embracing, domesticated, comforting, as in the Garden Series,  but also wild, destructive and unforgiving as we see in the shipwrecks of her Maritime Series of 1995. 


    Australian born to migrant Greek parents, the theme of the journey takes on mythical dimensions for Joanna. Reflecting  Joanna’s Greek heritage – myth and history unite in subject matter that echoes Ulysses’ journey home in Homer’s Odyssey (in fact one of her paintings is entitled Ulysses Butterfly Homer's Odyssey, 2003).  Her work also explores mythic themes of light and dark: the Apollonian (reason, clarity, culture) and Dionysian (emotional, elemental, mysterious, nature). Joanna seeks to bring together these opposing forces in a balanced tension that unifies the whole composition: “My aim is to reconcile the multiple and the diverse – to merge the individual in the universal – all through the contemplation of unity”.  Defining herself as a romantic surrealist Joanna is inspired by the Romantic artists and poets, Turner, Delacroix, Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron. At the more local level, it is the Australian epic landscape painters such as Tim Storrier, John Olsen and James Gleeson, artists with a grand vision, who have most played a part in Joanna’s cultural formation.  


    Migration and travel continue Joanna’s prime preoccupation, a “journey of human experience” as the artist herself puts it, which incorporates hopes for a better life than that which is left behind, a means of moving forward, a celebration of life: “The idea of crossing of the ocean of migration and the coastline is the unity of migration. The migrant experience is only seen as a journey”.  But what happens when such hopes are dashed, when cultures collide, when the present cannot reconcile with the past, when identity collapses? Joanna’s Maritime paintings explore such conflict, fragmentation and delusion, inspired by the historical reality of C19th shipwrecks off Victoria’s western coastline, where this country’s hopeful early migrants and settlers perished on arrival after the long trek from the Old World, just within reach of the shore. Life’s misfortunes can be seen in Sail to the Mast 1995, depicting nature and morning light, in which the remains of a ship emerges from the ocean’s turmoil. Like Turner, one of Joanna’s romantic inspirations, there is no single perspective, the viewer is thrown into the depths of nature – a whirlwind of light and colour intermingled with nature’s elements – earth, wind, water. Similarly, works like Suspension and Moonlight In Suspension explore  “the beautiful in landscape infused with mystery and tension. Metaphorically...expressing the presence of man and human emotion. The sails suspended upon the ocean’s surface are those belonging to a shipwreck...representing the human soul clinging to life itself”. Here one is quickly reminded of the Raft of Medusa by Gericault, but Joanna herself also relates the concept of these works to Michelangelo’s Last Judgement, in which the risen tensely await their destiny: entry into Heaven with Christ or banishment to Hell: “the fate of the sail from a wreck is like that of the human soul – swaying, sinking, swimming, floating and often caught in tension” (Artist’s Statement, Antiques & Art in Victoria, p. 82)


    The theme of camouflage plays a part in this tension, a tension that Joanna sees as that between “observation and representation”, the dichotomy between the exterior and interior, surface and depth. Her Victorian Coastal works such as Buoyant  Evening  and The Grotto express the floating elements above and below the sea. Speaking of the Port Campbell coastline, Joanna observed how “everything – the clouds, the large stacks, animals and sea life and historically, the event of shipwrecks seemed all to float upon the ocean’s meandering surface. Works such as Vertigo and A Wondrous Height  explore the unpredictable carvings of nature, through light, dark and saturated colour as shadow...the rugged landscape...brings out one’s own emotion of fear, love, poetry and wonder”. It is this awe inspiring aspect of an unpredictable Nature which humanity must confront that Joanna seeks to explore.  



    The disjunct between surface and depth is also at the core of Joanna’s current works, the Waterlillies series, whilst the theme of camouflage and metamorphoses was developed further in the artist’s Butterfly series, whose lovely works were exhibited in Butterfly Landscape (2000, Suis Generis) and Butterfly Collection  (2003, Hilton on the Park). In these works the journey the artist embarks on is the cycle of life and death (Eros/Thanatos) and metaphysical transformation. Butterfly wings of gossamer and thin veils of colour wash over the blank sheet in iridescent waves which recall Whistler's poetic explorations, and pearls of Venus materialize from the background of copper paint, taking form before our eyes through accretions of pigment and matter - symbols of the beauty but also the fragility of life.  Matter also melts into spirit - the flesh of the body is transported as in flight beyond the material world into infinite realms of spiritual contemplation.  We are left hovering in air, suspended over the landscape to view the disappearing horizon in the distance, just as the protagonist of Nocturne: Butterfly with Dancing Aurora is drawn inevitably, like Icarus, by the light of the advancing day - the light of the world, knowledge, love. This spiritual dimension finds expression particularly through such formal solutions as the triptych (Nocturne/Camouflage) recalling the Trinity, or traditional Christian iconography as the pomegranate (Green Butterfly Serene), its blood-red flesh a paradoxically sensuous reminder of Christ's ultimate sacrifice.


Resurrection, renewal, new beginnings and the mystical origin of life are

also evident in the Garden series of 1993-94. Olive picking at the front lawns with garden still life  (1994), one of Joanna’s most beautiful works, reveals a Chagal like magical realism in its whimsical forms and subtle colour orchestration. This is the painting of which John Olsen wrote in  a letter to the artist “you have a very good hand and excellent feeling for metier...bold and energetic...stay with the wild eye”.


    I would like to turn now to Joanna’s Equine series, of which there are two streams. In the first she explores further her interests in Romanticism with an homage to Delacroix’s magnificent Arabian horses: images of strength and beauty combine in a celebration of both wild nature and the human spirit. While the composure and magnificence of the horse can be seen in Joanna’s racing portraits, symbolic of life’s winning spirit. 


    The human creative spirit is also envisioned in her large triptych portrait commission of the celebrated Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis (2003). In all of her works Joanna uses the best quality oil pigments and materials, many painted on Belgian linen, which further add to their exquisite materiality. Employing traditional old master techniques of glazing her paintings glow with brilliant and deep colour, and are bold, theatrical and expressive, but also melancholy and nostalgic.  Joanna’s works are represented in many private and corporate collections, testament to a career rich in innovation and creativity. 




Dr Adelina Modesti

La Trobe University

Florentine Council of Advisors, Advancing Women Artists Foundation