Berkshire Botanical series embraces power of nature

Peter Gerakaris


Berkshire Botanical series embraces power of nature

For the last three years, in an old Cornwall farmhouse, Peter Gerakaris has been developing “Microcosms,” his show dedicated to endangered species and their habitats. His kaleidoscopic icons and mosaics, psychedelic “tondos” (paintings in the round), and vivid origami sculptures—“I love color,” he says, and you can tell—are on view at the Berkshire Botanical Garden’s Leonhardt Galleries in Stockbridge, Mass. through Aug. 4.

It is the icons that are, perhaps, the most arresting. Traditional icons are venerated Christian images, typically paintings of Christ or the Madonna, that serve worshippers as an opening into the realm of the sacred unseen. Gerakaris began making icons of endangered species shortly after a 2017 trip to Rome delivered him to a Byzantine basilica in Trastevere, where he was struck by the power of the form.

"Octopus (Cephalopod) Icon", 16 in. x 16 in., Gouache & gold leaf on panel.Provided

As an art student in Rome, he had learned the traditional technique, using egg tempera and gold leaf to paint a Madonna and Child icon, which his Greek grandmother later had consecrated. In 2017, he had recently begun to work with depictions of endangered species, he said, “and I thought of this crazy parallel—these ancient art forms of iconography are almost as endangered as these animals. What better way to reinforce the contemporary scarcity of these creatures than by using this very rare, sacred, time-honored but kind of endangered process?” The resulting paintings reframe these animals and their endangered habitats as windows into the sacred, and demand that we look these rare beings in the eyes.

“There’s a pygmy owl painting in the show. Pygmy owls are endangered and threatened in American southwest because their habitats are being destroyed, due to many reasons but mostly because of brush fires. The figure of the owl is a static silhouette, but in patterning the internal plumage, I allow myself to just kind of cut loose. I found myself painting—and this just kind of came out—if you were to crop that and forget about the rest of the painting, it could be an abstraction of fire and smoke,” Gerakaris said. “I’m deeply humbled by the natural world. For me personally, walking in the forest is my own version of going to a cathedral. I experience a sense of wonder that makes me realize there is some power out there far greater and transcendent than us mere mortals. For me painting is a matter of evoking that feeling.”

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