In 2012, Venizelos G. Gavrilakis, Senior Expert Artworks Conservator and Restorer, with specialization in paintings, icons, antiques, and works of art, along with his wife, Vaia A. Karagianni, also a Conservator and Restorer, founded “Ieri Parakatathiki Labs,” a conservation and restoration laboratory for old works of fine art, based Istanbul. In 2022, they renamed their laboratory “VENIS STUDIOS” and expanded to Greece, Cyprus, Jordan and other countries.
VENIS STUDIOS is a company that undertakes conservation and restoration projects of all fixed and portable works of art such as paintings, icon panels, artworks, antiques, historical monuments, etc., in Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Jordan, United States, and many other nations. Its purpose is to save artifacts and artworks by combining science with art. Recently, The World Art News had the pleasure to interview its President, Venizelos G. Gavrilakis, who shared with us fascinating images, stories, and facts about his unique art career. Here’s Part 1 of that conversation.
What is your professional art background and what inspired you to become a restorer?
Since I was a child, I was always involved with art by creating, learning, or repairing art objects. I was always interested in history, ancient civilizations, and cultural heritage. Archeology and architecture were my “dream jobs” as a child. When I was finishing high school I had an important discussion with an old family friend about my future. My friend told me that a job in art conservation and restoration could be a good career choice for me. These words stuck with me and I never forgot them. It was the beginning of my inspiration to become a professional art restorer.
What are some of your most notable restoration projects?
The three most notable restoration and conservation projects of my career so far are:
- A Fayum Mummy Portrait from the 2nd – 3rd century BC.
- The discovery of a unique 14th century Byzantine Icon (circa 1350+)
- The discovery of an authentic Ivan Aivazovsky painting with his signature from the 19th century.
What are the most challenging projects you have worked on, and how did you overcome them?
One of the most challenging and dimensionally largest projects was an altar dating from 1707 in Iviron Monastery in Mount Athos, Greece. The altar was 14 meters wide and 8-10 meters high. Together with another colleague conservator and restorer, I worked on it in 1999-2000. It was a gilded, wood-carved altar that was half covered with thick layers of oil paint that we had to remove and clean the authentic gilded surface. On the top parts of the altar the gilded surfaces were covered with thick oxidized varnishes and a lot of dust!
It took a year to finish, but the result was marvelous. From the beginning of the project, I knew what the final result would be. That is always the case regardless of the size or difficulties of an artwork. I always see how the artwork or monuments will be after conservation and restoration. This gives me the motivation to overcome all difficulties.
How do you approach a restoration project and what are the most common issues that you encounter when restoring art pieces?
The approach to any art conservation and restoration project is always the same: respect the history, authenticity, and originality. At VENIS STUDIOS, our basic principle is a combination of science and art through the process of conservation and restoration. In practice, there is a standard method that we always follow:
- Examination & Research
- Conservation Treatment
- Preventive Conservation
Is art restoration expensive and is there a lot of demand for it?
The price of art conservation and restoration its always different according level of difficulty, level of experts and assistants, time, materials, examinations, etc. Artwork restoration and conservation projects require expertise and a deep understanding of the artwork’s problems.
How long did it take you to achieve financial success and is it hard to run a profitable restoration business?
All my life! Very hard work to this very day! To be among the best isn’t easy at all. It requires a lot of time to constantly improve our standards and quality of work. Insistence to detail and being a perfectionist are vital. Our success is not related to profit but to continuously upgrading our high scientific standards and the quality of our work. That’s why we give a “lifetime warranty” on all our restorations.
Who are your clients and who do you work with the most: museums, galleries, or private collectors?
My clients come from all over the world. I collaborate with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, museums, private galleries, auctions houses, private collectors, and many others. Wherever in the world is requested, we are there – no matter how far. We are a global company. We are based in Istanbul, but have departments in other countries such as Greece, Cyprus, and Jordan.
What museums have you worked with and what have you restored for them?
I have worked with Greek museum like the Cappadocian Studies Center , The Αrchbishop Μuseum of Alexandroupolis, cultural associations, and private museums in Istanbul and Greece. We mostly worked on icons and paintings for these museums.
Are there any professional, ethical, or legal standards that regulate art restorers?
Yes, of course, one of the oldest is “The Rome Conservation Charter,” published in 1972 (it has been updated since). There are also other official codices for conservation and restoration, dictating what materials we should use.
Part 2 of our Exclusive Interview with Master Conservator & Restorer Venizelos G. Gavrilakis
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