Using Encyclopedias and Old Books, Antonis Donef Turns Yellowed Pages into Text-Rich Collages

Antonis Donef’s eclectic source material is culled from encyclopedias, almanacs, reference books, and antique manuscripts in a variety of languages. The Athens-based artist then cuts and tears excerpts, reconstituting the fragments in new, composite arrangements mounted on canvas, thereby disrupting any discernible narrative or clear succession of ideas. The frayed pages are colored by a distinctive mildew yellow—an earthy tone synonymous with aged literature.

Finally, riffing off the yellowed pages and idiosyncratic details from bygone eras, Donef draws on the collages with a traditional fountain pen. In many pieces, swirling patterns, period-specific characters, and mythical creatures meet in fantastical scenes unmoored from reality. Now, in Turin, Italy, a selection of these striking, text-rich works is on view at the recently opened Privateview gallery.

Donef’s dual interests in the macabre and in strong visual metaphors suggest a Hieronymus Bosch influence. Just as the Dutch painter engaged with biblical themes, Donef too pulls from religious texts. But Donef’s complex, layered approach is irreverent, as he deconstructs sacred texts in order to create new, contemporary iconography.

Donef’s works demonstrate how, when divorced from their original context, words can take on new, pictorial meanings. In one work, snippets of text from a description of a steam engine (in Chinese) and an explanation of the key characteristics of Rumanian costumes (in Cyrillic). For most viewers, however, the letters and characters will be purely visual components in an intertextual, patterned tapestry. The meaning is veiled by language.

Donef’s practice might best be understood under the umbrella of Roland Barthes’ theory of reproduction: When an image is reproduced, it sheds layers of its original aura while gathering new layers of meaning. Likewise, when these abstract shapes and odd creatures are drawn onto historic, sacred pages, a new, hybridized vernacular forms.


—Anna Furman


Antonis Donef’s work is on view at Privateview in Turin, Italy, May 26–Jul. 30, 2016.

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