January 24, 2016
I had the honour to meet a great artist and, above all, a great person. Maria Aristidou is a commercial artist from Larnaca, Cyprus. Her work went viral because of her own distinctive technique: using coffee as her medium. Maria studied BA Fine Art Printmaking at the Manchester Metropolitan University, and completed her postgraduate degree in Arts Health at the University of Central Lancashire in the United Kingdom. Maria is interested in pop culture phenomena and trends and most of her pieces are influenced by movie characters and science fiction, which makes her work even more intriguing. Enjoy her words in our tete-a-tete.
- What do you think contemporary art really is?
Contemporary art is something very personal and open. It is the opportunity of an artist to express his or her feelings so broadly using any type of medium. The exciting part of contemporary art is that it has no limits. A person that never had an experience with artistic knowledge has the opportunity to interact with any medium and create art. So contemporary art opens its doors to everyone. Contemporary art is the new world we live in. For me, the media is the new distinctive form of art. We are not depending on galleries and agents anymore. From a personal perspective – I am not implying that this is absolute – contemporary art gives the opportunity to everyone to create something masterly, creatively and cleverly and consequently, to be successful from it. It’s the evolution of the history of art.
- Where do you place yourself in the “art arena” – are you conceptual?
I was given the label of a commercial artist. So, I am a commercial artist. I do love marketing and the fact that I am commercial does not necessarily mean that I don’t belong under the umbrella of the “visual artists”. I do work with concepts if I am asked to. I am drawn into teamwork, into communicating with other artists and customers. I became known due to my concept technique, which is coffee, and I think that this is a concept itself.
- I completely agree with you. How did the coffee technique emerge?
It all started in February 2015. It was completely accidental. I was painting using watercolours, and suddenly coffee poured on my paper and when I saw the effect of coffee on my paper I said “why not?”. From that day onwards, I started experimenting using coffee as my medium. I used different coffee brands and blends. I realised that if I worked with different blends, the colour effect was altering. Subsequently, the technique I have today came out of this process of experimentation. Every coffee has a different colour effect. The Greek coffee has a very interesting effect; it is between grey and sepia. I cannot really explain it.
- Is there another ‘unconventional’ medium you would like to explore in the future?
Yes. Tea will be my next attempt.
- Do you think tea will have the same effect?
I haven’t worked with tea as my medium yet. I do have some thoughts how the effect will turn. For instance, I presume that tea will be much lighter and smoother than coffee. You can use anything that extracts colour as your medium. It is up to the artist to use those colours to make up an unconventional technique. Even ketchup would do.
- When you create, do you instantly create or do you have a specific procedure you follow?
There is a procedure. I need to observe the picture that I am painting. I have to start painting the light areas and then proceed to the bolder ones. The tricky part of coffee is that as soon as you start painting there is no way back. You cannot erase anything. So every time I start painting with coffee I am a bit restrained and then I go crazy (laughter). I start splashing, throwing and lose myself in my painting.
- Are you a coffee lover?
I am indeed!
- So basically, one day while you were painting, your coffee was poured accidentally and that was it, you went viral as a coffee artist.
Exactly. The funny part of the entire story is that the coffee that was spilled that day is not the coffee I am using today to create my pieces. I spilled my latte. I always drink latte! But now, I am not using latte as a medium. You know milk is a bit risky so I’d rather use coffee. Plain coffee. But no sugar (laughter).
- What is so special about coffee compared to other materials?
Coffee is a material that can destroy your brush easily. With other materials, if you clean it properly you can go on with the same brush for years. But with coffee, it’s completely different. Coffee can wear your brush easily. Perhaps, coffee is what draws me into a painting. Coffee gives me that vibe of roughness and toughness. Perhaps it is the entire concept of coffee. I cannot explain it. When I use watercolours the essence I get is not the same. Watercolours reflect a smoothness. It is something nice, neat and perfect. But with coffee, I can express who I really am. I simply go crazy and wild about it. It is okay to be messy with it! Perhaps it is something personal. The addictive element of caffeine probably makes me more passionate about it. I could say there is a psychological implication to it. I will never forget the day I started experimenting with coffee. It was a turning point on my own career. I can still remember one day I was asked to do a coffee portrait of Einstein and Churchill. With Churchill it was an entire different story, I was so delicate about him. But with Einstein, I went crazy. Probably, the ambiance of each personality I am painting is what alters my technique and the level of roughness I use. So I need to relate and draw with the characters I am painting.
- What is truly your source of inspiration?
My source of inspiration is social media and pop culture. Movies, celebrities, not the Kardashians though. Something that questions my mind. When I did the Star Wars series, you have to bear in mind that I am not a fanatic compared to the fanatics. What made me completely fanatical about Star Wars is the thought behind the characters, that sort of personality building process. The team, the product design, the marketing behind that character. The background story of each character is my true source of inspiration. For instance, Winnie the Pooh and Alice in Wonderland diachronically, have had a project plan, a thought behind every character and that is what excites me when I am working.
- Do you think its important for a painting to be aesthetically nice?
It is important. But I do believe that balance is the key. What is “aesthetically nice” is up to the material you are using, the concept you are deploying and most importantly how masterly an artist delivers it into a paper or canvas. Being decorative is not what makes a piece aesthetically nice.
- What are your plans in the future? Is there something that the public should not miss?
My mind is always travelling. I am working on cakes right now. I do have dreams and ideas about what I want to do in the future but I am not sure because things change all the time. The only thing that I can define as a plan is that I want to be stable. Stable not in terms of being situated in a routine. I like messiness that will help me evolve as an artist.
- As a young artist what is your advice to those that aspire to be part of the “art world?”
Just go crazy. What you do, do it perfectly and masterly. I am quoting Walt Disney: “whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.” This is my advice. And most importantly love yourself.
January 10, 2016
From the top floor of Artsy’s impressive office space overlooking bustling downtown Manhattan I sat down with Jessica Backus the director of Artsy Learning and The Art Genome Project to discuss her work at Artsy and how she has achieved success in the art world. Founded in 2009 and making its public debut in 2012, Artsy has gained quite the following as one of the most exciting and user-friendly online art platforms. From educating and exposing the public to all genres and periods of art history, to tracking the art market, galleries, and art fairs, the search engine covers all corners and quirks of the perpetually expanding art world. Before coming to Artsy Backus studied Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia for her undergraduate career and completed her master’s in Art History Hunter College, specializing in Post-War German art.
How did you enter the art world?
It really wasn’t until graduate school that I realized that there were many methodologies [within art history] and that I was much more interested in the social history of art, but my interests started to crystalize when I started my first job out of college, working at the gallery Peres Projects in Berlin, where I worked for 4 years as an associate director. My favorite part of working at the gallery was working with the artists, and seeing their works start to germinate; being there for that magical moment when they went from being just a of collection of materials and impressions to being a fully-fledged object. I knew that I wanted to continue doing that, so that’s when I decided to go back and get a master’s in art history.
What did you take away from your pursuit for a master’s degree in Art History?
I kind of went back to grad school for the wrong reasons, I looked around me and I saw the people whose lifestyle I wanted to emulate, or whose job description I wanted to emulate, and those were art advisors. I remember reading something David Zwirner said in response to the question of who are his favorite types of people are: the people with well-formed opinions. I was 26 or so when I read that, and I was like, huh, I don’t know if I could say that I have many of my own well-formed opinions about art. I knew I would need to have that to be an art advisor.
How did you get started at Artsy?
I ended up getting the job at Artsy while I was in grad school. I think I was in my second year and at that point it was a position as a research assistant for the Art Genome Project. I loved the idea of it. For the first time I realized I could actually have one of those rare jobs in the art world that didn’t require you to sell stuff.
It was attractive to me because it was the first art search engine. For my studies I was using the tools that were available to me, and I basically wanted to build the tool that I would want to use as a graduate student. I also found the idea of democratizing art really appealing.
Could you describe the Art Genome Project?
The Art Genome Project is a discovery engine for art that powers Artsy. It was started under Carter Cleveland, Artsy’s founder and CEO. He was in his dorm room in Princeton and wanted to buy art and didn’t know where to start—which really reflects the opaque nature of the art market. So he started Artsy and the Art Genome Project as a way to help people fall in love with art, while also aiding in the practical purpose of discovering it. Ultimately, what we do is create connections between artists and art works for our users.
Is Artsy comparable to anything out there already?
In the same way that Netflix or Pandora’s Music Genome Project can make recommendations for you based on the genre or the quality of things that you like, The Art Genome Project does that with art. It’s important for me to acknowledge that we were in a lucky position in that we were able to build upon already existing classification systems to create a user-focused system. In other words, a framework for our audience instead of one for cataloguers or the future art historians—one for people who really want to learn about art. That was the real breakthrough for the Art Genome Project, and that’s what makes it interesting and unique.
What is a “gene?”
We call them “genes” but on the front end of the site they’re called “categories.” They are motifs, memes, themes, concepts, modes, moods, basically all the various ways of approaching art. A “gene” has to be something about art, which might seem basic, but we have to start with the basics.
How does this process work?
Everyone on our team has to be a generalist because you never really know from one day to the next what you will “genoming” (or the process of researching and annotating works of art and artists). Any of the genomers can propose a gene, and then we vote as a team, and if it gets enough votes then it goes directly into “labs,” where we test it out to make sure it’s working. We’ll then survey the team and make sure that we can all agree on its application with 80% consistency or more, and then it graduates and becomes a fully-fledged part of the genome.
Do you have a favorite “gene?”
If had to choose my favorite gene… It might be “mediated view,” which refers to either the use of a specific framing device within the image itself, or the presence of something that impedes or mediates your view. This strategy makes you aware of the artist’s hand; it can add a sense of mystery. There are also a lot of images of windows in “mediated view,” where there’s this attempt to hide something and expose something else in a very explicit way as a part of the composition.
What does your typical day at Artsy look like?
Oh, I don’t think there’s every a typical day at Artsy. We’re still a start-up; I know that people can forget that.
One thing we might do on a day when we have our weekly Genome meeting is to play a game we call “Genome Pictionary” to get the team thinking more holistically about genoming. One person draws and the other guesses; the drawer doesn’t see the artwork, but is presented its genome, and they have to figure out what it is and draw the work. It’s fun, but we also use it as a chance to take a step back from the “back end” of the process and ask ourselves, what is a good genome? A good genome says something specific about a work of art. You should be able to conjure an image of the work in your head. If the genome fails to do that, then it’s not a good genome.
What are your personal perceptions of contemporary art?
Looking at the top emerging artists today, the theme seems to be breaking borders or breaking boundaries (I should add this was actually an insight of our editorial team, who explored it in their recent year-in-review feature). 2015 was an intense year for the world. In the same way that we see a lot of societal changes happening—whether it’s the Black Lives Matter movement or gay marriage in the United States, or the incredibly divided politics of this country, or even the refugee crisis in Europe—throughout the world there seems to be this global conversation of who we want to be and who gets to be included in that conversation. In the actual demographics of the art world you see these changes reflected. There are more women artists, more artists of color, and they have an audience that’s not just collectors from their specific niche. You know, we receive a lot of criticism for even having a gene for e.g. Woman Artists, because it implies that this is a relevant aspect of someone’s practice, and women artists just want to be considered artists, without the qualifier of gender. While I don’t think we are at a point yet where it’s incidental if you’re a woman artist or that it’s irrelevant if you’re a woman artist or a black artist, I do think that we start to see now, for the first time, that that future exists. The space of creation, the audience, the opportunities and possibilities for being an artist are all changing. That’s what I find is most exciting about the state of contemporary art.
Do you have advice for young art professionals?
Make sure you do something you really want to do, not just something that seems cool. From there, realize from there that the next step is to figure out the process. What process, what things, what activities really make you happy? I think that will largely dictate where you end up. The earlier you find what’s really coming from you and not other people’s expectations from or reactions to you, the better.
Also, don’t be afraid to return to the drawing board. It’s usually rare for students to do something, acknowledge that it didn’t work, and start over. That’s the biggest thing that we see from recent graduates, that they are so compelled to do something perfectly the first time that there’s often a missed opportunity; they are not always agile, flexible, or willing to totally revise their thinking on something.
Sitting in a building of fine and historical architecture on an art school campus, I talked to Victor Cord’homme, a young and green installation artist who is in his fourth year of art studies at this prestigious National School of Fine Arts in Paris (l’Ecole National Supérieur des Beaux Arts de Paris). As a traveller, Victor has been inspired to create installations that transform exhibition spaces into works of art and lead people to discover new spaces and possibilities. While our conversation started with his life at art school, both his artistic practice and his perceptions of the art world speak loudly to a global perspective, which has been constructed through his numerous travelling experiences.
- When did you decide to become an artist?
When I studied marketing at high school, I was very bored of it. Then, I took a gap year after high school to go travelling for 6 months around Asia. I went to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, India and Nepal. At that time, I missed painting and drawing which I did quite much during my free time throughout my high school years. So I started to think about getting into art school and start art studies. That was my first point of revelation that I started to have the idea of doing art. Then, I started going a lot to museums as my own art cultivation, such as the modern art museum of Paris and Palais de Tokyo. Paris is really a good place to get exposure to a lot of art, which gives me lots of inspirations.
- How did you get into the National School of Fine Arts in Paris (l’Ecole National Supérieur des Beaux Arts de Paris)?
After travelling around, I went to a preparatory school in Paris where I did art every day. That’s a school for people who want to get into all the big art schools. There are various art streams, like fine art, decorative art and so on. It’s pretty competitive to get into the National School of Fine Arts, like 1500 people competing for 70 places each year. At the beginning, you submit your art portfolio of paintings or photos of sculptures. After being screened, then you can enter into later stages like a writing test, a drawing test, and finally an interview panel with three professors.
- Can you share about your life in the art school? What’s the most important thing that you learn in the art school?
I feel the school is like my second home. The school is not just about getting knowledge, but about meeting people here and discussing art and our works with friends. Everybody tries to be an artist here and we’re helping and sharing with one another our views and experiences.
I think art study is not easy at all because there [are] no definite right or wrong answers and it depends on the comments of people around you. The school actually is not demanding, like around 10 hours of classes per week, but we spend most of our time in studios making art. Studying art is about investing a large amount of time while you need to have knowledge of art history. But it’s also out of passion –all the people are being here because they liking doing art. And I enjoy the process as I try to do things that are interesting.
One of the most important things that I learn here is self-motivation because nobody would push you to work. You wouldn’t be forced to do anything here. We learn art history here from many great art historians but you need to get some contemporary knowledge by exploring in museums or galleries yourself.
- Why do you focus on art installations?
Because I like experimenting with different media including painting and sculpture, and I would like to mix several smaller pieces together into one big piece of art. Somehow it’s like matchmaking –a sculpture and a painting can be compatible and even make each other stronger. Sometimes when art pieces come together, they speak a lot more. Installation is interesting because it’s about how to see and interact with space. Painting is my major art practice, but for me, it’s not enough to involve the space around. With installation, I’m trying to create an environment which gets people to discover new spaces, encounter and observe different forms of life and ways of understanding life.
- How exactly do you achieve this with your art – to get people to discover new spaces and ways of understanding life?
For example, with my diploma project in my third year, I created an interactive space that worked with sensors and computers, and there are sounds going on and when more and more people come into the exhibition space, the sounds would keep changing, and so the space would become different. Every person that came into the exhibition added two minutes of available electricity to the space.
And I like taking natural elements from the outside environment, like wind, into the exhibition space inside. Also, I would try to make all elements connected in an installation, like in our environment.
And I would not give out everything at one moment and people would have to come back at different times to discover new things from my installations. So I added lights to the installation so that the space and ambience would be different if people come in daytime or nighttime. I would like to show a temporal dimension of my works because I think time is an interesting material for doing art.
- The idea of exploring and discovering new spaces sounds like travelling. Do you travel a lot? How does travelling inspire your art making?
I had a lot of fun travelling to many countries; I’m just back from Canada where I stayed for few months. Before that, I went to Japan for an art competition and I went to Turkey last year. It’s really interesting to meet and talk to different people and to share experiences. I don’t know how to speak about all the feelings from my travelling but I would like to translate these feelings by art. Art makes it easier to share my travelling experiences and people can feel the connection through my art, maybe unconsciously. Travelling is one of the most important things for me. Being an explorer of this world has given all my inspirations for my art –every time I come back from travelling, I always have new ideas.
- Can you share your most memorable travelling experience?
When I was 19, I left my parents and I went to travel in India and met a lot of people there. Travelling there showed me the real side of life. It’s about meeting and talking to people and learning about their life. You’re in a different culture and environment. People would look at me curiously because I look different from them and some even came to me and asked if I could take photos with them.
- Any artists who have a particularly great influence on your perceptions and practices of art?
First is the Canadian artist, David Altmejd. We’re not in the same way of thinking about art, but he’s my main reference. His sculptures are dense, tell stories and give lots of information. He’s a really interesting artist. There was his exhibition in Paris last year, and I saw his exhibition again in Montreal and could discover new things from his works.
Also, I saw an exhibition of a Thai artist, Korakrit Arunanondchai, at Palais de Tokyo this year. He was making a huge installation with paintings and mannequins put in an interesting way. Actually, I didn’t like his formal way of doing art but his ideas are more interesting.
- How does your art interact with the French contemporary culture?
I think my art does not specifically interact with French culture, but rather the global culture. I don’t think art has to necessarily relate to a certain culture. I prefer to work in global culture rather than just French culture. And we’re in a world of globalisation; everything is mixing and exchanging. I’m more into exploring and mixing several cultures.
- Interesting perspective! So do you see yourself as a world citizen?
Yeah, I think I’m more a world citizen… I’m happy to say that I’m French and I’m having the colours of my flag on me. But actually, I’m French-Danish as my father is French and my mother is Danish. So I have double nationalities and I grew up in both countries, so I’m not solely French. And I also like travelling so much — I like to feel home and meet friends everywhere I go. So I think being a world citizen is more interesting; it’s about your way of acting and it makes your mind more open to different things.
- What do you think about contemporary art?
I think the contemporary art world is very different from the 19th or 20th century when there were prevailing art movements. There are now a lot of different directions happening because there are way more artists and more communication. Everything can kind of be contemporary art, it is way more diverse. Every direction can be interesting, and you need to discover and show to people new ways of thinking. Another thing in the contemporary art world is the need to deal with speculation in the art market, but I think that’s not totally a bad thing.
- How do you perceive yourself as an artist?
I don’t like to say I’m making art pieces… I think I’m kind of trying to be an artist… Being an artist is a huge thing for me and I don’t like this definition. I think I’m just someone who’s thinking and proposing something while using art to show it. I don’t mind if I’m being seen as an artist or not, and I think someone becomes an artist when everyone around sees him/her as an artist.
December 7, 2015
Juliette Losq is a London based artist, both born and raised in the city. Before taking an artistic path, she undertook an immersive training as an art historian, graduating with an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and continuing on to study fine art. Having had a number of solo and group exhibitions in the past, the artist mostly works with traditional technique of watercoloring, though adding a touch of contemporaneity to the artistic feel of a piece. I caught up with Juliette in her studio in Southwark (n.b. the artist just moved to a new location, DZ), where surrounded by a variety of her pieces we talked about art, literature, and life.
- How do you see contemporary art per say and its purpose, if there is any.
I don’t really see it’s having a single purpose. I just feel like it’s got to that point where if you’re making contemporary art you can use any medium to make it that you feel fitting to your ideas, so I don’t think anyone’s really restricted anymore to painting, drawing, sculpture…
- Do you think it’s in a way easier to be a successful artist because there are so many types of medium you can use, or are there so many different choices you can make that it’s in fact harder?
I think it’s always been hard – artists have always struggled. It’s probably more difficult to be recognized for a particular medium as a standout person within that medium because it’s no longer just about being a painter or a sculptor, or even a photographer, is it, you can mix them all together and be making work in all of them, which a lot of successful artists do.
- So be original in a way…
It’s always been difficult to be original hasn’t it, but it seems that throughout history people just look around them and see what’s come before them and then just reimagine it or reuse it in some way, so it is like the most exciting people are aware of what’s happened before or a range of things that’ve happened before and then they’re changing it in their own particular way.
- Is that something you’re trying to do because you’re using techniques of watercolour?
Technically I do look way back to 19th century painting and drawing, I look at things like the Hudson River School who are American landscape painters, and I look at the preRaphaelites in terms of their colour, not in terms of their subject matter. I look at etching, woodcuts; I just like to collect images. I must be drawn to particular things because they sort of feed into the work, if not instantly then a little bit further down the line. But I do definitely like the aesthetics of print and graphic drawing.
- But it’s still a traditional art form seen through contemporary eyes?
Sure, because we can’t avoid that. Instantly, I’m filtering it through contemporary vision but definitely I’m interested in changing historical techniques slightly so even though I’m using materials that have been used traditionally in watercolour, I’m doing it slightly differently, so I might be using watercolour more in the way that you might use ink as a drawing tool. I use modern mediums with watercolour as well, so things that have only been invented or refined into their current fom maybe in the past 50 years or so.
- For instance?
I use something called masking fluid which is a stopper, so I can stop the ink from touching the paper at all and then remove it right at the end to just have the raw paper, so it’s almost like diluted latex solution.
- So do you research these kind of things in advance?
Well it’s trial and error, really. But the way I happened upon it was because I liked the process of etching and I worked out a way of reimagining that process using ink and watercolour and this masking fluid stuff so rather than building up an etching plate I was building up an individual image in the same way you would, so you have to have a certain knowledge of materials but then you just experiment until you find something that you’re happy with, and then it’s always interesting when someone takes something to the extreme limits of how you can use it, so I guess I try to do that.
- Also, watercolour was always an artwork of a smaller scale, and you are trying to make it a largescale piece?
Definitely, I think that’s a different way of using it. Traditionally it was used as a sketching medium, but I really do enjoy working on a large scale with it and I think that’s another way of making something contemporary that’s historically been used in a different way.
- I know you studied art history first. You are an art historian. Were you always fascinated with the 19th century art practice? Did you want to be an art historian or an artist after all?
I always wanted to be an artist really but I think I was too easily persuaded out of it when I was at school. They wanted me to do an academic subject, and I did enjoy studying art history. I was drawn to particular eras, it was 18th and 19th century, because if you look at some of those 19th c paintings, the pre-Raphaelite ones are almost photographic and you just wonder, it was always fascinating to me how did they get that effect, ignoring the subject matter, the vibrancy of them… it still looks hyper real now when you look at some of those paintings.
- So would you say that they are your inspiration?
Not really, there’s lots of things that go into it, there’s literature…
Mainly British, I suppose. Things like old magazines and newspapers that I read and found and collected and images that appear in films, also objects…
- Just everyday objects, or?
Sometimes specific things I collect, I literally trawl ebay until I find something interesting, just a cover of an old newspaper or a poster for a film, and I’ve just acquired them and had a few walls of my studio plastered with pictures that could then become an inspiration for something else. There’s only a couple left up there now but like. Right now I’m quite interested in looking at traditional Chinese painting… Those artists were not bothered about whether a landscape really can make sense as we would think about it in terms of Western perspective; they’re just narrating a landscape almost, which is quite interesting.
- So that’s what you’re doing with your landscapes in terms of trying to make them realistic, isn’t it, though could you elaborate on why it is landscapes that you’re mostly interested in and what’s behind them?
I guess it’s the idea of using the real world as an inspiration for creating your own environment, and that’s what happens with the big installations as well, I’m using elements of the real world but reconstructing them to form my own…
Yeah. It is not a real place, but obviously I’ve taken elements of real places and reconstructed them, and I do the same thing when I’m making one of those installations, I take elements of a real landscape and put them back together a different way and then blow that up into a large installation.
- In terms of a viewer, are you trying to communicate something to them? Perhaps an experience?
I want them to be drawn into that world, I want it to be believable and I want them to… yeah I want them to experience… You’re looking at somewhere where society is broken down a bit and you’re just surrounded by nature, which I do quite like the idea of. I want you to be drawn into it and then find something in it that you think is a bit jarring or not quite right so it’s slightly threatening and also quite enticing at the same time. I’m often thinking about science fiction films where they’re set in these kind of broken down landscapes and certain horror films, postapocalyptic films but I’m not seeing them in that way, I’m not seeing these landscapes as being totally threatening…
- So that’s why you’re trying to make it look wild, or imperfect?
I just like imperfection, I always have done as a child being brought up in London just finding places that are overgrown because it is unusual to find an area of greenery or an area of interest, or an area that you could crawl into or make a den in in the middle of the city. I read a lot of science fiction, so for me, it’s not a reference to something, but it kind of reminds me of all the imaginary cities or buildings in the books and comics.
I saw some really nice illustrations for Jules Verne…
- He’s classic.
I saw some etchings by Édouard Riou…. it was this underwater scene with jellyfish floating like clouds, wacky things like that…
- In terms of being an artist today, do you think it’s important to finish university to be actually qualified in terms of MFA, for instance, in fine arts to be successful?
I think life is always more difficult if you haven’t been through the art school system. I do know people who have gone straight from another degree. I know someone who did a languages degree and then went into art but in a different sphere, but I just think generally, your life would be a lot easier if you studied at art school. I think an MA can help as well if it comes at a time when you’re ready to break down your work and then go back and refine your own practice, it’s also good for meeting people and getting exhibiting opportunities. But there is a whole raft of outsider artists who have not studied at art school. The Museum of Everything is a great place to see this kind of art.
- Do you have a favourite artist? Or an artist who is your inspiration?
I like Samuel Palmer, some 18th c artists, quite like Rococo design rather than painting, so things they did for designing ornaments, they call it rocaille. Contemporary artists… I like the installation artist Wade Kavanaugh. Mark Fairnington was a tutor of mine and is a great painter. I met some interesting painters through the John Moores Painting Prize – Neal Rock, Mandy Payne, Conor Rogers…
- Would you ever think about trying another medium?
At the moment I’m mainly working on paper, when I was at the RA I was doing oil painting, I tried acrylic painting as well. I definitely wouldn’t mind, I mean, I suppose for me it’s more about mixing 2D and 3D so I like doing installations and I like the way that they evolve over time and the way that they can be changed when you put them somewhere new. I like collecting objects and thinking about where those objects might lead. I’ve got a show coming up next year where I’m making a new installation which is going to be in collaboration with a furniture maker, so he’s going to make a nonfunctional piece of furniture that looks like it should have a purpose but actually it’s always going to be quite Escherlike, and then my drawing will respond to it. That’s a bit of a new direction.
- And finally do you have a few words of advice for young artists or young people in general?
I think it’s easy to be put off by people. So be consistent, put in the hours, do the work, don’t worry too much about where it’s going to end up, just have a body of work that you’re interested in, make it according to your own interests, not according to what you think you ought to be doing because everybody else is doing it. And other than that, someone gave me the advice that as long as you’re continuing to work, eventually it will go somewhere or it will feed into some other work that does. It’s when you give up and get out of the habit it of it that you can lose it.
November 30, 2015
Camden Image Gallery is a hire space gallery with 4 rooms over 2 floors situated in Camden Town, in central London. Camden Image Gallery has four rooms all with light walnut laminate flooring and clean white walls, perfect for displaying artwork; one large and one small room on the ground floor, and one large and one small room in the basement. The large room on the ground floor is fitted with adjustable LED spotlights, great for sculpture and installations. All 4 rooms have a fully adjustable hanging system with a variety of different lengths of rods to suit any artwork.
On the 5th of December until the 11th of December of 2015, Camden Image Gallery will celebrate its second year of success with a very interesting exhibition based on Mixed Media. On the 5th of December there will be a live performance by Periscope View at 7pm. The exhibition will continue from 12-7pm daily.
Let’s meet Elena Chimonas the gallery owner of this interesting hire space gallery.
1. Camden Image Gallery is situated in the heart of Camden Town, Camden Road. Is there a reason why you chose the gallery to be situated in an area like Camden Town? Do you think the area plays a role when artists choose a gallery to showcase their artwork?
Definitely. The location is definitely important. Camden Town used to be a very creative, artistic area, it still is, but it is more focused on music now. So I wanted to help bring back the artistic vibe in the area. A lot of people thanked me for it. I believe that it is important to welcome everybody, no matter on what stage his or her career is. So for me, it doesn’t matter if an artist is studying, or [has been] in the industry for the last 50 or 60 years. If they are passionate in what they do, then I don’t think age or experience matters at all, as long as they are passionate. In terms of artists choosing a space, for me it is very important to have a space next to a station for mobility and accessibility reasons. A space that is welcoming and friendly. I am very lucky to have found this place. It was perfect for what I was looking for.
2. What brought you here? What is your background?
My background is photography. I finished my degree and took full time and part time jobs and entered this space you see here into a gallery. I was very lucky to find this space. It took me a lot of time and work to turn this place into Camden Image Gallery. Initially, I found it in very poor condition, the staircases were not safe to walk down, there were no plugs in the space so I had to strip everything down and rebuild it from the beginning. The walls and the ceilings came down, the floors were renovated and we retouched the two floors. I was very lucky when I found out that there was a large space downstairs that didn’t exist when I took the property. The gallery originally had just two spaces – one upstairs and one downstairs – but then we realised that there was another trapdoor, which led to two separate hidden rooms downstairs as well. One of them was made by clay and concrete and it took us almost 4 months to renovate. We made the two rooms into one. It is actually my favourite room. It is a very long elongated room and works wonderfully for projections on the wall, great for sculptures in the middle of the room. I also have the same hanging system so artists can exhibit there as well. As it is a hire space gallery, the artist can choose either to hire the ground floor or the gallery as a whole, which includes the basement. In terms of Camden Image Gallery, as I said, it is a hire space gallery so people can hire the gallery for as many days as they wish. The gallery is open every single day, including bank holidays and weekends, especially during exhibition dates. I wanted to open a space that has this consistency otherwise it is very complicated to keep up with which galleries are open on which days – some of them are closed on Mondays, some of them on Sundays. I wanted Camden Image Gallery to be open 7 days a week, so people would know that they could always walk in.
3. Are there a lot of hire space galleries in London?
There are lots of hire space galleries and then there are other galleries that represent artists. Those galleries are the galleries that artists sign a contract for a specific time and then the gallery will sell their work through websites perhaps. Then you have hire space galleries, such as myself, where we welcome all artists. Camden Image Gallery for example, charges one fee for set-up, installation help, flyer designs, promotion, invigilating, take down. It all comes together. I wanted to open up a space that welcomes all genres of art. So I have photography, illustration, graphic design, fashion design, and painting – everything that comes under the arts. It is my job to support it. We also have poetry evenings and performance evenings so it is nice to have a space that welcomes anybody.
4. How hard is it for a gallery manager to choose the artists that will display?
It is a hire space gallery. So if the work is of a good standard and it is suitable for the space I accept them.
5. Do you have any restrictions to being exhibited in the gallery?
Generally no. But, I wouldn’t allow anything pornographic in the gallery. That is a genre that I wouldn’t allow. No matter how fantastic or talented an artist is – that is something I wouldn’t want in the space. But everything else is welcome. I have open shutters every day, so I wouldn’t want any children passing by and seeing something like that so I don’t want to accept that kind of genre. The quality has to be good.
6. What do you mean by “quality?”
I mean standard – Anything that has effort in it. Something unusual. Artists like Robin Lee; for me he is a great example of quality. He focuses on the expression of the eye. We had an exhibition a few weeks ago and I am very privileged to have worked with him. He is a great person and a great artist. I understand that it is a contested term and curators don’t tend to agree on what quality means, but in Camden Image Gallery, I stick with “standard”.
7. This leads me to my next question – were there any times when you had to differentiate between your personal likes and what the audience prefers?
Obviously, not everybody will like absolutely everything. If the artist is passionate then it all goes back to the main motto I have as a gallery owner to support artists. I opened up a space because I am passionate about the arts. There were not enough hire spaces to support artists. For example, performance art is not allowed in many galleries – but why not? If a dancer is good enough then why not give them the opportunity to showcase their work? If that is the way they express their art. I want to help. That is the main idea. I don’t differentiate. I just support. Because of that, I don’t target a specific audience; anyone can come into the gallery space. It is absolutely fine for one gallery to welcome just photography, I don’t criticise that. However, Camden Image Gallery has a different approach: to help everybody.
8. What was the hardest thing you came across as a gallery manager?
The hardest thing I came across is the lack of sleep (laughter). Generally, I am a positive person, there is nothing specific that made my life hard during these three years that I started this business.
9. What do you think is the role of art in society? Is there a role?
Of course there is a role. It is the only thing that can keep individuals creative – to keep creative minds buzzing. There are 10% of artists in the world – poets, musicians, and painters. They are the ones that keep the world more interesting. It is lovely that there are arts in the world. What would the world be without images? Imagine walking down the street without images. How boring that would be? It is fantastic to have creative things that people could view.
10. How do you think gallery owners contribute to this role?
By putting up exhibitions and by organising events. Not just that, our job is to draw [in] and engage people to contribute to exhibitions that they wouldn’t normally be subjected to.
11. Generally, the word “art industry” is contested – especially artists cannot accept that sort of label. Since you are an artist yourself, and a gallery owner, do you think art is an industry? Is it easy for you to be both? There is that general idea that the industry “exploits” the artists and it is rarely the opposite. What do you think about that?
It is very difficult to be both indeed. I am a gallery manager 7 days a week and I am a photographer occasionally. So it is difficult to be both. I have always wanted to open up a gallery that is open for everyone. A gallery that will give the voice to every artist regardless of background and experience. Camden Image Gallery is here to help and support artists, as the nature of the gallery promotes all types of genres. Unfortunately, not every artist has the ability to work as full-time artists to be able to support themselves. It is still a very hard industry to get into. That is why it is great that there are many galleries open. They make artists cater to their needs. There are curators and gallery managers that can help set out an artist. Unfortunately not many artists make their living out of art – that is why gallery managers are here to help.
12. Are there any current or future shows that you believe the public should not miss?
The Saturday of the 5th of December from 6 until 8pm will have the opening of an exhibition that celebrates these two fantastic years of Camden Image Gallery. It will be a great celebration and I believe it should not be missed. Periscope View will also be performing a live performance at 7pm. The exhibition will continue from the 6th until the 11th of December, from 12pm until 7pm, daily. Also, for the first time ever, the Camden Image Gallery is organising a charity exhibition – this will be from the 7th until the 13th of January. The gallery will raise money for Solace Women’s Aid.
November 22, 2015
Power, passion, and raw, unadulterated emotion veritably oozes from the work of the relatively obscure artist, Oli Fowler.
Oli, (otherwise known by his tag name: ‘Flabby G’) has done work for Jeremy Deller, Emily Evans, Fraser Muggaridge, and LOM Architecture and Design. His work can be found in the unobtrusive exhibitions hosted at The Crown pub in Angel and Shaw’s Bookseller in Blackfriars.
Oli specialises in screenprinting and design, having mastered the mediums of illustration, photo-montage, photography, and printing. His work is nostalgic, colourful, abstract, and dynamic. It aspires to evoke sex, sassiness, and seediness. His creative process is fuelled by experimentation as he strives to ‘fuck things up a little bit, to create a bit of fun.’
Oli’s vivacious, vibrant, and furiously futuristic compositions instantly captivated me. To my delight he agreed to an interview, inviting me to the studio and gallery Print Club London. As I ambled down the dusky alleyway towards Print Club London, I was greeted by haphazardly hung fairy lights, fluttering flags, and walls scattered with street art. I found myself invading a hidden haven of creativity.
The following interview with Oli was inspirational and invigorating. Our discussion orbited not only around Oli’s career, method, and meaning, but extended to words of wisdom and guidance. Oli revealed how he shook the shackles of the service industry at tremendous risk so that he could follow his passion for creating art.
- Could you explain your compositions and creative process to me?
Those shapes that you see in my art that are jagged and triangular, they come from me experimenting with sellotape. I like to mess it up a little, most of the time I’m completely unsure if it will turn out well, but if it doesn’t work I always save those prints and go back over them. It’s about saving money and being frugal, you don’t have to spend vast amounts of money to create art.
- What drives your art? Are you attempting to broadcast a particular message or meaning?
I’m not political so it’s got absolutely nothing to do with that. I like to do things that evoke memories. I’m currently working on a series depicting disco girls, influenced by the ’70s. I love the look of airbrushed album covers and the concept of really cool music. I’m trying to capture that coolness in my art. I’m trying to create work which I don’t want to say is nostalgic, but which recreates the sexiness of the ’70s. I want it to look cool and sassy.
- Why do you think you’re so fascinated with recapturing the ’70s?
Music inspires me. I’ve been listening to Jazz-fusion and Jazz funk disco since I was an eleven-year-old picking through my mums record collection. The more I listened the deeper I delved into it. That underground scene appealed to me. When you think of disco most people think of ABBA but it’s not like that, it’s the far out stuff that was underneath. I just think it’s got a good feeling of fun; there was so much innocence. People weren’t so serious back then, I love that.
- Bar the recreation of fun and innocence are there any other emotions you want your work to evoke?
I’m currently working on a series called Sister Power. My figures are all looking to the camera and are really hot. I want a girl who sees that work to be struck by it, to feel powerful, to be made to feel good by looking at it. I’ve also got another disco piece coming, it features people jumping and playing. I want people not to take life so seriously, to just have a good time and enjoy the moment. My metal piece of the sailor and his girlfriend is about passion. It’s about love joining two people. His feeling for her is eating her, consuming her. I want my prints to show things like that.
- What does the future hold for your forthcoming projects?
I want to play around with more typography and do massive past[e] ups. My next screen prints are based on nail bar signs. If I get hold of a wall I’m going to build a picture and people will be able recognise it. I’m always walking around being influenced by the things I see. It’s going to take time and money, a lot of money, but I’ll get there.
- What would you like to communicate through this article?
I want to say for a long time I wasn’t doing any artwork. I was doodling in my twenties and the art was there but it was just doodles on receipt paper; I couldn’t see how it could happen. Now I’m thirty-five and I’m doing great artwork. It’s never too late, it doesn’t take too long, and you just need great dedication and passion for it. You’ve just got to keep on going for it.
- Do you ever find yourself disillusioned by your choice to become an artist?
You could call me ignorant because some people are very good at marketing themselves and are very proactive in making money, but I’m currently at a point where I don’t care about making money. It’s about the art. I would prefer to go out onto the streets and hand it out for free or put it up on the walls somewhere. I’d be happy to give my stuff away or just have it hanging somewhere so people can see it.
I was working in retail for ten years and I knew I had to get out of it, then I heard about Print Club London and moved to Dalston, joined up and used my screen prints to get into university. Eventually you earn money, it’s not a lot, you don’t earn corporate money but it’s about being happy. I have to do art, I’ve got to do it, even without money I just couldn’t stop. I’d always find a way.
November 15, 2015
On a Saturday morning this November, I had my first artist interview with Poline Harbali in her cozy studio-apartment in Paris. That turned out to be a very inspiring conversation with intense exchange of deep thoughts.
Poline Harbali is of Franco-Syrian origin. Her artistic practice is constructed around the search for her identity, which is particularly difficult when she has no direct access to her family in Syria. Poline then started to work on family memories through collected photographs which are then superimposed, wrinkled, redesigned, printed on transparent or textile fabric or burned iron. Poline’s art strives to pose questions on various topics including femininity and to expand the traditional use of materials into a new context, for instance, giving new definitions of embroidery. Her embroidery work is currently being exhibited at bookshop-gallery, Violette and Co in Paris until 29 November. Her works were seen at JABAL Art Fair of Beirut in both 2014 and 2015.
- You specialised in graphic design, photography and illustration at school, in what way have these practices influenced your art?
At the beginning, I studied Master in Philosophy for four years and I already specialised in aesthetic, and for me, it is important to put ideas into forms. At the beginning in my photography class, I was working with old pictures of my family. My father is Syrian and my mother is French, while all other family members are in Damascus in Syria, but we can’t go to Syria because of the war and all the complicated situations. Then, photography became important as a means to share the life with the family in Syria, pretending I am living with them, because my family in Syria and I would exchange photos from our life. This was the beginning of my work –I was trying to find the missing pieces of myself, my identity through photography.
- How is your family background and identity important to you as an artist?
My family background is very important because I’ve always been striving to search for an identity. There is not one thing from either my mother’s family or my father’s family that can tell me who I am, and that will always keep me wondering about my identity. As an artist, I am not very interested in giving answers to people. What I like is researching and trial and error. So wondering about who I am, who my family is and how I can interact with them has influenced the topics of my work for sure, and also the way that I am working. That is, I am not trying to communicate certain messages, but I am more questioning through my work rather than answering questions. I put questions from my mind into forms.
- It seems your artistic practice stems from your quest to discover your identity, and you started this process with photography, can you tell us more about that process, how did you go further from that?
Yes, I started with photography. I’ve been always interested in “transgression”. As I come from an Arabic family, and in Arabic perceptions, there are many norms or rules of how you should behave as a woman. I think I never felt fine with what my family told me to be. To start with, there were a lot of Syrian tablecloths which were made of specific way of Syrian embroidery called agabanee, with gold threads, in vegetal patterns like flowers and plants. This embroidery is an activity that women do a lot at home, including my grandmother. And I really feel close to all the women in my family as I felt we’re concerned about the same wondering. So I wanted to use and work with this technique but make transgression about that. It means that, originally embroidery was something to keep women at home and to just spend their time while waiting for men to come home. And I wanted to make it in the opposite way that I make embroidery because I want to embroider and to talk about myself through embroidery, such as my fears as a woman, my sexuality or my intimacy in general.
I try to make something not beautiful. That’s an important point because traditionally we always want women to make beautiful things, for decorative reasons. But I want to make something raw; sometimes mixing it with beautiful things, for example, I love using floral patterns which I superimpose with something dark and raw.
- I see. So I think that’s a way how you to try to expand the traditional use of materials into a new context. Is that what you’re doing in your art?
Yes, exactly. I think it’s very important for me to use traditional materials, like fabric, because I’m really questioning the tradition in my work. Also, I’m working with clothes in an installation project right now. I make use of homewear clothing that I got from my grandmother and then I make embroidery, drawings and prints on it. I think the materials are like a soul. For example, homewear clothing in my grandmother’s generation was something very specific that represents women’s roles in the family as a wife, a mother. There is a book that I really like called A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. I think it’s very important to always have the time and a place at home that you’re with yourself to focus on yourself, your work, your desire… So with this project, I hope to re-establish an individual space for women through these white and not decorative homewear clothes. I’m just trying to question why it’s so important for my grandmother to be a wife, to have beautiful homewear and to be always very pretty for somebody else. Also, I want to bring out all those things which are forbidden by moral norms and make women ashamed of, such as rape, abortion and other humiliations, and expose them on the outside on the homewear clothing, instead of keeping them inside women.
- Any artists who have particularly great influence on your perceptions and practices of art?
Well, there’re a lot. I really like Louise Bourgeois that I find the way she was doing her art was very interesting. What I like is that she’s not afraid of working on both more intellectual or conceptual art and raw or brutal art together. Her work is not conventional in the sense that she has plastic art skills for sure as an artist, but she’s also a conceptual artist at the same time. I’m very sensitive to her work. Two or three years ago in Berlin, it was my first time to see a work of hers in person. I saw this huge work with many drawings of red hands, which was powerful for me. I was crying.
Also, I like Kiki Smith because I find her work very seductive. She’s not trying to fit her work into something else, but she focuses more on the process than the results and I also like working this way. So she’s a big inspiration.
Then, the music of an Austrian singer called Soap&Skin who inspires me too. She has a traditional background too but she’s very experimental and contemporary. This is similar to what I do –questioning the tradition and making something new out of it.
- How do you define femininity? What do you think about women artists in the contemporary art world?
I think there should be no definition of femininity and there’re a million ways to be a feminine person. This is what is really interesting in our time. We can make the choice even if it’s not easy at all to make those choices. This is something very different from the years before. I’m not seeing myself as an angry feminist, but I think of the book King Kong Theory by a French writer Virginia Despentes. She says in our society women always define themselves from men. I think both for her and for me, a lot of people think being feminine is to be soft, kind, smart but not too smart, pretty and a bit sexy or seductive somehow. For example, there is one part of the book talking about the double standards between men and women. I always felt myself as a raw person who doesn’t like following others’ expectations. For example, if you’re not always soft or very independent, you speak in a frank way; people would think you’re like a man. And this is something bothering me a lot. I think it’s time to remove these gender stereotypes. There has been definition of femininity for a long time, but I think it’s very important to not have one.
- You exiled yourself to Nantes, Montreal and Barcelona. As I come from another culture but now living in a different one, I am very interested in your experiences of displacement, can you share your feelings about that?
I am a person with wanderlust and I like being like this because every time you move out, you have a chance to redefine yourself, to break through people’s perceptions of you. When you encounter new people, you always discover something new about yourself, and you have a broader view of what life can be or what you can be. The year in Barcelona was particularly difficult for me, but I learnt a lot about who I was and why this experience was complicated for me, so it was an important experience. Learning a new language can help to express yourself differently too. I was wandering around for almost ten years, but now I feel that I want to gather all those experiences and build something in a place. At some point, it is important for me to belong to a place for some time at least and then I can transform all the things that I’ve collected from my experiences into some forms.
- What impacts do these displacement experiences have on your artistic creation?
What can be seen in my art that is related to these experiences is that I like to experience new ways to work. I don’t define myself with embroidery or photography. In my work, I’m not only searching for subjects, but also searching for forms that I don’t even know what it is. I think I’m wandering in my art.
- So now do you see Paris as your home?
Yes, I really feel home in Paris. I’m French but I’m originally not from Paris. I’ve been living in Paris for around four years, but I really feel home here. When I went to Montreal, I really felt home there that I felt connected with that city which has my rhythm. But I thought I needed other experiences, so then I decided to go to Barcelona. I think it is possible to have different little homes and whenever I go back to Montreal from time to time, I still feel myself having nice energy there, so maybe it’s like a second home. And everyone in family comes from different origins and has been to different places too. I think it’s important to find and choose a place to be home by myself. Moving around can bring different perspectives that can make a person complicated but also very interesting. I feel lucky.
- How would you describe the art scene in France or in Paris? How do you interact with it?
I don’t really know because I don’t feel very connected with the French art, not that it’s not interesting, but it’s less related to the “questions” I ask with my art. I’ve been participating in the JABAL Art Fair in Beirut for two years. From the art fair, I can feel more connected with the Middle East art because those artists and I are concerned about similar questions, such as war, violence or women’s life. But what is different from other Middle East artists is that I use materials that are more similar to French art. For ideas, I’m more inspired by French writers.
- That’s interesting and brings me to another question: How does your art interact with the French contemporary culture?
I always like reading and I think that’s why I studied philosophy. Reading is like endless conversations with the authors. As you read, you always answer and question the writer. Conversations with people are always with certain notions or goals, but with reading, you can always question the writers, which is something very important for me and my art. I work a lot on books. When I read a good book, it always inspires me on my art somehow. I like putting a concept into a form. And I always like questioning more than answering and my art is like questions without words and can make people question themselves while I question myself. There is not any goal. I didn’t choose to do something with words like writing or cinema because words are much more definitive by nature compared to visual art. That’s why I like visual art which is more flexible and open.
I also want to talk to you about a French writer called Olivia Rosenthal that’s really inspiring me. She’s questioning the moral norms and the impacts of the family on her life. Like, she would also speak about how family secrets can influence your life a lot even if you don’t know them. So it’s mainly about the conflict between individual thinking and outside norms in the family system. Then, this is something really well done in the Turkish movie Winter Sleep. This spoke to me a lot because it’s in Turkey and my grandmother is Turkish. In this movie, you can how the family system is working and how in the Middle East, expectations from society can influence almost your every behaviours as a man. This movie is very violent for me because the tension was always kept below the calm surface. This is really in the Middle East culture and is very inspiring to me.
- What role does art play in your life?
I can’t say that I’m making art just for myself because I think when you make a form you want it to be seen. I’m making my works differently every time after some feedbacks and observing people’s interactions with my art. I think it’s always a bit political, not in the sense of defending some right, but in the sense that I’m really questioning topics like femininity, family secrets. It’s important to make art for myself for sure, but also to try to make repressed ideas visible to the world. Sometimes I just feel the need to find a good form to express what I feel. It’s very important for me to express all my colours inside me through my works. I have to create a form to get my feelings and questions out of my body so that it exists outside my body and it’s not mine anymore. Maybe it sounds weird… Maybe lots of thoughts come up to me and it’s like I need a place to deposit them, or else it may be too overwhelming. It’s important for my life and my art that at some moments I really concentrate on all my thoughts and questions and other moments I put them away.
- As a young artist, have you had some moments of feeling lost? How do you cope with that and find your own way?
I think in my creative life, there are moments when I’m more productive and other moments when I’m not doing anything. At the beginning, I would feel very anxious. I think this is normal and the beginning of the process. When I create something, I have to leave it for a while to let it grow and then get back to it to make it differently. That’s also the research part. As I also work for Le Monde as an illustrator. Illustration is more like an intellectual work because large part of the work is about finding the concept and how to link it with an image, so it’s like a philosophical work but with pencil. It’s also something important for applied art; it’s not just about looking for a good form. I’m trying to experiment with different forms from the same place, so it’s an evolution. Sometimes, it can be stressful when one week I keep working on the same thing, but the next week I don’t like it at all. It’s hard to be always satisfied with everything you do. Well, the way to cope with it is that I try to keep doing it. There is no rush. I just enjoy the process of making art, so I make it. That’s it!
November 8, 2015
Nikolas Antoniou was born in Larnaca, Cyprus where he resides and works. He is a graduate of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts of the University of Western Macedonia, Greece (2012) with professors Harris Kondosphyris and Manolis Polymeri.
His paintings do not stem from a specific idea or theme. He consciously avoids focusing on specific questions or particular answers but instead, creates new pictures that generate unknown questions. He paints vague spaces, objects which appear to be misplaced both through time and dimension, next to items disjoint with figures lost in an intense painterly environment, but in the end coexist and interact, giving meaning to their existence, tell a story and express a sentiment.
As of 2010 through to today Nikolas Antoniou has succeeded in portraying his paintings in a number of solo and group exhibitions. Most momentous of which took place in 2010 at the Aianis Archaeological Museum in Kozani entitled “Time – Memory – Oblivion”. In the following year he participated in the “Sixth Student Biennale of Fine Arts”, which took place in the exhibition hall of the Athens Metro at Syntagma Station. He also took part in the group exhibition “Eumorfos Anthropos” in Technohoros Gallery, Athens. In 2012 the same exhibition journeyed to two cities of Northern Greece. In the months of February to March the exhibition was hosted at Gallery 512 in Ptolemaida and two months later at the Museum of Contemporary Arts of Florina. Both exhibitons were held under the supervision of Harris Kondosphyris. During the months of June and July Nikolas’ works reappeared in the Technohoros Gallery under the heading “Maps 1987 – Travel 2012” and in late July-early August he takes part in another exhibition titled “IR E MO” showcased at Gallery Lola Nikolaou in Thessaloniki. In 2013 he returns to Cyprus permanently and is involved in several group exhibitions around the island and colaborates with a number of galleries. In May 2013 he presents his first solo exhibition entitled “Sanitizing Logic” at Polychoros Warehouses in Larnaca, while a few months later the same trail of work is exhibited again in his second solo exhibition “Sanitating Logic 2” in Gallery Technohoros in Athens, Greece. In 2014, his work is hosted by Gallery Myro in collaboration with Gallery Lola Nikolaou in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Solo – May 2015 – Technohoros Gallery – Athens
Group – Oct. 2015 – the Collection Gallery – Embody – Nicosia
Group – Dec. 2015 – Lola Nikolaou Gallery – Thessaloniki
1. What do you think contemporary art really is?
Contemporary art is the natural order of things that led art history up to this point. The evolution of time and the alteration of how we do things have played a significant role. In a sense, art and specifically painters used to be craftsmen in the past but now developed as modern day artists that can freely decide the concept of their art. In the same way -as we have today – contemporary artists that begun their practise with different foundations, this will be the case in 20 years time too and another term might possibly develop in art history. Artists will evolve with different foundations due to the evolution of time. Artists cannot have the same starting and ending point. Contemporary art today follows the general principle that an artist has the freedom of expression and is able to deal with any concept. But, the problem with contemporary art today is that it is difficult for people to understand especially when you have no interest in it and it is thus challenging to engage with something you can not understand.
2. So do you believe there is an apathetic stance from people to understand contemporary art?
Well, not really apathy. Art is just something that needs further consideration and examination. You need to go deeper and people don’t do that. People choose not to see art to its core but rather stay on the surface – that is the way they tackle everything they see. That’s a problem (laughter). The artist should not compromise his or her expression based on what the rest of the world understands. People who create (whether it is food, art or any service) do it the best way they can and develop along with it and thus consciously the result develops within them. Thus, people who will try and engage with an artist’ work must put the same or more effort into comprehending what it is shown on a plain canvas.
3. Have you ever come across in any misunderstanding with people that have brought you into a difficult position? Let’s say such as not understanding the way you express?
It happens everywhere, even if you go to a place with people not related to art, you might find people who understand what you do. Regardless if they are involved with art or not, they have the mood and eagerness to understand, ask and learn my own perception exposed in my artwork. There are people that just don’t want to understand. Personally, I have never came across a difficult position but you know it just happens.
4.Does it bother if a contemporary art piece in a gallery has an explanation written next to it? Does it bother you that the artist needs to go in the process to explain when he is displaying his work?
No, I don’t mind at all, because they way I see it – this is part of art as well. Why shouldn’t there be a panel next to it? An artist worked on that text and he or she is thus narrating his/her work. Art needs to find a way to draw more people in. What bothers me is when the text on the label is meaningless, or the artwork is pointless along with the text. Since you are using another medium along, it should be two times stronger.
5.Why does most of your work include the human body? How do you tackle any project series or art piece when it comes in creating something related to what you do? Do you do any specific research?
That’s what I like in art. The human body attracted me as an audience. So it gave me the interest to explore it and create artworks around it. The human body is the most interesting part of a human. A figure is a figure. Even a bottle can be perceived as a figure but the human body can change its position: the gaze, the size and that it creates emotion. Observing human body figures as part of an audience made me feel as if I was seeing myself. The eyes and the glance can capture you and draw you into an emotional process. I have worked into exploring the human body for so long that I became extremely interested on how the figure changes from one painting to the other. The smallest change in position can alter the whole atmosphere of the painting. I don’t do any specific research. I research and work all the time and gather my thoughts when it comes to create something. Most of my pieces are not related, some are, and some are not. When I exhibit my work I group my pieces and then present them. I do not start something based on specific research. The only research I do and the only way I tackle my projects happens when I gather all of my artwork and try to group them to make sense to the audience. I like putting myself into complicated tasks and then represent my art pieces in that way.
6. Would you classify yourself as a contemporary artist?
Not really. A contemporary artist is an artist who observes what is going on in the world now. I honestly do not think that I understand what is going on in the world today. I am contemporary in my own perspective; I don’t think others would perceive me as a contemporary artist.
7. Sometimes when I observe your artwork I can see a sense of rebellion in the way you paint. But then, this is my own personal take. Do you have any particular themes you want to elaborate through your work?
Not necessarily. I don’t work on purpose, I let my thoughts emerge and I like it that way. Sometimes I feel that themes might keep an artist restrained, but since I don’t work that way I let my paintings be personal. I don’t feel my art should be something particular. I do have some obsessions with certain concepts, which they help me elaborate on my work when it comes to my own technique, but this is as far as I take it. I want to expose particular themes. I am pleased when people perceive my art and create bonds, which works as food for thought for them. One of my teachers used to say that art is the space between the viewer and the painting. So, this is where my art lies. This is the way art should be anyway.
8. I feel that this could be interpreted as a theme by itself. Some artists might do some pieces and then for the sake of being accepted in the art world, they come up with some sort of concept they never thought about just to fit in a box. So, please share with us then what made you become an artist?
To be honest, I wanted to become an architect as my cousin influenced me. But then I realised I was terrible in maths. Going into an art school was almost an accident. I travelled all the way to Hungary for my studies but I couldn’t learn the language so during my stay there, I was having private art lessons and then realised that I wanted to do Fine Arts. When I was in my third year of art school I realised that this was my dream. I always liked art and people were telling me that I was good at it but I couldn’t really understand that myself. I entered art school ranking last and I then worked really hard and I could not abandon it. I always painted as kid, but that was as much as I can remember.
9. Then who is your favourite artist and what is your source of inspiration?
I don’t have anyone specific. I examine and observe several artists all the time and I like specific pieces not specific artists. Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon had a massive impact in my work. I realised that after many years of practicing. When I was researching Bacon and Freud I didn’t realise that they were the main catalysts influencing my development as an artist. My source of inspiration? I just want to sit back and paint. I don’t have anything specific that inspires me. My brain is always working, as I am observing my surroundings. I told you already that the human body is my main interest. Mostly women, but that’s completely without a reason. Therefore, I enter my studio and simply work. This is my way of living; this is my main source of inspiration.
10. Is there a specific life-event that stigmatised you as an artist? Something specific that worked as turning point in the way you are tackling your pieces?
Yes, a teacher that used to teach me back when I was in art school, Manolis Polymeris. It was the first time I have ever seen an artist in my life working and the fact that he was working so obsessively and neurotically to create an artwork stigmatised me. It was at that specific moment that I realised how art should be created. Most people see the end result in a painting, not the procedure. But studio practise is what art really is. Art is studio practise, not the result of a painting. So yes, Manolis Polymeris was the only person that made me realise what art really is.
11. Then what do you think is the purpose of art in the world? Should it have a purpose?
There is a tendency around the world where people think that things have a purpose only if they relate to everyone. If this is the case, then art will never be able to have a purpose. BUT, since some people sacrifice their entire lives working for art, developing both as humans and as artists around it, motivating other human beings, then art has entirely its own purpose. Not everyone will get its purpose and that is perfectly fine. It is enough if art goes back in motivating people to create more in any field they choose to be involved with.
12. How do you see yourself in the future?
In a studio, working and creating. If this thought will provide me with money to make living, that is another story. I don’t think I will be staying in Cyprus for the rest of my life but I am not leaving now. For the time being, I am happy here. I don’t have any personal ambitions; I just want to work in my studio.
13. And finally, since you are relatively young in age, what are the messages you want to deliver to the younger generation and especially those that aspire to be part of the art world?
The world today is structured in a way that it is easy for us to lose the substance and the meaning of life. Even if you are very ambitious, you have to understand what the substance of life is. That’s the only thing that will make you successful. Everything else does not really matter. There is a tendency for young artists to start their career from the ‘ending point’ – this is how I call it – because they focus more on the economic aspect of their career and not their own personal development. But this will not take you anywhere. This was not the main reason a person choses to become an artist. If you are interested in becoming famous, practising art is not the place to become one.
November 1, 2015
Last week I had the privilege to interview Gerry Judah in his studio in London.
Gerry Judah’s background has roots from Baghdad. Born in Calcutta and raised – until the age of ten – in West Bengal. At the age of ten his family and siblings moved to London. What affected his artistic development was the dramatic landscapes of India, the theatrical rituals of the synagogues and the deeply historic architecture of its temples. Having experienced post-war Britain and austere London led him to the need in finding inner peace by conjuring imaginary landscapes and architectural pieces along with futuristic unconventional cars and thus explored himself into art schools. He is a graduate of Goldsmiths College, University of London and Slade School of Fine art, UCL. Judah was not satisfied with conventional galleries when it came to exhibit his own work. Working in innovative design – film, television, theatre and museums as a set designer, installation artist, sculptor and painter his knowledge is very broad. Interestingly he created sculptures for Ferrari, Porsche, Audi, and Jaguar, etc at the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed. He even designed bridges in London, Cambridge and Sheffield. Judah was asked by the Imperial War Museum to create something about the Holocaust Exhibition and it was then when he began t make art born of his reflections on historical events. He created large three-dimensional paintings exploring the devastation of war and the ravages man has made upon the environment.
1) We all know that you are an installation artist, painter and sculptor. What do you think conceptual art is? What is the purpose of it in the world?
My original understanding of conceptual art was way back when I was at Goldsmiths College. Artists like Marcel Duchamp and the Dada movement were highly influential, when they focused on the concept of art rather that what it looked like and so we were all attracted to it, during that period. In a sense, conceptual art for me is something which puts across the significance of what we are looking at, in relation to art and the history of art. That for me is how I see the purpose of art. When someone like Damien Hirst breaks into the scene there is a strong connection between what he does and Duchamp in a sense that he is playing with the history of art and those of it which I find particularly interesting.
2) What is the purpose of it then? Is it far from the being part in ‘history of art’?
I don’t think it needs to have a purpose really. I tend to differ my point of view. As an artist I want to address on a wider public realm and when I went to study Fine Art at Goldsmiths and Slade of course there was a strong connection between art history and what we were doing in relation to art history. But when I went to the big wide world on the commercial arena, I found that art was way beyond art history. It was about how you connected with the public, how you entertained the public. I worked in theatre, film, exhibitions and museums and so forth and we were dealing with a much wider audience than art history. So on that level, I don’t feel I owe to the history of art to do what I do. If it makes history, if it doesn’t make history – it doesn’t mean a thing to me. What means to me is what is says in the “now” and to whom I am talking. So I take on issues such as conflict, religion, climate changes, which are present to what, is going on in the world today. I feel as an artist that is where my boundaries lie and I don’t feel I owe it to conceptual art, to the art world and I certainly don’t feel I owe to the history of art. Same thing with film, I love films that entertain me. That speak to me that connect to me about the story they are saying. So I like to tell stories. My paintings are about telling stories. They are related to geopolitics, my history, and my spiritual upbringing that are far more important to me than the history of art. Of course though, I owe to art history on one level because it gives the intellectual facility to be able to be far more critical about what it is that I do and what I see. But that is as far as I take it. To be honest, a lot of artists try very hard to link themselves in that world, but I think they could take themselves a lot further. I often find that connecting art history all the time is a bit boring because it doesn’t go beyond its own limitation. Sorry if I sound dismissive.
3) Not at all. We have seen through your work that you tackle motifs of destruction, the portrayal of war, climate change, religion and so forth. I want to know whether these choices are conditioned by political and historical considerations rather than by artistic ones.
To be honest, they are primarily connected to artistic considerations. I use politics, religion and war as concepts purely to create a structure upon which I can approach how I am developing my language as a painter. My canvases are 3D-canvases and they are connected to people like Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, which were a massive influence on me. Artists like that that took themselves further from the canvas and played with installations and how far you can take a painting. So when I have buildings emerging out of my canvases they are really three-dimensional paintings. When I saw warzones in Beirut, Gaza and Baghdad – which of course I am connected to them because of my historic background- my reflections of them were big white texture canvases. I saw shadows; light and these are things that strike me as a visual artist. So my responses to these issues are more visually artistic responses. Yes, I am trying to work within the regions of history, social history and geopolitics but primarily I connect on the language of the painting. So, going back to what I said previously, I think there is a strong connection to history of art and what I do but not on a conceptual level but more on a level of artistic practise. It is all connected. As human beings we are trying so hard to connect all our histories together, from wherever they are come from because they make us who we are. So my artistic, social and religious backgrounds are intertwined. In this way, I tell my own stories and places. When I did the Holocaust in the Imperial War Museum; that to me was an epic painting. It was flat, a model but it was telling a story of the days of people back then, stories of death and I managed to create a shimmer that draws the audience in it. That shimmers with light, emotion. But when you go more to it is simply a painting.
4) So why do you use white in most of your pieces?
Colours tell you what to see, I use white because I don’t want to tell people what to see. I want to show something people will see for themselves.
5) Is there a life event, something that triggered you to focus on the issues you address through your work?
Yes – I was particularly taken by the wars between Palestinians and Israelis. I am Jewish so seeing the big landscapes covered in dust, remains of towns and streets and they were all leveled by light and shadow. That feeling strikes me in something very powerful. That historical connection as a Jew; I felt that sense of who is the victim who is the perpetrator. History has set me off on a path. So I felt it was time for me as an artist to go back to my current geopolitical considerations – and on what is going on in he world today.
6) While producing a piece do you ever improvise both in the concept and in practice as you go along?
I constantly discover all the time. I know what I want to do – sort of. I am interested in wind, the fragility of wind, destruction and all these are barons of buildings in Baghdad, Lebanon and Gaza. I sort of knew my recurring themes in my work. I know the format I want to work with but so much of my work is peeling away. The pieces I do with buildings are complete structures and I destroy them on the canvas. I take an entire settlement and destroy it. I do that until I get what I want to see in my work. A painting is only finished when you stop looking at it and it looks back at you.
7) Should art be something aesthetically pleasing? Or should it deliver some deeper meanings?
It can do whatever it wants. I don’t care.
8) Okay then, how about your own art?
Art is what you make of it. Its like music, you can’t say music should be like this or like that. It’s a place you go and say what you want to say. Some art is beautiful, some art is challenging, some art is moving. What I don’t like in art especially in galleries, is when you look at a painting and there is a panel next to it telling you what the artist is saying. I’d rather enjoy art for itself. Sometimes is good to get the issues on which the artist was preoccupied with. That I can relate to. But I don’t like telling what I should be looking for.
9) How do you approach your work? Does it require extensive research or do you simply focus on your personal reflections?
All of my projects have something in common – they all commemorate something. The car sculptures I do commemorate the history of those car companies. I suppose the piece on St. Paul’s Cathedral was a particular example of taking commemorating on a different level. When I was asked to put my canvases on the walls of St. Paul’s I thought I should do something particular. They wanted to commemorate the First World War so I thought I’d rather take the main images of the First World War, which was the white cross. So I contemporized the war that still goes on today. Note the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the current conflict of ISIS, Syria, Iraq that are all fought now because of the boundaries of the First World War or its aftermath. So in that sense, the buildings on the white crosses are reflections of Gaza. In a sense they made me make a statement in St. Paul’s Cathedral. So yes, I do research to make all these historic connections. I also saw how the cross has been a symbol of violence. A structure upon people sacrificed their own lives. So expressing this vigorous violence required research. The Bengal pieces from my latest exhibition came out due to my visit in India. I was in India to study some things about climate change and I went to Bengal where I grew up and during the period I was there, it was the Durga Puja Festival. They built these temples all over the country, in villages and towns, which were filled with amazing internal structures and panels and intrigued me to start working. Also, while I was there I was looking at the power stations that were burning coal and they were polluting the environment; more specifically the chimneys that destroyed the environment. So, I took the power stations and translated them into my work. My pieces were preoccupied with these power stations with the internal structure of Puja and the typical rituals of India. Such things are the embodiments of what I like doing, from the visual and iconic perspective to the entire emotion of India. I also did temples out of ashes and dust to indicate pollution, with electric candles, the Jewish ones. I am trying to mix all the cultures I was exposed to. So, there is a personal touch in what I do.
10) I would like to ask you about your presence in Goodwood Festival of Speed. It is something entirely different than what I am looking at here in your studio. How come that you produce sculptures of futuristic unconventional cars?
Well it pays for this (laughter). The problem is that people usually tend to get typecast. The feeling of “how you can do this and yet do that?” One of the things I enjoy when I left art school is that I went out to the big world, worked in theatre, photography film and big museums. An artist should constantly be challenged to do something different. The problem with a lot of artists is that they very much hold into their practice. I like to be completely open. All of my pieces (whether they differ visually) – they are all connected. They are part of me as an artist. My practice is to constantly change what I do. I don’t want to be known as the artist who designed all these futuristic cars but these are the people paying me to do what I do. I am constantly exploring. So these sculptures of cars have more to do with the language of sculpture rather than cars. Cars are embellishes to me, to know what the sculpture is really about.
11) Describe yourself both as an artist and as a person.
I don’t think there is an answer to this question. I love being in my studio, enjoy this one-to-one relationship with my canvas. When I was a child, my father took my everyday to the synagogue because he was a very spiritual man. Everyday I would sit amongst these men and watch them pray. Somehow I felt that that prayer, and the constant facing they did with God was part of the building and that was a very profound and moving to me. But for some reason, I never connected to it on religions terms, but I feel very spiritual about it. These men that were able to pray every day had some sort of connection with God and that in that way I was connected too but not in the same way they were connected. So, I had to find some other way to reach that sense of prayer and expression, and it was then that I wanted to become an artist. I wanted something to transcend me. So, when I come to the studio, I feel as if I am coming into my own temple, in the place I pray in my own way. I relate with my pieces, emotionally and historically – the languages of art, history, politics. I am a very spiritual person therefore and this is where my work lies. This has an intrinsic power to it, which does not rely on art history to guide it. It relies on what I feel, my own sense of prayer. Don’t get my wrong. Not the traditional way of prayer. I didn’t connect with that traditional sense of prayer. I was connected as a kid and as an adult today, with that sense of spirituality, the sense of real devotion. I don’t like that that devotion which tells people what to be devoted to. The word that guides me through everything is devotion. I am devoted to what I do, as I am to my family, to my people, to my friends, to my culture and society. This is another level of devotion.
12) I completely agree with you, history has a dirty background. It requires devotion to be able to translate all your histories as a human being in your pieces. It’s a big thing to do so masterly. So, on this level, I want to ask you, how do you see yourself professionally?
How do you see yourself in the future? Still breathing I hope. I don’t know. I don’t see the future. I cannot answer that. Ambition? I don’t have any ambition. I never had any ambition. I strive for excellence in what I do. That is good enough for me. I leave ambition for others.
13) Finally, what are the messages you want to deliver to the youngest generation, especially those that aspire part of the art world?
Don’t ask me about the art world, I don’t have any relationship with the art world. I like the world. What I would advice young people are: you just need to keep doing it. Get up and be devoted in whatever you do. Don’t be afraid reinventing yourself; don’t be afraid in doing something different. Be fearless in what you do.