In: interview

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

Nikolas Antoniou

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.

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.

Gerry Judah

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.