An interview to Anna Niaraki
An interview with Antonis Tsakiris, on the occasion of his recent exhibition in the Thanassis Frissiras Gallery, entitled "Runaways".
-A runaway is someone who escapes from a place where he is confined against his will. Why do you choose to escape from the urban setting through painting, and not by choosing a different living environment? Does the love for the city outweigh the need to flee?
This is not an escape in geographical or social terms. Since I live in the city, in my works there is a vague reminder of the space that surrounds me, traces of an urban environment. However, one escapes from whatever keeps them bound to themselves with a strong and courageous act of immersing into their selfconsciousness. Otherwise, it's just a word.
-Is the city an unimaginative,realistic background for somebody to narrate surrealistic stories?
There is no difference between a matchbox of the city and the plane tree of the countryside. Everyday miracles can occur everywhere. In the super-market or during the most boring breakfast, you can meet the love of your life. The incentives come from the sub-conscious, so the placement of these stories is of no importance. In the end, everything happens for the recording-exorcism or preservation of an atmosphere, a moment. Looking at the paintings, I recall the times when they were painted, they are actually a journal.
-Your works are exceptionally "alive"and contemporary. Plasticity, expressiveness, humour, symbolisms, imaginative combinations of diverse elements. What are your influences?
Art enables you to discover the routes that are blocked by the improvised barricades of the mind and create passages. I realised in painting, that total freedom is unlikely to be manageable. What we are made of, our personal constraints, morality or anything else, what we finally are, has already "tainted" the meaning of an absolute freedom, even before the first brushstroke. From a point on, we are likely to repeat ourselves. Of course, realising that to a certain degree, constitutes a challenge at the same time. I'm interested in telling the stories, approaching them in a narrative way. But I avoid the obvious, it bores me to death. I prefer to give clues which the spectator can potentially become familiar with, and after linking them he will create his own myth, although that thought doesn't concern me, while I work. It's a game without rules, the glances belong to everyone. There are definitely references to other painters. There are many great artists whose traces I meet in my works. One of the most important Greek artists, Edouard Sacaillan and a book with his works that landed on my hands years ago, right on time, opened a window for me.
-Are there paintings left unfinished? Or do you always complete what you start?
If a painting doesn't work, I usually give it up temporarily. I have formerly destroyed works. Now, I find myself in this situation less often, because I re-paint a work that doesn't satisfy me, without hesitation, and so new possibilities are born out of the conversation between old and new elements. Painting has taught me to fight. In "Runaways", the collection I recently exhibited in Thanassis Frissiras Gallery, half of the works were re-painted.
-Your painting is anthropocentric. The faces either grouped together as a crowd, or individually, sometimes indicate existential pursuits through exaggeration or distortion, and sometimes they flirt with sarcasm. How powerful a tool is sarcasm(or self-sarcasm in your case, since your form is often found in the painting)in the hands of the artist?
Self-sarcasm is a basic ingredient of mental balance. It indicates the acceptance of the positive and recognition of the negative sides of ourselves, but also the most harmonic possible co-existence with them. Humour is of vital importance to me. Without it, I would be somebody else. I dare say I would probably be miserable. In Art, I often use it, since it is an extension of my idiosyncracy. Besides, anything really funny hides a -small or bigger-tragedy behind it.
-The depiction of yourself as part of your painting universe. Tell me about that.
I've depicted my face in my paintings many times. For some people, this may seem as "showing off" or selfish. Unfortunately, this view couldn't be more inaccurate. I perform every type of experimentation on myself without having to face the procedure of interpretations or pointless explanations. My presence as part of some stories is necessary because, in this way, I am able to leave my "status" as a spectator behind, and thus, experience the plot first hand. In my works, though, I'm not exactly me, but a kind of an alter ego which I hope to get to know better some day.
-Are there any works you would never part with?
Yes, some works which were created in personal key-moments or constituted a step for my works' development. I would like to always have them near me. They are few, though.
-How difficult is it for a young painter to have a career? Especially in today's Greece where things aren't promising at all.
It's very difficult, there are very few people who are genuinely interested in Art in Greece, and a lot of struggle is needed, as well as devotion and retreat, so that you can get in big collections and your work can start showing. My generation reaps what was sown by the previous generations of artists in Greece, when it comes to the market and the collectors. However, I believe that good painting always has the potential to come to the surface and be enduring. It is vital that the relationships between those who are involved in Art, are re-evaluated, it's time they were placed on a more rational basis. Let's not forget that, in the end, what really matters is Art itself. Years later, that's probably what will be left, not the publications or the photos with smiles and the interpersonal relationships. On a commercial level, apart from the painting itself, everything else is steam and marketing.
-Does the painting look for acknowledgement or communication? Does the commercial part of the work concern the artist? And if it does, to what degree?
If it communicates, it is acknowledged. The relationship between the spectator and a work of art is special. Picasso said "the painting lives only for the one who sees it". Most people tend to regard a more realistic painting as a specimen of greater ability. This is obviously a mistake. Something which is visually understood by many, isn't necessarily interesting in an aesthetic way. Also, the texts of part of the art critics do not help, as they estrange those who are not initiated in Art, from it, rather than make them approach it. Regarding the commercial part and, let's say, the acknowledgement, whoever says it doesn't concern him, simply lies. If you don’t get trapped by what others think of you, it enables you to be even bolder.
-Do you work on a daily basis?How long did you work on the runaways before they were presented to the public?
I work every day for many hours. The Runaways were part of the work I did for the last 2 years. They went through many stages and I wanted them to be presented as a whole. Some of the paintings are completed rapidly and for others it takes months. And as it happens in every battle, sometimes you achieve small victories and sometimes you lose, but even then, you provide yourself with extra weapons. It's essentially a struggle with the part of me which admonishes imagination and development. That's what I meant earlier, when I said that total freedom in our lives is unlikely to be manageable.
-What comes after the escape? Free wandering or maybe a return? What are your next plans?
In February 2013 I am participating in a group exhibition in the cultural centre "Melina" in Athens, curated by Iris Kritikou. Also, in May, in the next themed exhibition of Frissiras Museum with works from its collections. At the same time, I must get the pictures that are crowded in my mind, in order. One of them hides the trigger for the next solo exhibition. But, there's still time.