Interview by Natalie Hadjiadamos
I would like to begin our chat with how you began your career and life as an artist.
I would say that though my family lived in the agricultural area of Kissonerga village in Paphos, the atmosphere in our house was very influential for spiritual and artistic quests. My father, Nicolas Economou, had an extensive and voluminous library at home and used to read a lot of literature, history, philosophy, as well as agronomy, which was also his profession. His beliefs were liberal and was a man who always showed his love and understanding to his children.
Also, a very important factor in developing my artistic tendencies was the interaction between my brothers. I was the sixth out of ten children. With my brother Stavros, eight years older than me, I had the first experience of drawing with watercolours. He used to come home to the village from Nicosia where he was working, and I remember watching him entranced as he painted the surrounding natural landscapes.
My personal interest in art manifested itself from the early days of Primary school where I discovered my skills and pure enjoyment in sketching. During my years in High school I continued drawing on my own or was decorating twigs, because in those days art classes were not yet taught in Paphos.
Later though you had the great opportunity of having Adamantios Diamantis as your art teacher.
Yes, that was during the period of 1943-1945, when I was attending the Educational College in Morfou. Diamantis was the Professor of Art there, we became close friends. He helped me develop my skills in drawing. I think it was only then when I comprehended what drawing meant to me, without considering becoming an artist yet. I was satisfied enough just painting.
When I graduated from College in 1945 I was appointed as a teacher in public education. After spending a few years in countryside schools, I was transferred to Nicosia in 1951.Then, the only means of drawing we used to distribute to the students, such as pencils or even sometimes colour pencils, were replaced with watercolours, pastels, black ink, linoleum for etchings, clay for pottery, stone for sculpturing and many other materials. The main contributor behind this evolutionary development was Theodotos Kanthos, who also trained teachers how to educate students on Arts.
I was then transferred to teach at Agios Antonios Primary School in Nicosia which was then considered an exemplary school.
When did you meet Christoforos Savva?
Autumn of 1954 through my brother Giorgos, before Savva has his first exhibition with fellow student R. Maude-Roxby at the British Council. That was a period of time when the art scene was changing and evolving due to the arrival of young talent. Almost at the same time Dymiotis came from France, Votsis and Lefteris Economou came from England, all young, excited and with aspiring dreams.
In Savva’s house we all used to gather in the evenings, painter and poets such as Pantelis Michanikos, Giorgos Constandis, and we used to have talks on a number of topics. That is where the idea of the founding of the Pancyprian Union of Artists came, with Savva as president.
There, we used to organise exhibitions and weekly events with a different speaker for a certain subject each time. The Pancyprian Union of Artists functioned during the difficult times of the national uprising against the British authorities, and succeeded in creating a remarkable artistic and spiritual movement. It continued for another two years after the departure of Savva, in 1956, to further his studies in France. At the same time I left for England.…to study art.
Not so much to study art, but more to improve my capabilities in teaching art at schools. The King Alfred’s College, where I studied, was a pedagogic institution and consisted of many departments. I chose the Art department, and in the one year of my scholarship, I covered the two-year syllabus which included painting, ceramics and etching.
I still hadn’t lost touch with Savva. I visited him twice in Paris where we toured the French museums and galleries. When in 1959, Savva returned to Cyprus we kept contact and many times he would come to Kissonerga or Akanthou, my wife’s village. We would usually go and paint the surrounding natural landscape.
A year after his return to Cyprus, in 1960, Christoforos Savva created “Apofasi”, an unprecedented for Cypriot standards, cultural centre, in the old part of Nicosia town. This is where Savva lived and created art. There would be exhibitions (this is where folk artist Michael Kassialos used to show his works), talks, performances of the traditional theatre of Karagiozis, and theatre productions, where Evis Gavrielides performed and directed theatrical plays.
In general, “Apofasi” was the most vibrant cultural living cell in Nicosia and the whole of Cyprus, which was at the dawn of its independence. At “Apofasi” I had my second exhibition in 1963. My first was in Paphos a year before.
The greatest bulk of your work, you created it by using watercolours. Could you tell us why this particular preference to watercolours?
There are many reasons. First of all, it is an exquisite material, with its own capacities and advantages, which seems to “apply” to me better. It was the first material I tried and up until today, it still expresses me with the same intensity. Also, because of the very limited amount of free time I had, watercolours were offered more than oil paints or any other materials, since the procedure of creating a work of art with oil paints takes more time than with watercolours.
Even so, watercolour, as a material, has its own difficulties.
Yes. Its characteristic liquidity, restrains the artist to control his material. But when he succeeds in doing so, then it can produce works of remarkable transparency with very subtle hues, which any other material cannot achieve. The other difficulty lies in the fact that the drawing surface of watercolours, once it has dried, cannot make a severe colour differentiation in contrast to other materials.
And the subjects you paint? Do you paint in natural surroundings?
I used to before, but now I usually base my work on a rough outline I do in a natural landscape, to finish my work in my studio. The largest part of my recent painting themes come the surrounding scenery of my birth village in Kissonerga. Before, when I was a school Art Inspector, I used to take the opportunity of my different outings to many parts of Cyprus and paint the natural landscape of these areas.
Of course I am interested in the human figure and the human’s need for communication and contact. Loneliness and alienation, lack of respect of one’s personality and the upheaval of violence, are subjects that I think project from my work.