Interview by Natalie Hadjiadamos
When did you become aware of your artistic talent?
From a very young age. I used to draw since primary school. I remember my parents having a difficult time with me because instead of doing my homework, I used to draw all the time. When I finished high school I went to study Gymnastics in Athens, because I was also an athlete. In the meantime, I took all my artwork and materials with me and continued drawing.
One day, I was at a restaurant and the waiter, an old man named Theodoros, told me “Andrea, opposite you is Mr. Eliades, a great artist and teacher”. I got up and sat next to him. He told me to bring some samples of my work for him to see. I went early the next day and took him my artwork. He told me “What are you doing with Gymnastics? Leave all that. You are an artist and this is what you should do. Period.” And he kept me there, where I continued and finished my studies in Art.
So you studied art at his school?
Yes, at his Academy of Fine Arts. In those days he tried to distance his school from the standard School of Arts, because of their very constricted methods of drawing. You were not allowed to bring in new ideas. So I finished my studies at his Academy of Arts.
When did you return to Cyprus?
In 1960. That was when they first introduced Art classes at school. I immediately went to the Paphos Gymnasium and I was the first Art teacher in Paphos.
Were you influenced by the 1974 Turkish invasion?
I was absolutely influenced by the 1974 invasion. My work was completely abstract until 1973. Right after the invasion my work changed fundamentally, the influence of that terrible time was discreetly obvious. The daily bombings, the pictures on the television of the tragic faces of the people. I believe that even up to today, it shows ‘quietly’ in my work.
You won a scholarship for the University of Redding. When did you attend?
In 1975, I won a scholarship from the British Council and attended the University of Redding for a year to further my studies.
That is where I met the Head of my Department, Terry Frost, who knew and loved Cyprus and Greece. He fought in the Battle of Crete against the Germans. He was a soldier who painted for a hobby and who also accidentally became an artist. At the war camp he met Adrian Heath, whom I also met later on, and they painted together. Heath was a wealthy man and after they were freed, he helped push Frost to develop his artistic capabilities. He then became a great artist and a personal friend of mine.
I consider those days studying at Redding as my most essential years of learning where I also had the opportunity to meet great artists such as Roger Hilton, Brian Winter, the sculptor Dennis Mitchell and in general the British Art scene.
What exhibitions do you remember the most?
In 1978 and 1981 I exhibited my work at the famous Gallery Argo in Athens. My next exhibition was in New York in 1981, and in 1993 I had my first exhibition in London. After that my work started to find itself in private collections. People then began to change their approach towards art. They became more interested in Art, not just as a picture on the wall, but for what it represented. And so more people became Art lovers by the time.
Your work began as abstract, then moved on to Byzantine influences, to Greek Mythology…
Mythology was a subject that always affected me emotionally, besides the environment in which I live in is full of history dating back to those ancient times. I live among history and its monuments, so it is obvious that I will be greatly inspired by it.
How should an artist approach his work?
The most important thing for me is when someone wants to do something, he must loved it and respect it. Art shouldn’t be strictly seen as just a profession, even if it is sometimes profitable. First of all, one must simply love it very much, to devote himself to it by working very hard for it. Art means hard work, it needs to be approached responsibly and methodically and with respect.
You opened La Boite, on the front of the Paphos Harbour, which was then considered as a haven for all the artists of the time…
It was in 1967, when I was inspired by the Boites in Paris of the time. They were small, simple places, with a bar in the middle offering wine, where artists could meet, and so I opened La Boite. The was always a guitar playing music, nights of poetry and singing. Back then, there were no other places of gathering except the coffee shops and clubs. When I wanted to open up a Boite, my wife Athinoulla said it was a risky thing to do. But we both went ahead and opened it. I remember every Wednesday we had events where a lot of people would come. It gradually became an artist’s hub for the whole of Cyprus.
Any forthcoming exhibition?
The Ministry of Culture of Luxembourg sent me an invitation to exhibit my work there. I considered it an honour and so I accepted. My son Michalis also had an exhibition there two years ago. Luxembourg is now the Cultural Capital of Europe, that is why it has invited different artists from all over Europe. The same day there will be exhibitions from European artists, each one in their own gallery. The opening of my exhibition is on June 17th.