Let us talk about your travels. It is known that travelling to different parts of the world can have a great effect on you. It is an experience that provides you with new cultures, tastes and memories from each place. What inspires an artist when he travels?
Look, there are things that can influence you directly, and there are others that can affect you in a more mild way. Then there is the passing of time, that lets the memory unfold before you. So when you look back and remember something similar, or opposite from what you saw, or tasted back then, after some time, these experiences can develop into images.
For instance, when I visited the little churches at the Pyrenees, I was very impressed by the Romanesque art. That period of art that had nothing to do with the Renaissance era. I am not a religious person, but those murals in the churches left me in awe of their inspiration. Years later, I discovered and felt something very similar when I visited the Monasteries of the Troodos Mountains. I think there are more than ten Troodos Monasteries that are enlisted and protected by UNESCO’s World Heritage Programme.
I visited them all. The Byzantine wall paintings of our Monasteries have a sensation that is similar to the Romanesque wall paintings of the churches in the Pyrenees. I’ve visited these monasteries numerous times and I intend to visit the churches in the Pyrenees to see all this again. I think that the Byzantine art found in the Monasteries of Cyprus has the same value as that of the Early Renaissance era. And all this, has influenced my work with its evident freshness that is portrayed in it. My work has certain poetry, a naivety that is clearly vivid and alive.
So you have travelled from China to Brazil to France. Have you been to Africa?
I have only been to Egypt. I want to go down towards the centre of Africa, to understand it. But all this, doesn’t mean that my main priority is to travel all over the world. There has to be something specific that attracts me to visit a certain place. For instance, I want to go to Altamira or visit the Amazon, particularly at the area where Brazil, Peru and Colombia meet, at that specific location.
For many years you worked as an art teacher in public schools. You’ve worked in what is called a conservative educational system. How did you manage to be an active artist, how did you combine being inspired and working in this system?
It is certainly a risk for an artist to enter the system. He should be well aware of this risk he is about to take. The educational system of Cyprus, and I suppose the system of other countries too, possess a certain conservative approach for an artist. You have to be active all the time.
When you say active, what do you mean?
To be alert, to be aware of your role as an artist. To balance teaching with art. From the one side, you have to follow the rules and regulations of a strict system, and on the other, you have to know how to go beyond those rules in your spare time. And receive. You can receive inspiration from the freshness of your students. You shouldn’t mould them into anything, they should give you energy instead of draining it from you.
Art in Cyprus today. What do we have to show up until now?
Well, in the first decades of the 20th century, there were the first few artists that were remarkable, such as Diamantis, Kanthos, followed by the revolution that was Christoforos Savva. Then we go to the next generation, which continues up until today. I think we need time, something is in the making, but I think many years need to pass for something essential to happen, to say that we have a strong artistic tradition in Cyprus. It’s also a small country. Artists go to other countries to study, and when they return to Cyprus, they bring whatever influenced them back with them.
The problem today is that many young artists copy these influences statically, without trying to bring it closer to their own idiosyncrasy. They are a bit like parrots that mechanically repeat what they hear, without listening to their own voice. Or they are shy and insecure. There is also the issue of the foreign artists that live, or have retired here. Most of them have plenty of time to spare, something like ‘weekend artists’. But out of many of them, there are a few that stand out.
But unfortunately, even the British that live here have turned into a ghetto, a closed community. The Cypriots are too, besides the Cypriots have this ‘wall’ in front of them, but also the foreigners have become like that too. Indeed, they exhibit their work, thinking that the whole world is their ex-pat community in Cyprus. They don’t try to learn about the local artists of the place they’ve decided to live in, and there are plenty. It’s not like Italy, but there are remarkable Cypriot artists.
This is also Beach News’ effort to bridge that gap…
Exactly. It is a very good attempt to bridge this alienation that exists between us. Up in Tala, we have a cultural committee made up of local and ex pat artists. I’ve observed the different mentalities, the extra patience needed when we communicate. Both sides should respect each other equally, since we are living together in the same place.
What is your current work focused on?
My latest work is The Erotic, The Acrobats and The Dancers. I am also going to the Olympics in China to run. Apart from the Biennale, they’ve invited me within the cultural events of the Olympics.
Being an artist and a teacher, who has many experiences in the Cyprus scene and the growth of its market. When a young artist has ideas that can apply to a wider public, how can he project himself through this conservative system, through the lack of adequate culture in Cyprus?
I believe that in Cyprus there may be a lack of cultural policies, and there may be the phenomenon of the politicians that never take into account the cultural side of things, therefore, there is no adequate distribution of funds. But, on an international level, one should take into account the global networks that are vicious. It is not easy to take part in international events.
Artists always fight and worry to become distinguished internationally; to me this is nonsense. Unfortunately, there are plenty that make this their life’s purpose, to observe the international scene, listen to any curator’s expectations and copy it, just to make a name.
Even at the Biennale of Venice, which is considered as the most prestigious, I found plenty of unsubstantial art, empty paintings. These are cultivated by different curators, who they themselves might be empty. The themes may seem grandiose, touching deep subjects such as war, multiculturalism, immigration, poverty, peace and so on but the result that is presented, to me, is vacant. What you do should be genuine; the path you have chosen should have consequence.
Slowly, slowly, Cyprus is going to get into a more substantial artistic path. It’s still a young country, and geographically miniscule. We complain, yes, we complain for the government’s indifference, about the Ministry of Culture that doesn’t put the right effort into it, about the Municipality. One can you say? They are simply not interested in art; it’s not their priority.
When is your next exhibition?
In October, at the Gloria Gallery in Nicosia. My new callender though will be published in July and will be available at Moufflon bookshop.
Interview by Natalie Hadjiadamos