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An Interview with artist Christos Michaelides

Christos Michaelides was born in 1983 in London. He graduated from the Athens School of Fine Arts in 2010. In 2008 he obtained an Erasmus scholarship and attended a term at the Slade School of Fine Arts. He completed the Royal College of Arts MA Painting programme in 2023. Awarded with the commendation at the 3rd Frissiras Museum Award of European Painting (2017, Athens), his most recent solo and group exhibitions were at Alpha CK gallery in Nicosia (A safe place for mistranslations, 2022, solo show),The Project Gallery in Athens (Gender Melancholia, 2021, group show) and at Crux gallery in Athens (Someone Else’s Nostalgia, 2021, group show)

An Interview with artist Christos Michaelides
Christos Michaelides

Christos Michaelides

Sep 15, 2023

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your artwork?

I was born in the UK in 1983. My parents are Cypriots who moved to London after the outbreak of the war in Cyprus. They had been residing in the UK for nearly a decade before my birth. When I was 3 years old, were located back to Cyprus, where I spent my formative years. In my early twenties, after completing my obligatory military service, I decided to move to Athens to pursue my studies at the Athens School of Fine Arts. From 2003 to 2022, I lived in Athens. Currently, I split my time between Athens and London. In 2023, I successfully completed the MA Painting program at the Royal College of Arts.

My creative process is driven by contemplation of the presence of an inherent void that spans across generations. It represents an unsaid, unspoken narrative, a formless traumatic story that eludes conventional articulation or clear representation. Instead, it constitutes a complex, non-descriptive shared experience deeply interwoven with the concept of community. I delve into this intricate web of connections and relationships existing within a state of transition and liminality, perpetually evolving, where boundaries and definitions are yet to take shape."

How has your background shaped your artistic practice?

During my formative years in a region characterized by stark socio-political divisions and military occupation spanning its entirety, I was confronted with a unique set of circumstances that undeniably left an indelible mark upon my artistic practice. The unavailability of unhindered access to the landscapes that sprawled before me, viewed from a vantage point restricted by these circumstances, undoubtedly exerted a discernible influence on the trajectory of my creative endeavors. Consequently, the landscape emerged as a poignant symbol, emblematic of a profound and relentless quest for profound self-understanding, deeply embedded within the core of my artistic pursuit.

How has your creative process changed over the years?

As I progressively distanced myself from my home country, I found myself increasingly reflecting on the heightened importance and significance of the local landscape and landmarks. These geographical features assumed a more prominent position in my thoughts and considerations. I began contemplating the multifaceted symbolism inherent in these landmarks, particularly in the context of individuals who had been compelled to leave their place of origin. Furthermore, I pondered the broader implications of these landmarks for those who observed them from afar, their meaning evolving through the prism of distant observation and the collective memories of those intimately connected to the locale.

How has your artwork evolved since you first started making art?

The act of painting, in essence, becomes a journey of self-discovery. Within this creative process, artists find themselves compelled to both challenge and interrogate their own artistic boundaries. This process encompasses critical self-examination, both in conceptual and technical realms. Over time, I have come to perceive a tangible transformation—an enhanced capacity to articulate my thoughts without the encumbrance of hesitation or fear. This newfound freedom in artistic expression is a hard-won reward, the result of accumulated years of experience and dedication to the craft.

What inspired you to become an artist?

From an early age, I harboured an innate compulsion to seek solitude and immerse myself in the act of sketching. This desire for isolation and the solitary pursuit of sketching was a profound and enduring inclination. Within the pages of my sketchbook, I discovered a sanctuary where my thoughts and creativity could flow freely, undisturbed by external distractions. It was in these moments of seclusion that I found solace and a means to explore the world, both internal and external. This predilection for isolation and sketching became an integral part of my artistic journey, nurturing the roots of my creative identity.

Are there any particular artists or movements that have greatly influenced your work? In what way?

Early in my artistic journey, the profound influence of Cy Twombly left an indelible mark. His abstract and playful approach ignited a fervent passion within me, propelling me into a deeper exploration of abstraction's essence. While the echoes of these influences may not be overt in my work, they serve as silent mentors. Phillip Guston, Terry Winters, Sean Scully, Brice Marden, and Phyllida Barlow, along with the Greek painter Nikos Chouliaras, offer invaluable guidance. Drawing from the wisdom of old masters like De la Francesca, Rafael, and J.W. Turner, I delve into their oeuvres, extracting technical, conceptual, and existential insights that enrich my artistic identity.

How did you arrive at your style?  What can you tell us about your individual style and visual language?

My artistic evolution unfolded as I delved into the artistic languages of others, an immersive journey that birthed my unique creative voice. In this rich tapestry of influences, I ventured beyond mere exploration of their thoughts; it became a crucible for synthesizing these multifarious inspirations. This amalgamation allowed me to craft a distinctive artistic lexicon through which I articulate my personal creative expressions. My work serves as a conduit for the transmission of profound emotions and visuals sourced from the buffer zone that cleaves my homeland. These stimuli, captured through photography, undergo a transformative process, emerging abstracted and devoid of direct references. Within my paintings, the representational elements take on the character of landscape structures, seamlessly fusing with the abstract to evoke the essence of the landscapes that shape my identity.

How do you select your themes or subjects?

The subject of my artistic endeavours forms the nucleus of a profound self-exploration journey, intimately connected to my birthplace and my position within the global tapestry. My work acts as a reflective canvas upon which I not only depict the geographical landscapes of my origin but also delve into the emotional and cultural facets that have imprinted upon me. Through painting, I navigate the intricate relationship between my roots and my role on the world stage, offering a visual narrative that probes the essence of identity and one's place within the broader human experience.

What has been the most rewarding part of your career as a studio artist?

The most rewarding aspect of my career as a studio artist is the profound realization of the value in never settling and the significance of an unending pursuit of self-understanding. This ongoing journey continually enriches my work, driving me to explore new depths of creativity and self-expression, ultimately leading to personal and artistic growth.


Please tell us about your latest body of work

In the latest body of work, I create compositions which in away resemble digital image-making interfaces consisting of work-areas,  toolbars, colour palettes, gradients and side-borders. These partially identifiable repetitive elements become tropes, leitmotifs within the work denoting a humorous aspect of my practice which embraces chance and playfulness in the process of creation. It seems as if there is a logic that binds them all together, a system of distributing space and creating or altering form, however at the end nothing really makes sense and everything tends towards destruction, towards falling apart. The visual archival material I use allows me to recall and revisit places - imaginary or existing -  places where I once lived, which I once encountered, creating a multi-layered sequence which I approach as a work-space, a template of endless possibilities.

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects that you are excited about?

The forthcoming exhibition is scheduled to commence on the15th of September at D Contemporary gallery located in London. This exhibition is a duo show between Igor Dobrowolski and myself and has been thoughtfully curated by Jonathan Fakinos. It is titled "A State of Trauma." The exhibition will be open to the public from the 15th of September through the 7th of October.

What do you think is the most important aspect of creating successful artwork?

Creating successful artwork necessitates a profound commitment to honesty, where the artist feels both freedom and responsibility. Honesty fuels authenticity, and the interplay between freedom and responsibility nurtures meaningful and impactful creative expression.

Describe your process of creating a new artwork from concept to completion.

I create multi-layered, compartmentalized and gridded images that constantly reveal and conceal parts, creating a dense accumulation of signs, marks and imagery that challenge the core of the notion of the archive. The archive, a methodology of ‘making sense’, creating a narrative, and preserving and passing on history throughout time, plays a pivotal role in my work, working both as a starting point for my visual research and being a potent experimental ground based on which to rethink notions of order, categorization of information, hierarchy and meaning-making processes. Visual archival material allows me to recall and revisit places - imaginary or existing -  places where I once lived, which I once encountered, creating a multi-layered sequence which I approach as awork-space, a template of endless possibilities.

What is your favourite medium to work with? Please tell us a bit about how the medium influences or supports the ideas behind your work

Typically, my preferred medium aligns with the ongoing body of work. Over the years, I've predominantly employed oil and acrylic paints, utilizing canvases and aluminium sheets as my chosen surfaces. In my recent body of work, I've gravitated towards acrylic paint on canvas due to their rapid drying properties. This choice facilitates my process, especially as my work often involves numerous layers, shapes, and iterative adjustments. Acrylics grant me the agility to swiftly rethink and re-evaluate compositions and ideas, offering a dynamic approach to my artistic expression.

Are there any techniques you have developed that you use consistently in your artwork?

My artistic process goes beyond technique; it's an exploration of personal obsessions. I find myself repeatedly drawn to certain elements, driven by a quest to understand their significance and the compulsion to revisit them. For instance, consider the way I construct landscapes: I use a fine brush, tapping it meticulously from top to bottom to form layers and the landscape's structural framework, almost resembling a printing technique. Simultaneously, I'm intrigued by materiality and its sensory dimensions. In my recent work, I incorporate thick paint blobs, which evoke sensations beyond the visual, providing a means to engage with this inner drive.

What was the most challenging piece you have ever created? How much do you think the effort you put into creating a work is important vs the idea behind it?

The most formidable challenges I have encountered in my artistic journey emerged when I aspired to create sculptures and engage with unfamiliar materials and processes. This necessitated collaboration with skilled technicians, and I found myself in a position where I had to patiently await results beyond my immediate control.

I employ the medium of painting as a means to articulate and convey my thoughts, emotions, and responses to the world around me. I personally transition from one body of work to another through the act of creation itself. Each successive body of work maintains a profound connection to the previous one, underscoring the significance of continually producing painting narratives in my creative process. Typically, the conceptual foundation for my next artistic endeavor emerges organically as I immerse myself in the ongoing project.

Please tell us about the particular materials or techniques you use to create your artwork and how they influence your work and practice?

Bouncing off this sphere of play, the technique of impasto which I use in most of the works extends the two dimensional plane of my painterly language to involve three dimensional amorphous volumes of colour crudely placed in different points. These bright coloured condensed masses of paint are located either within the pictorial plane or slightly off the canvas at the border of the stretcher bar in a random-like position that evoke an aftermath effect, fusing art historical painting references with a primordial sense of play that merges desire with disgust. These moments of impasto add to the work by thickening the complexity of image-making to involve parts of painting matter which look as if previously chewed and spit, yet simultaneously having a delicious and enjoyable almost confectionary nature to them. It is within this polarity that I find interest in this technique, as it positions the work in the midst of pleasure and play, ambiguously blending food with excrement to create an unsettling yet very familiar setting which arouses both taste and touch.  


What themes or topics are you exploring in your current artwork?

I create multi-layered, compartmentalized and gridded images that constantly reveal and conceal parts, creating a dense accumulation of signs, marks and imagery that challenge the core of the notion of the archive. The archive, a methodology of ‘making sense’, creating a narrative, and preserving and passing on history throughout time, plays a pivotal role in my work, working both as a starting point for my visual research and being a potent experimental ground based on which to rethink notions of order, categorization of information, hierarchy and meaning-making processes. The concept of  a territory of fluid borders is something which I explore through my work, by creating a dialogue which merges the above thoughts with the expansive field of the medium itself.  

What do you think is the most important skill a studio artist should have?

The paramount skill for a studio artist is the ability to navigate the solitude intrinsic to their craft. It necessitates the capacity to confront isolation head-on, fostering self-reliance and unwavering commitment. Self-criticism, a rigorous, introspective evaluation, becomes a constructive tool for growth. These skills enable artists to persist through the often solitary and mentally demanding creative process, ultimately forging a resilient and self-aware artistic practice.

What advice would you give to aspiring studio artists?

Becoming an artist is not merely a pursuit of creativity; it's a profound responsibility. Through art, one can convey thoughts, provoke questions, and inspire change. This privilege demands honesty, thoughtfulness, and a commitment to freedom of expression. Artists are torchbearers of society's introspection, encouraging discourse and reflection through their work, a duty that carries profound weight in shaping culture and inspiring progress.


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