Interview: Philip Tsiaras with Evi Kallini of Glow Magazine, October 2021
Connecting the art dots: International artist Philip Tsiaras talks about his new exhibition in London
Focusing on works from the well-known series “Dot Pop Portraits”
Painter, photographer, sculptor and poet, Philip Tsiaras is a diverse creator and an internationally recognized visual artist. A Greek from the Diaspora, whose family is originally from Grevena, and with an almost cinematic life career, he chose to live and work in the “city that never sleeps”, New York. Based in his modern studio in Manhattan, he travels around the world, with an embellished long history of significant distinctions, awards and exhibitions. We have known each other for almost ten years and all this time he never ceases to amaze me with his inexhaustible creativity, his almost adolescent momentum and the power of his artistic writing, in which Modernism & Pop Art meet with unpretentious ease, with poetic and historical references, from the Mediterranean landscape, the country of his origin. This is Philip Tsiaras, charmingly multidimensional, cosmopolitan, creatively inexhaustible. The reason for our new interview is his solo exhibition focusing on works from his well-known series ‘Dot Pop Portraits’, in a gallery in the heart of London.
Let’s start our conversation with the Exhibition, The SUPERDOT. When is the opening date?
Yes, November 17th is the big day. The exhibition was to have opened November 14, Saint Philip’s day, but in the end, it was too holy a day, so the Vernissage will now be on Nov. 17th! All welcome.
We actually moved the exhibition date from October to November to ensure that there would be no lockdown from another spike of the Delta Corona Virus. Needless to say, this is the 3 rd time we have moved this exhibition date because of lockdown problems.
The Superdot will open in central London, Gallery 8 in Mayfair, at 8 Duke Street. Originally the exhibition was to be with the Varvara Roza Gallery, a talented, and energetic young art dealer originally from Thessaloniki. Now the exhibition will be co-hosted by the Blender Gallery, with support from the director, and a personal friend, Iasona Theophanidis, Glyfada, Athens.
Let’s stay in the exhibition for now and tell us a little more about its central idea, and what its visitors will see.
Dots to put it simply. The theme of the exhibition will be a survey of my Dot related works covering some 35 years of the use of the Dot in my paintings.
It will be a small retrospective, focusing especially on my new Dot Pop portraits, and 3 decades of my dot related artworks both painting and sculpture. There will be a full-length, hard bound catalog published by Key Books that will accompany the exhibition, with the title THE SUPERDOT. These portraits are made of (what feels like to me) millions of dots that collectively make up the portrait, which might not appear obvious immediately to the viewer. They are very time consuming and intensive.
This new exhibition will incorporate as well a series or British Portraits of Winston Churchill, Prince Philip, and others.
By what criteria do you choose the famous personalities that you paint?
When you paint a portrait, you are totally in the mind of the subject. In the beginning it was about power. I wanted to get into the psyche of some the most diabolical figures in history-so I started with dictators, Mao, Stalin, etc., but when I arrived at Hitler, I no longer wanted to be in his mind. In fact, the minds of mass murderers are not so interesting- I discovered. They just control people through force and dogma-there is no poetry in that.
Then I decided to go in the opposite direction and paint characters and celebrities that everyone loved. So, I considered Hollywood greats, Marilyn Monroe, financial greats, Onassis or even Steve Jobs, art greats, Picasso, Dali, Warhol, musical greats, Hendrix, Pavarotti, Prince, political greats, JFK and Jacquie, Greek greats, Maria Callas, Irene Papas, Von Karajan, Mouskouri, etc.
Sometimes the choice is authoritative and personal, other times it’s Democratic. For example, for the upcoming exhibition in England, I would ask strangers in a pub, or at a dinner party, “If you had to live in one small room and had only one portrait to look at forever-who would it be”? In the case of the English, it was almost always the Queen Elizabeth, or Churchill. So, I am doing them both! By the way, I am also painting, Sir Paul McCartney and David Bowie, but that’s my choice.
In the end, they all join the Tsiaras family of portraits –connected, as we say, by the dots!
Really, how did your relationship with this dot pattern come about from the beginning?
I am beginning to think that these dots have chosen me, in the sense that they appear, re-appear in my work (in one form or another) for over 30 years. It is an interesting question. Does the artist pick his markings and subject matter, or is it somehow chosen for him by the thousand paper cuts of life, family, education, mentors, health, finances, successes, failures, loves lost and loves found again.
Or maybe even more basic, you just made a mess as an infant, leaving organized paint splashes on the floor, and the embarrassment or the sheer visual power of that image, remains in your unconscious into “dotted” maturity.
It is in the end difficult to answer honestly how we are molded into the statement making machines that we become as artists- But the journey is what matters. The rest is left to critics to bicker about.
Tell us a little about your award at the Who is Who International Awards 2021, an event that took place recently in Athens.
It was a truly magnificent event, on Lake Vouliagmeni, in an extremely imposing landscape, all around a salt water lake surrounded by lit up stone mountains. This year, September 30, the event had a greater outreach to international personalities. The Gala dinner was entitled “Greece, A Whole World!” and was done under the auspices of the Ministries of Finance, Development & Investment, Urius and EOT, and of course “Who’s Who” in Greece. Among the outstanding men and women celebrities awarded this year were Hollywood actor Billy Zane, the Archduke of Austria, Princess of Tuscany and President of the Flame of Peace, Herta Margarete Habsburg-Lothringen, and the Princess of the Foundation H. Sheikha Intisar Salem Al Ali AlSabah. Good “company”, hm?
This is my second award in a little over a year, as last February I was awarded by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Interestingly, one of the only advantages of getting older is that people seem to want to award you. When you are younger the public wants to love you, when you are older, they want to award you. A strange phenomenon. I think I prefer the former, although I will unfortunately accept the latter graciously!
You are a multidimensional artist, painter, photographer and sculptor. How would you describe your artistic philosophy? And which subterranean thread unites the different things you do with each other?
I don’t really think the artist begins with a philosophy, per se. That didactic approach usually creates dull and obvious results. Nothing is worse that when an artist spends more time explaining his work than making it. I believe the philosophy of a body of artwork evolves as the artist explores the outer regions of the inexplicable. Which means, the deeper one goes into unknown territory, the greater the chance of something magical happening. There is experimenting which is natural and illogical at the same time. The artist, like the scientist, explores in the laboratory of his mind directions which often go wrong-resulting in, if lucky, breakthrough wonderful mistakes. Penicillin, Cubism, Impressionism, Saccharin, Futurism, the X-ray, Surrealism, LSD!
What do you think is the most Greek element in your character that you have maintained until today, despite the fact that you were born and live in America?
Unlike the Anglican protagonist, Sir Walter Raleigh, who throws his cape down in the mud to keep the shoes of his Queen from getting dirty while exiting the carriage; the Greek protagonist just doesn’t do that. “Puddle Chivalry” it’s called by the English.
The Greek hero by contrast is cunning and clever as Odysseus is described by Homer. His complex character allowed him to confuse, bewilder and blind the Cyclops. Odysseus is a realist and understands that the Queen is spoiled and overly privileged, and doesn’t deserve to step on his beautiful velvet cape. What would be the point of that? I think I stand with Odysseus; such behavior is in our blood, no matter where we are born.
And as a final note: Queen Elizabeth I had Sir Walter Raleigh executed for treason 10 years later. So, so much for Chivalry and his beautiful cape!
Info: Philip Tsiaras’s new solo exhibition (8 Duke Street Mayfair, London). Opening: November 17. A full-length, hard bound book Philip Tsiaras: The SUPERDOT, published by Key Books will accompany the exhibition. Exhibition in collaboration with Blender Gallery and Varvara Roza Galleries.
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