Author: James Stanton, Stanton's Coffee House
Publish Date: May 2018
Artist Interview: Giannis Bekiaris
I had the privilege of visiting Giannis Bekiaris at his studio in Dalston.
He showed me his latest works and we discussed motorcycles, the colour purple and how painting alleviates a busy mind.
How would your friends describe you?
Good question. Obsessed. Obsessed with art, motorcycles and vintage items.
How would you describe your style of painting?
I’m definitely a figurative painter but I also paint cities and landscapes. I try to explore different avenues of figurative painting.
The colour purple seems to feature quite heavily in your work. Is there any special significance to this?
There’s no particular reason for it. It’s just always in my palette. Most of the time, when I paint, I don't copy what I see. Sometimes I improvise with the colours and my hand just always goes to that colour — its probably just my taste.
I also love the subtle chaos in your works.The erratic strokes of colour and drips in places. Is this a conscious decision or does it just happen?
When I paint I try to be as free as possible. I wish I could be more free than I am. Plasticity is one of my biggest aims so I try to work as freely as I can. I try and keep the canvas fresh — not like a photograph for example — something more interesting than the reality.
How do you start a big project?
I normally sketch before I start painting. But it is always different. I know it sounds crazy but the paint brush does something different every time I paint, so it’s never the same. Sometimes I have something in my mind and the brush paints something better or worse than i imagined. I then follow my instinct and decide if I need to sacrifice parts of my initial idea or keep them. I start quite free with the canvas but then that becomes less when I get to the details — like a portrait when I work on an ear or a mouth.
What do you do to get into that creative zone?
I make a coffee! That is always the first thing I do. Then I sit in that chair (points to the chair i’m sitting in) for about 10 minutes and look at the painting i’m working on. I try to relax and clear my head of the first part of my day (Giannis paints in the afternoons and in the mornings, he works at a day centre for people with autism) and when I’m ready I pick up the brush and start painting.
Do you ever encounter a creative block and what do you do to get over them?
Yes. Although I love painting sometimes I need to take a break. I find this very helpful. The next time I paint after a 3, 4 or 5 day break it seems like I work better. Sometimes I just turn the painting I’m working on upside down and walkaway. Then I come back and turn it back again to reset my perspective.
The other thing I just started doing that I found to work is before I completely finish a painting, I leave it covered for two weeks so I cannot see it and I start another project. I then come back to it and finish it because I can see the things that I don't really like and what I need to do to make it complete.
How many paintings do you work on at any given time?
Two or three paintings. No more than that, otherwise it’s too much information. Sometimes one is enough to drive you crazy.
You often paint on cardboard, is there a reason for it?
It was an accident actually. Before I graduated one evening I had something in my mind that I was trying to figure out and the only thing in the room I had to paint on was some cardboard. So I made a quick sketch on the cardboard and the next day I realised it was quite good. Each material gives a different effect and I love the way the paint brush moves on cardboard and also the idea that you can make something good with every little piece of paper or cardboard. With a little bit of effort you can completely transform anything. You don't always need an expensive canvas. And sometimes if the cardboard is already dirty I like to work on top of the marks. I can take advantage of the reality of what happened before me.
Outside of painting what interests do you have?
Vintage motorcycles. I have a 36 year old BMW motorcycle. I also rebuild old furniture and keep bonsai trees. In the mornings I work in a day centre for people with autism. We do art and crafts to help people with learning difficulties. There’s a lot of satisfaction in seeing the joy I can help bring to some of the people I work with — especially when I reflect on how they were when I began working with them to how they are after a few months or sometimes years.
What advice would you give your 18 year old self?
I was already painting lots at 18 so I’d say keep painting. I sometimes wish I would have found my passion for motorcycles earlier. I only got my first bike at 30. But really I have no regrets in my life.
If you could sit down with anyone for coffee who would it be and what would you ask them?
Rembrandt. I’d just like him to paint in front of me so I could see how he worked. I don't have any particular question. If you are with someone you really admire, just to be in the same room is enough for me.
Do you have a quote or motto that you’d like to share?
Only if you know who you are will you achieve what you want. I cannot remember who said it but it stuck with me. I really think this is true.
What advice would you give to aspiring painters?
Don't give up the fight, if you like doing it. It’s not easy and its very hard to find work you really want to do. It’s hard to make a living as a painter. But, painting makes everything else in my mind easy because painting is a very difficult thing.
What future projects are in the pipeline?
I have a commission for a landscape I’m about to start on (he points to a huge frame for a canvas on the wall next to him). But my next big project is going to be portraits of people in my life that I love and admire. But making the portraits personal to me. It’s particularly about how they have affected and shaped me as a person.
Finally, how do you prefer to take your coffee?
Author: Anna-Maria Hadjistephanou, Photographer
Publish Date: February 2014
ON THE DOUBLE DECKER
Thirty years ago I found myself living in London where as a photographer I used to wander around the city, trying to capture its movement, to discover its inner 'rhythm'. Since I lived in East London when everything was deserted and motionless, the predominant colours of these wanderings were shadows of pale red, brown, grey and green.
Looking at Giannis Bekiaris' paintings, today, I am pleasantly surprised to come upon not only a new London but also to meet a painter who blends on his palette colours from the images of his Mediterranean past and the everyday environment of his new hometown, London.
This game of colours where light blue embraces the London urban scape, betrays the painter's memory that not only transcends what we see on his canvas, but at the same time influences the way he receives his surroundings. London is no longer typically English, it is a pure Metropolis painted in Mediterranean shades, walked by lightly dressed people, drawn in straight geometrical lines and depicted as a city in transition.
Yet, when Bekiaris isolates details such as the sky, the parks and chimneys, then something completely different happens: now we are in a timeless London, where the known landmarks are still there, the sky is grey, the parks are green and tidy, the walls are brown red. They are all familiar sights -such as a tree lost inside blue and green- still recognised by us, the distant observers of London.
Giannis Bekiaris' exhibition is for both Greeks and Londoners a challenging and rewarding opportunity to observe London through the eyes and the artistic tools of a young Greek painter ‘in exile’.
Author: Iris Kritikou, Independent Art Curator
Publish Date: October 2011
We live in the mind, in ideas, in fragments.
We no longer drink in the wild outer music of the streets
-we remember only.
Walking hastily to the studio of Giannis Bekiaris we find ourselves accompanied by fragments of autumn sunshine touching the pavement of Michael Voda street. Giannis is escorting me, as I think he does not want me to get scared. A few years ago I often visited this area which has been identified with many neoclassical buildings used as studios by friends and acquaintances. Silently planted studios, among various garages and brothels with their semi open doors and characteristic lights, are at times in tranquil decay and at others, not quite as common, restored to their previous glory. Yet all of them, functionally belong to the area, whose streets either refer to names of Ancient Greek architects, such as Trofonion, the son of Apollo, or to the forgotten by the majority, Greeks and Philhellenes who assisted in strengthening the Greek revolution and the newly born Greek State. The French Henri de Rini, the British Edward Codrington and the Russian Loggin Heyden, who after thrashing the Turkish and Egyptian fleet in the battle of Navarino, led Greece to its independence. All these people seem to be as fading recollections scattered in the boundaries of the homonymous streets. Michael Soutsos or Vodas, immortalised in a glorious seated position by Louis Dupré and Nikiphoros Lytras, descendant of a noble family from Fanari, Istanbul, and a great interpreter at the Sublime Porte, the overlord of Moldova initiated in the Friendly Society by Alexander Ypsilandis, imprisoned by the Austrians because of his actions, a collaborator of the Swiss Philhellene Evnardos in gathering money for the support of the Fight against the Turks, do not live here anymore*.
What defines Giannis Bekiaris' painting is the coordination of the twilight of the Athenian urban landscape, the necessity of a magnified reminder, the invocation of a signed spot of steep to the careless gaze ruins. Focusing most of the times on the remnants of neoclassical traces in the city, his undertaking oscillates between a geographical mapping and a historical recording, floating within an aesthetical quest for a unique surviving exclusive element and a codified speech of a personal visual notebook of Athens: in the work of the young artist, gasping neoclassical buildings and vacant fences in the neighbourhoods of Metaxourgio and Agios Panteleimonas, leach inside parts of buildings and locations, instilled in traces of volumes that adhere on the canvas like little prayers of surviving - similar to the silenced worry of the pilgrim while trying to place a church votive.
"I have always wanted to paint landscapes, mainly urban ones. My desire was set free when I moved my studio here", the painter reconfirms, while he simultaneously talks about his need to save the floating fragments of the city, and his painstaking effort to "see" the beauty of the Athenian landscape behind and beyond its rapid vulgarisation. It is because of Giannis Bekiaris' tenacity that the gaze of the spectator follows the depths of the discontinuous horizon to its bowels, and is led to the triumphal and tranquil colour ranges of the cobalt on the sky. A spectator who traverses through the prevailing agile choreographies of the white clouds, and touches the electric cyan of the dusk and the organic rosy tonal pads of an aged fence. Then, it settles again on the little tender reminders of a past of a slower flow, of a stronger love for the minute detail, for the marble heads and the medusas with the waving hair, for the resisting to decay ceramic antefixes with the consistency of a rhythmology that reminds the artist of the Fibonacci** sequence.
In the work of the young painter, the gesture progressively liberated during the flowing painting process, develops in oversized palimpsest fields that dot no intimidate his able brush, while the quest for the plain plasticity discusses with the autonomy of the image without making any effort to embellish, challenging him, as he himself explains, to "focus on the painting itself", on the pleasure he derives. A wanderer, an observer and at the same time a collector of this absurd fragmented landscape where the sharp noise alternates with beneficial silent pauses, where the secret vibrations of another time protect the gaze and the soul from the total oblivion of the present. Giannis Bekiaris records in a rather hedonic way the introverted breath of the space-time of the matter and touches the hovering aura of the people and the events that resided during its apex. His notes from his recent visits to Costantinople, Kythera and Chania functionally belong in this first group: the uphill street with the antique shops in the gray coloured neighbourhood of Cukurcuma, the enclosed island wall, the shadowed from the robust jasmine fence wall of the artist's aunt's house at Chania, where numerous colour ranges reside the seemingly monochromatic main surface of the subject, are all there. They are the thorough records of visual and tactile memories that save the precious trivial little things, feeling the traces of an indistinct coherent substance that listens to the unpublished adventures of a succinct humanity. Drawing from the painter's ability for abstraction and suggesting his little agile sketches as complementary points of view, we see them turn into lively fields of narration - sketches made on perishable and crude matter - sheets of cardboards that are often taken out of garbage bins and are so quickly manipulated that strongly remind the set of a popular shadow theatre.
Inside his studio, found in a building of 1903, where posters of his favourite artists decorate and change the monotony of the white walls and the benevolent light diffuses on the mosaic floors, Giannis Bekiaris works on the lights and the shadows, the iron, the marble, the stones and the lime, the carved recesses and the suspended staircases, the closed doors and the hang windows. By being both too close and too far from the chaotic fabric of Athens, the ruins of the buildings turn into thresholds of plots and their pieces transform into vestries of recollections. As I leave behind me Michael Voda street, a penetrating, invisible aroma of jasmine follows my hovering uncertain steps.
* See Sotiris Triantafylou, "The streets Codringtonos, Derigni and Heyden and their history", http://sottriant.blogspot.com
** Leonardo of Pisa or Fibonacci (about 1170-1250), the son of the diplomat Guglielmo Bonacci, was an Italian mathematician famous for his number sequence named after him (Fibonacci) and for his introducing into Europe the Arabic numeration with the digits 0- 9 and place value, and many other mathematical innovations during a period of darkness for the sciences. In accordance with his sequence that appears in the liber abaci (the Book of Abacus or Book of Calculation), each number is the sum of the previous two numbers, starting with 0 and 1. This sequence begins 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987... . The higher up in the sequence, the closer two consecutive "Fibonacci numbers of the sequence divided by each other will approach the golden ratio (approximately φ: 1.618 or 0.618 : 1). (The φ used in honour of the sculptor Phidias)
Author: Christine Michalopoulou, Psychoanalyst
Publish Date: September 2012
"Streams of sea and you
sways of the faraway stars- stand by me!
From the waters of the night skyline look
how I raise leaning both sides
like the new Moon
and dropping blood"
Maria the Cloud: Dramatic Poem, Odysseas Elytis
Do they reveal or hide themselves? Women are odd creatures.
Or probably not! They are complex.
Their first love object is their mother and then they have to replace that [object] with the father. This rather difficult transition is the one that implicitly makes them quite complex later on.
Giannis Bekiaris' female figures, with their shadows and colours, their naked backs, their pregnant state and their difficult-to-read faces are begging you to look inside them; where their substantial nature lies. Their faces do not grasp one's gaze, they are discreet towards their audience. Through their bodies' transcendental -and at the same time real- existence, they are seeking a deeper and far more internal gaze. And they 'move around' undisturbed, domesticated and as if they have been always full and satisfied.
Author: Eftychia Fragou, Journalist/Blogger
Publish Date: August 2016
The Colourful Alphabet of Giannis Bekiaris
We went to his sanctuary.
When you enter the place where an artist creates, it feels as if you have stepped into the holiest of holies in a temple. You don’t want to make any noise. You don’t want to disturb anything. Probably it’s this awe-inspiring feeling combined with an aura of mysticism that permeates the space.
It is a “bee colony” of new artists, the Absorb Αrts space. A communal artistic house where everyone can create smoothly in a seamless and organic way.
I was really inspired by this line: “Here are housed all my art works.” Indeed, a roof over the heads of the art works, exactly as babies have their duvets.
He hugged me whispering “Thank you so much for coming” in my ear, enunciating every syllable to make sure that the words were not lost in the air.
My gaze rested on a piece of art and I jumped backwards as if an electric current had passed through me. “This is B!” I said in a very enthusiastic way.
He paused, and he replied with one word.
And, yes, indeed it was B, with a wonderful purple dress. A stunning purple. Giannis' purple.
I realised that there was a story behind it.
-“I will tell you afterwards”, he said.
I realised when I was rather young that when people say: «I will explain it to you later», it’s better if you don’t ask them again to tell you what they had in mind.
Because most of the time, they simply don’t want to share, they just say that to «win» some time and prevaricate. Unless they really want to share it with you at a specific time, under specific conditions, in their own way.
If they want to share, they will share.
And he did.
We were seeing all his art works one by one, some of his art work was finished, some in progress.
I started gazing at his portraits. The figures of Giannis, his portraits, his love towards the female sex, towards our duality and complexity. You have the feeling that all his portraits hide a secret. A secret that they want to share with you. And everybody “hears” his own secret. As many secrets as all the hidden parts of the female gender.
People continued coming and going and I asked him at some point:
-“When did you start painting?”
Somebody interrupted us, but he answered while trying to keep his glasses in place.
-“I started painting when you started painting.”
I looked at him, really puzzled. And he continued:
-“Everybody paints from the moment they hold a colored marker or a pen in their hands. We stop painting when we start censoring ourselves, when somebody points out to us a lack of talent, or when we persuade ourselves that we don’t paint properly. This is one of the mistakes of our educational system, but this is another discussion.”
There is something ethereal about Giannis. But at the same time he is solid, compact and precise. As if you had placed parquet flooring on a cloud. He flies, but he knows in which direction, with what speed, and he always looks behind him. He has a schedule. In the mornings his art takes a therapeutic shape and when he finishes with his wonderful students, he isolates himself in his sanctuary. He paints but lately he also creates other art objects; he chisels the wood, he gives shape to it and he transforms it to useful objects.
He also moved to London, from Athens. One of many who did the same. But he holds Greece in himself, and this is something I discovered from his lights and his colours. They have something blinding. They have the light of the South.
I asked him about the colours as he was mixing a paintbrush with water. And I thought that they were getting mixed the same way the lives of people get wet and tousled.
-“I think about the colours before I start painting, I see them inside me, but I also change my mind as a work progresses.”
This phrase “I see them inside me” rang a bell and reminded me of what the composer Evanthia Rempoutsika once told me, that she “hears the music inside her.”
The art is “inside us.” “Inside us” all the work is done. Inside the artists the art is being gestated. And when they finally create, it is simply the moment of birth, way after all the painful and grinding gestation.
At some point I asked him about the artists of the 21st century:
-“What’s your opinion about all these artists of the modern art, that they might just throw a paint on a canvas, or just presenting a white canvas?” (we saw that at the Tate).
-“Everybody just creates what they can and some people probably can’t”, he said while he was pushing back his eyeglasses, to rivet them.
-This amazing teacher of mine in New York, Roxana Stuart used to say: “To consider something as a form of art, a simple, unrefined way is to judge if what you hear/see, etc. can be done from everybody. If it can’t, if it includes a level of rarity and difficulty, probably it is on the right path to be considered art. Do you agree?”
-There is a point there, he said.
And then a beautiful discussion started in between some snacks, some drinks, and the constant coming and going of people. Until we were interrupted by his goddaughter saying “I want to pee”.
“This is art,” I told him. “This little girl.”
He nodded, trying to return his eyeglasses onto his nose. And at that very moment I realized that he tries to prop up his eyeglasses as often as he smiles.
And as I was leaving, I was sure that we will see much more from Giannis Bekiaris.
The future is being painted at this very moment and it is so promising.