Paul Anagnostopoulos' paintings reveal a more human side of
all-powerful godly bodies, exploring themes of mythological desire and queer melancholy. We met Greek-Italian artist Paul to tell us more about his practice and journey as an artist.
Firstly, When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?
I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. As a kid my idea of playing outside was sitting in the grass with my sketchbook. I began creating comic books of original super heroes. When I was around 8, my parents took me to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I remember being amazed by Roy Lichtenstein’s Drowning Girl. His flat, graphic style really resonated with me and opened my eyes in regards to what art can be. In my precocious mind, if Roy can make comics and be an artist, why can’t I? From that point on I was sure that I wanted art to be my focus in life.
Drowning Girl, 1963 MoMA
Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? How has this impacted your work?
I come from a very proud Greek and Italian family. Growing up on Long Island, New York, the earliest images I saw in my grandparents’ homes were replica vases and classical statues. As a child, I would spend hours drawing these figures. Both of my grandmothers were teachers with a strong interest in history. As I sketched these souvenir still lives, they would explain historical events, mythological stories, and their parents’ journeys from the Mediterranean to America. This is the autobiographical and nostalgic reasoning as to why I focus on these Greco-Roman images. As a child of the 90s, I grew up around the same time that computers and the internet developed. This is where my allusions to the early digital age and rudimentary technological graphics come from.
Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. Have you gone through the traditional route of art school and what was your experience?
Growing up, I took every art class I could, both in school and on the weekends. I graduated from New York University with my BFA in 2013. Since then, I have participated in 10 artist residencies, both in the states and internationally, and extensive exhibitions. I’ve been fortunate to have experienced so many wonderful opportunities but this came with hundreds of rejections. I’ve spent a lot of time crafting proposals and applications – which luckily has paid off. As an artist, you have to be your strongest advocate.
What’s the message of your work? Are there themes/narratives/purpose?
My conceptual practice is concerned with telling queer stories. This perspective has been largely erased, historically speaking. My goal is to give a voice to these lost generations of outsiders and recreate a history that includes their viewpoints. I use mythology as a metaphor with a focus on intimacy and desire. Each painting illustrates a highly emotional condition in which the figure will either triumph or surrender. Focusing on this vulnerable state is a way to dismantle preconceived notions regarding strength and masculinity. I also dissect my own personal experiences and rebuild them into these epic narratives using ancient allegories. Ultimately the paintings are celebrations of tenderness and affection.
Where do they come from? How would you describe your aesthetic?
Visually speaking, my work oscillates between classical aesthetics and digital graphics. My subject matter and figures are an exploration of art history classics often placed in a timeless, natural environment. Adding to this complexity are layers that reference late 20th century design and early electronic imagery. My work’s contradicting layers of depth and flatness establish a push-pull effect. This vibrational quality, combined with an electric color palette, bold lines, and well-rendered elements are key motifs of my work.
Who and what are your greatest influences?
My work is heavily influenced and inspired by ancient sculptures and architecture. Classical Greco-Roman forms are among the most astounding works ever created. The ability to create movement and life from rigid, hard marble is truly incredible. Ancient pottery, with its flat yet dimensional style and strong use of pattern is another strong influence. Elements of Surrealism have definitely impacted my work too. The use of heavily conceptual narratives and symbolism reminds me to always create with purpose – I develop a distinct story with each painting. Aesthetically speaking, surreal landscapes and mystical visuals greatly inform the paradisiacal worlds I create. There’s a strong sense of infinity, layering, and depth in those historic works.
Are your works planned? What do you want people to take from your work when they view it? Do you have the audience consciously in mind when you are creating?
My work contains a series of deliberate and conscious decisions. I typically start with an idea regarding a specific narrative or figure – whether they be mythological, historical, or personal. From there I plan the composition and symbolism within the painting. I often think, “How will the landscape reinforce the character’s narrative, why are they there?” Once I have this foundation, I support my concept with other elements – whether it be some sort of pattern, celestial object, or flora. I consider each one’s historical and cultural significance to further build upon my complex network of motifs.
What events in your life have mobilised change in your practise/aesthetic? How has your art evolved? Do you stick to one medium? Do you experiment? Do you see any parameters to your work?
Studying mythology has led to my fascination with classical sculpture, as I mentioned earlier. My travels have been a steady well of inspiration. From my residencies in Iceland, Mexico, Italy, and around the US. I’ve had the chance to experience such a myriad of stunning environments. My sketches and photographs from these locations form the foundation for the worlds within my canvases. My older work was more fixated on portraiture with maybe one design element. It was simpler and smaller. Painting was an exploration of what interested me and a process of experimentation to expand my visual vernacular. In the past few years, my practice has really flourished. I’m increasingly complicating the picture plane and working larger. I incorporate more of the body to push the narrative aspect of my work. I have also been investigating how my layers are woven together and highlighting moments of disruptions. These shifts have further complicated and strengthened my paintings.
What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?
Nothing beats a sunny studio day with some solid music to listen to.
What are your goals for the future? (Projects, collaborations)
This past January I had a large solo show of 31 paintings at the Leslie-Lohman Project Space in Manhattan. I worked towards it over the course of a year and a half. After working with laser focus and an emphasis on creating signature, finished paintings, I’d like to take some time to experiment. My short-term goal would be to test out new ideas that have been on the back burner for a while now. It’s always important to shake things up.
How has your art practice been affected by self-isolation?
I’m lucky enough to have my studio in my home so not much has changed in terms of my daily schedule. If anything, now I have more studio time to paint.
Are you creating new work while social distancing?
Yes, I have plenty of materials stockpiled so I’ve been drawing and painting. With the current shift to online shows, I’ve still been quite busy making work for exhibitions.
How are you staying creative?
I’ve been sticking to a routine – it has really helped keep me focused and centered during this challenging time.