Remember when we used to ask ourselves ‘What is art?’ and ‘What does art do?’ We don’t hear these questions anymore. (don’t you dare start rolling your eyes!)
Sometimes, acually many times, we people who have art in our day to day life, tend to forget the basic essense of why we do what we do, who we do it for and to what benefit. Why is this? It’s surely not becuase we found the answers!
It’s easy to talk about arty stuff with people into art, but have you ever tried having a conversation with someone who has absolutely no appreciation towards art? When I was in college I mastered in art and geography. I remember my geography teacher very clearly telling me “I don’t know what you artists think you are doing nowadays. I can appreciate a nice painting of a boat or sunset [he was a keen fisherman] but these artworks that you don’t know which way is up and which way is down… I don’t know why you waste your time doing them!” This happened years ago and the fact that it hasn’t left my brain must be a testimony to my personal interest in make artwork that not only moves art-people, but has the potential to move anyone. And to make art that will be appreciated by not just people into art, you have to regularly ponder ‘the big questions’. Which is what I tried to do when I met Vasilis Asimakopoulos.
Vasilis is originally Greek and is currently studying at the Royal College of Arts in London. We met in the company of all his sculptures in his workshop area at the college.
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MX: Why do you do the things you do? Would you still be doing these things if you were the only person on earth?
VA: Most people that do artwork used to do artwork when they were younger but didn’t call it artwork. I think this is proof that yes, we would still be creating artpieces if there was nobody else to see it. When we create things, we are primarily having a dialuge with ourselves.
MX: Yes but is it a crave? Is it an instinct? Is it a need? Or is it that we just want to play?
VA: I think it’s all of those things. Someone might add that it’s in the nature of artists that they want to provoke. There’s no reason to give more pompous answers to all of this. All of this is in our nature.
MX: Was there ever a time that you found it difficlt to call yourself ‘an artist’? Let’s talk about ‘the ego’ of the artist and the public’s perception on someone that calls him or herself ‘an artist’. I want to mention this becuase I’m sure there are a lot of young people reading this that when it comes to showing their work, they struggle to say that ‘this is art’ and that they are the artist that did it, becuase sometimes this can be translated as having an inflated ego.
VA: I think that’s totally wrong. I think that means that people don’t understand what we are doing. It’s not showing off. Active artists are active members of society and showing what we do is just part of being an active artists. Atleast when we shove our art into someone’s face or intice them to come and look at something, it’s not going to harm them. Our intention is only good and we want to show them what we do becuase we think it’s something worth sharing.
MX: There’s a gene or something innate in you and me and other artists that push us to be artists – are you glad you were born with that ‘thing’ in you – are you happy you are an artist?
VA: I think there are two dimentions to this. As I mentioned already most of us were scibbling or drawing or building things when we were young without thinking about what we were doing, and it made us happy. Now some of us carried this with us when we grew up. When you aspire to become a professional artist, you know, someone that activly produces art as a living, it’s not that simple anymore. I think it is more psycological when we are older. Artists have moodswings. We are happy when things are happening and sad when things are not. This is something that haunts us.
MX: That’s true, and not only when we are working on our art, but life in general.
The phrase ‘believing in your work’ is a popular saying amongst artists. But what does it mean? And what is the criteria that makes an artist believe in an artpiece?
VA: It’s all about being true to yourself. I am a firm believer that the main criteria is that you have to sincerely believe in it and it has to show. From then on you will develop as an artist as time goes by and that’s it. How you conduct yourself afterwards is a totally different matter – business like or whatever. Also, you have to not care what people say or what you think they might say. For example I have a piece called ‘The Great Vastness’, it has a scull in it and we know that sculls are now so passé – I don’t care. In those terms I do what I think is good work and what happens afterwards is a different matter.
MX: As an artist, are you treated differently here in London compared to Greece?
VA: Yes obviously. The reactions here is ‘alright another bloody artist!’ I was talking about this recently with some other students…
MX: …art collages are pumping out thousands of art students every year, all with the idea, maybe rightly so, that since they have a degree they are now artists. There’s definitely not enough demand for the supply of artists around here.
VA: Yes, this could be a good thing too because it becomes survival of the fittest and it makes the best artists exceed even more. The wrong thing is that there is an aura around students of the RCA or Slade [both London Arts colleges] that can create wrong expectations and false hopes.
MX: How are you treated as an artist in Greece?
VA: I always get the question ‘Do you use oil or acrylic…?’ And I say ‘no no, I sometimes use stuffed animals and polyurethane’. They look at me and say ‘maybe we didn’t realise what an artist is’. We don’t get a lot fo respect in Greece, especially contemporary artists.
MX: What do your partents say about your art?
VA: They like it. At first they used to worry, but now they get it.
MX: Finally somehting about your work: tell us a bit about the forms in your sculptures. You have a lot of intentional juxtapositioning of different forms stuck together, literally. Tell us about this.
VA: I get a real hardon when I bring together things that don’t match. There’s a real energy…
MX: …you love chaos, don’t you!
VA: I love chaos! Someone once told me I love ordered chaos. I started out by doing, what I now call, boring conceptual work. I think I was trying too much to impress myself – it fustrated me so much.
MX: Minimalistic work?
VA: Yes, a sort of Sol LeWitt meets Mark Quinn thing.
MX: I know exactly what you are talking about! Reduceing and reducing and reducing…
VA: Yes! My work has a lot to do with a sort of ‘man-made/synthetic becoming natural’ thing, so even the colours, it was logical for me to use these bright and disgusing colours – which you won’t find anywhere in nature and to try to turn them around and make them natural.
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If you’re an artist, try asking yourself the questions that came up when I talked to Vasilis. See what you come up with. It’s good for you. And what would you say if you ask yourself to explain your artwork’s function and usefulness? Do you have an answer? Simple questions that are difficult to answer, if you ask me!
Or maybe art doesn’t have a function, and gives nothing to society because it is not necessary. This might sound sacrilegious to you, but I’m sorry to bust your bubble as I say that there are many people who think this way. For me, the most obvious usefulness of art is that it gives creative people that feeling of release when they create their artworks. But even this I find insufficient because it’s like saying its good to believe in a god becuase you will always have someone to talk to.
Unfortunetly, questions such as the questions scattered above, are being avoided by artists, art colleges and art communities for fear of sounding immature, naive or plain amerture. Or becuase they are unanswerable questions, so therefore not worth questioning. But at the end of the day, I think that the questioning is more important then the answering. And of course we will never have an answer to questions such as ‘What is art?’ because it’s in the subjective nautere of the question that it will never be answered. And if in some stage of your artistic life you have constructed a self-satisfying opinion on the matter, you should never put them aside, because whether you’re a student doing a foundation course in art+design or you’re Jeff Koons, it’s always very healthy to re-visit this kind of questioning on a regular basis.