Stella Sevastopoulos of ‘Art Scene Athens’ talks to Greek-Australian artist Chrys Roboras who has managed to spread her wings and exhibit around the world, with great success.
CHRYS ROBORAS loves to place the human figure in vast, colourful semi-abstract landscapes. In some works her figures are depicted as an outline which has been filled in with various colours and shapes – as if the human form is a ‘container’ – of emotions, thoughts, memories. In other works, there is a more realistic representation of the human form, yet a dreamlike atmosphere most often still pervades. The human condition – and its isolated sense of being – is a central theme in her work, and stems from her own experience as a Diaspora Greek, in limbo between two cultures, always seeking a place to call home. “It is important to recognise the natural need of a human being to find a place to belong to, a place where one can find peace”.
At the same time, from an artistic point of view, Roboras is a roaming spirit, based in Greece, but who has exhibited around the world. In 2018 alone, she had 4 solo shows, in Los Angeles, Thessaloniki, Lugano and Toronto. Add to that her already long list of other solo and group shows, one gets the picture that Roboras, has been a busy art bee, ever since she graduated from art school in 2008. Nevertheless, she found the time in her packed schedule, to answer some questions about what it takes to be an artist these days, in Greece, and elsewhere:
– When did you move to Greece from Australia, and why?
I moved to Greece in 1998 because I wanted a better life for myself, strange isn’t it, as my parents had done the opposite in the ’50s.
– When did you realise you wanted to become an artist?
I kind of always knew, but it was in high school in Sydney that I realised that it was my passion.
– What do you consider to have been pivotal moments in your artistic career?
I believe when I was applying for exhibitions abroad for which I was being accepted. For example the Biennial of Beijing and Scope Art Fair Miami.
– Being a child of the Diaspora myself, I can totally relate to your series ‘No Man’s Land’, and the feeling of displacement you have felt as an Australian-Greek, and the sense of not belonging to either country. The sense of isolation and loneliness comes across very strongly in your works, with solitary figures pictured in vast abstract landscapes. They could also stand as symbols of the human condition, and that existential angst we all feel. This is what makes your work so attractive to a wide, international public. Do you agree?
Yes, totally. Many people connect with this series in many different ways. They see themselves in the paintings and find a connection.
– Personally I feel that the children of Diaspora Greeks basically belong to that ‘grey zone’ between cultures, and will always feel in limbo between them. However there are benefits to being on the fence too – for example you can have a better perspective on things, not being influenced so much by one dominant culture. Furthermore, I would say that countries like Australia, and England, where there is a mix of many cultures, make you feel more at home. In countries like Greece, where the multicultural society is a relatively new thing (last few decades), you can feel more of a stranger. There are many other advantages of course. What has your experience of Greece been?
I’ve had various experiences, like every time I open my mouth people will ask me where I am from. As soon as I tell them Australia, it’s either “Oh I have a relative there” or “what are you doing here? we are all trying to go there” I’ve been called ‘kangaroo’, ‘Afstraleza’, different funny things. The worst experience is once when I was told that I’m not Greek because I do not know the language. That was hard, mainly because I am a proud Greek and love my culture. I have found that Greeks have that fighting spirit, but opportunities are limited. Greece for me is my home, as you said at times I do feel like a stranger but feel accepted here more now, than 20 years ago. It is also true that we do have the benefit of knowing two cultures, we can appreciate things more I believe.
– What would you say are the main differences between the Greek and Australian cultures?
The main differences are the people. The Greek culture is focused on the family unit and not really allowing or wanting to let the children leave the nest, providing and nurturing. Keeping them in the family business. The Australian culture is more focused on the individuality of the children, pushing them to take risks and find themselves. Living their dreams and creating their own paths in life.
– Let’s talk about your art. You have an amazing technique which mixes acrylics, oils and oil sticks, to create some exciting effects. Tell us a bit about it.
I started using oil pastels and oil sticks just last year and found that it really enriched my paintings. The fact that the colour is ready, you can squash and drag the pastel onto the canvas. It really creates an unexpected texture. The oil sticks have the same effect.
– Colour is obviously of vital importance to your work. How do you go about using it?
I often start with every colour I have available and make a huge palette with the oils. I have all my other materials near me so automatically I am using colour and combining the colours without really thinking about it. If they are there then you will make combinations and use colours that you never thought you would.
– The influence of the Romantic School of painting, plus the atmospheric works of Turner, are evident in your work. I also feel that there might even be a little influence from Aboriginal art. Is that so? Tell us about the influences on your work.
Yes, I am very influenced by the Romantic period in art. I studied it for my thesis in university and found a connection with the moody, contemplative landscapes and figures. I am also influenced by Van Gogh, his brushstrokes and use of colour, Matisse for his modern eye and vibrant use of colour, Peter Doig also for creating moody landscapes with interesting figures. I did study Aboriginal art in Sydney and really loved the way they used dots and lines to form landscapes and symbolise a message in their paintings. Tasos Missouras is also an influence with his dreamy, narrative paintings.
– You have participated in many group shows around the world, but also have had many solo shows, both here and abroad. 2018 has been an especially good year for you, with four solo shows in Los Angeles, Thessaloniki, Lugano, Toronto. Tell us about how this has been for you, and what you learnt from these places/shows.
It’s been a very busy 2018. I was producing a lot of work obviously; I work best under pressure. With each solo exhibition I was deciding what would I like to take there that the observer would possibly relate to. I wanted to be prepared with all sizes of paintings for all shows in order to be able to reach every budget. Each city gave me a different experience and feeling while exhibiting. I found that there was admiration and love of my work in all cities, but the one that was most dominant was Lugano. They seemed to have really connected with the paintings. Each show you learn about the market that you are exhibiting in. What people like, sizes of paintings that they would put in their homes, what they are looking for, how they see your art and what it means to them.
– You have also exhibited here in Athens, at various venues, such as at Gallery 7 and at Art Athina. How would you describe the Athenian art scene and the Greek art scene in general?
The Athenian art scene is quite strong. Every week there is always a gallery exhibition opening to attend. There are many galleries that represent interesting artists and work. The annual art fair Art Athina is also a great event, where many galleries from Athens, Thessaloniki and surrounding areas attend. Some international galleries also exhibit, but over the last 5 years or so the sales have also been lower than expected.
– Being an artist is a tough job, especially in the crisis. How would you describe your experience of being an artist in Greece? Most artists complain about not being able to sell here.
With the crisis the sales have declined, for me since 2013. Greek artists are exceptional painters, sculptors, artists etc.. This I say with confidence after exhibiting abroad for the last few years. We just don’t have that many opportunities with our galleries here as not many take part in international art fairs and we do not get the exposure we need. There needs to be a stronger online presence and promotion for Greek artists in general.
Most Greek artists teach at public or private schools to make ends meet. Some teach private lessons. It’s extremely tough in Greece to survive on only selling your art.
-You also have a special bond with Paros. Tell us a bit about this.
I’ve been going to Paros for the last 20 summers. My family is not from Paros, but my sisters live there. There is just something magical about Paros and inspirational. Most of my blue paintings have reference to the colours of Paros and the Aegean.
– What’s on the agenda for 2019? What shows or art projects do you have lined up?
I will be participating in The Other Art Fair by Saatchi in March in Sydney, the Superfine Art Fair in NYC in May, possibly back in LA in October. I’ve also just signed with an agent in Miami and looking forward to the collaboration.