Philip Tsiaras is undoubtedly the most important artist of the Greek Diaspora of his generation. He has an insatiable appetite for redefining the world through any medium: painting, ceramic, bronze, glass, photography, and even poetry. He took time out of his busy schedule to speak with The National Herald about his work, his Greek roots, his life and beliefs – and his new exhibition called Dot Pop Portraits, which is on exhibit for the month of May at HG Contemporary Gallery in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
TNH: Mr. Tsiaras, why do you live in and make art in New York, is this the place that most inspires you?
PT: There are other capitals where art thrives, London, Berlin, but New York remains first among them all. Every person needs to find their voice in the City of a million voices. This is where the cleaver separates the men from the boys!
THH: It is remarkable that you produce art in practically every medium; you traverse them, it appears without any fear. Is this not uncommon?
PT: Maybe it is, but not for me. The making of art has love in it, if you love to create, then each medium is a lover of your creations, they help bring you to a new realization of yourself. As Socrates said, “Know Thyself,” but you need to find a way to do that. I did not go to art school, so I was not restricted by fixed rules, but rather was free to explore art making with a kind of abandon. Trained as a classical musician, I learned discipline, through poetry and literature I saw the monumental Universe, with photography I was able to frame and isolate it; painting, ceramic and glass became a pleasure to evolve a free spirit. In other words, the best artist leaves an imprint of himself on any medium he touches.
TNH: And your muse? People seem to imagine that a muse guides the artist.
PT: That is only in storybooks. Paramithia. My Muse is hard, daily work, with no exceptions.
Those who wait for the Muse to inspire them are lazy, fantasy artists. The magic, the sensation of surprise, the excitement of touching new territory is in the working process, there is where the transcendence begins. You will discover Epiphanies, and plenty of them, in the constant exploration of your vision.
CP: It has been said that you make artwork effortlessly, that Tsiaras wants to be everything at once: two-dimensional, three-dimensional, linear and painterly, monumental and intimate, figural and formal. What do you think when you hear comments like that?
PT: It’s flattering but it makes me feel like I’ve already died! No, but seriously, every artist wants to be larger than life, wants to leave behind a legacy, wants to go beyond the physical into the metaphysical, and wants to consume the time, hearts, and minds of his generation, and subsequent generations. Otherwise, we are leaving behind an unmarked grave.
CP: Let’s talk about something less macabre. You have a book called Family Album, a sensitive parody of Greek immigrants using yourself and your own family. Would you consider your work, in general, very Greek?
PT: As hard as I might have tried once, I cannot be anything but what I am, which is a Greek and a proud one. After all, what country can claim a greater inheritance of cultural wealth than we Greeks? And even though I was schooled in privileged American institutions, no Anglican pretention could ever eclipse that deep Greek connection.
We are however lucky to be able to combine the free American mind with our own cunning intelligence!
TNH: Tell us a little about your family background.
PT: Well, it’s complicated but romantic. My Father was essentially exiled from Greece for political beliefs; he was a Captain in the Resistance, an andartis, then with Aris Velouchiotis. My parents and their four boys embraced the American dream, never forgetting where they came from. They lived for their four boys in a family with lots of love and therefore created four over-achievers. There is no greater springboard for success than the confidence that comes from being loved in a healthy, ethnic environment.
TNH: Well said. But getting back to New York. Your exhibition is on now through the month of May, and it really should be seen. I was at the opening and it was an exceptional, glamorous event, beautiful works and packed with every type of person – a real New York vernissage.
This exhibition appears to be perhaps the most American mainstream exhibition you’ve made. Tell us a little about it, as there is time for people to still see it.
PT: It is true that I wanted to approach a body of work that had a relationship with something totally American. And what could more Americana than popular American culture and its idols, so Portraits. However, these highly dotted painted portraits of celebrity figures, some dictators, Mao, Stalin, Putin, Trump are viciously detailed with millions of hand-painted dots – creating the ultimate effect of a Greek or Roman mosaic.
I have touched on characters of great love and celebrity, Marilyn Monroe, Steve Jobs,
JFK, Lucas Samaras, Andy Warhol, Maria Callas, Karl Lagerfeld, and the Queen of England. There are other psychological surprises too but you need to see the show!
TNH: What are your next projects Philippos, what’s around the corner?
PT: I am involved in building an art villa in Sivota, Lefkada in collaboration with Dynasty Villas.
And if anyone is going to Greece in June, I will inaugurate a new gallery in Vouliagmeni, by the Four Seasons called DESANI gallery – opening reception June 10. You are all invited.
Philip Tsiaras has been the recipient of many national prizes: The American Academy Award for Poetry, the Thomas Watson Fellowship, New York State C.A.P.S grant, two N.E.A National Endowment Grants for Arts, nomination for the Blickle Stiftung International Photography Prize, Germany, and The Generali Assicurazioni Gold Metal Award for “Civilita” Venice.
He is a contemporary artist who actively collaborates with Architects and Designers on global projects. Lecturer, site specific artist, he has designed, sets and costumes for modern dance, graphic design for Martha Graham, Soundscapes with Depeche Mode, branded vineyards, and book designs for Oxford University Press.
Philip Tsiaras’ works are widely collected in corporate, private, and important museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Fifteen books and catalogues are attributed to his work, and a book of photographs entitled, Family Album. A recent 30-year retrospective of photography entitled Philip Tsiaras – SUPEREAL – was published by the Museum of Photography Thessaloniki.