“Be Nice” – And the Art of Agni Zotis

Agni Zotis was born in Australia to Greek parents. She moved to New York at the age of four and spent her time between there and Kastoria during her elementary school years.

At Hunter College she studied photography with Roy DeCarava, printmaking with Vincent Longo – and anatomy at the Art Students League.
Intrigued by metaphysics, she became an apprentice to a monk and master Byzantine Iconographer in Astoria, Queens, at the Church of Saint Markella.

She is a multi-media artist, working in paintings, video, sound, photographs, performance art, and light installation.
The National Herald: How do you like NYC?

Agni Zotis: NYC is Gotham city, a place with infinite possibilities, continually transforming, allowing me to create my reality.
Growing up in Astoria in my early teens, I got involved in the alternative new wave punk scene and so discovered the East Village. On the other hand, in Kastoria, which is a traditional Byzantine town with a vibrant history and culture, I learned politics, my love for nature, and mysticism.

TNH: Tell us about your work.
AZ: Everything in consciousness is vibrating energy in the process of transformation. There are similar patterns that occur in molecular structures, in nature, and the universe, reflecting the relationship of the microcosm to the macrocosm. Painting allows me to channel creative flow states with pure expression transcending all boundaries. My work is autobiographical and meditative, intertwined within different aspects of life. The process involves the psychological mapping of intellectualizing emotions. My abstraction is symmetric, directing energy in the form of bold color to capture movement in time, creating order in chaos, transforming the metaphysical into the physical – like an alchemist manifesting the unseen. It is defined by who and what I love, contemplating and examining the psyche and soma, science, nature, social and economic movements, mythology and perception in their fluidity.

TNH: On what do you focus?
AZ: I’m interested in transcending the overt physicality and diving into the subtlety of being, where silence exists in between spaces allowing for new dimensions to manifest. I make my paints from pigments, metals, and semi-precious stones, which can be phosphorescent for their aesthetic and energetic qualities and their ability to absorb, reflect, and refract light. The colors vary in consistency, texture, density, and translucency. They have an earthly quality – being grounded in the most primitive evidence of human intelligence dating back to thousands of years as found in cave paintings.

TNH: What method do you use?
AZ: I intuitively pour color, followed by precise brushwork of layering, building depth with intent. I work with a central focus, as the nucleus of self, moving with the environment, gathering and harnessing the energy, grounded in my femininity.

TNH: Where do your paintings take place?
AZ: I paint outdoors in the middle of New York City,  open to its vibration. It is a demanding physical engagement, a ritual of sorts. I equate light with knowledge, as it has the power to alter perception, and my paintings transform according to different light. The work is an experience for the viewer as it shifts depending on the light exposure. Dichotomy coexists in all, as every end is a beginning.

TNH: When did you start?
AZ: This series of titles started in the ’90s: Journey through Time, Portraits, Meditator, Hollow and Empty, Exploration of love, Headless Pig, Punk Monk, Knight Valentino, Simplicity is Complex, Inner Fires, Orgasms, Fire Walker, Be Nice, Step into the Light, The Grid.

TNH: What drove you to paint?
AZ: Homer’s Odyssey is embedded in me from my roots, both literally and metaphorically, in connection to Know Thy Self, for the journey within the self, seeking and moving through the world and arriving home to experience one’s real being beneath layers of ego.
Art chose me. It was always a part of me, and as a dyslexic in my youth, visual representation allowed me to communicate without restrictions. I studied Fine Arts at Hunter College, became interested in the patterning of the mind, got informed in psychology, and got my inspiration from Greek philosophy, the pillars of Western civilization. Socrates and Plato’s Republic have stayed with me to this day.
I recently did a series called Be Nice, relating the current state of the world to the Allegory of The Cave in the Republic: the play of light and shadow creating illusions in mind, which emerges from the cave into the fire, allowing for truth. The work mimics the journey of existence embedded in primordial essence.
After college, traveling through Greece and Europe, I became interested in the visual interpretation of divinity throughout the ages. I returned to NYC and apprenticed to a Serbian monk in a Church in Astoria Queens, learning the ancient techniques of egg tempera and fresco painting in Byzantine iconography, inspiring me technically to this day, as a modernizing tradition to fit my language.

TNH: Is there a person in your life who is your driving force?
AZ: My son Francis is my biggest inspiration and my driving force.

TNH: Tell us about your gallery.
AZ: Interested in participating in defining New York City’s art world, Agni Gallery in the East Village hosted the avant-garde for local and international artists. It allowed for my performance art to develop and my curatorial experience. In the past decade, I moved my art space into the gallery district of Chelsea. My work is exhibited in solo shows in New York and is included in group exhibitions in Milan, Mykonos, Delhi, and Buenos Aires.

TNH: In what other activities are you involved?
AZ: As my son entered school, I included his classes in my art spaces, [helping them experience] making art, since the schools were limited in developing these skills.
Deep into my yogic discipline since the early ’90s, I became a certified yoga and meditation teacher. In 2013 I started a curriculum MAY KIDS TRANSFORM with mindfulness arts yoga and appropriate tools in emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and creative process for youth, in collaboration with Francis, as it became apparent to us that there was a need for wellness training with the suicide epidemic plaguing the youth. We are going global, training educators and youth with wellness and stress management.
In the past year, I completed a body of photographs celebrating sensuality. The sexuality of womanhood called the “Shape Of Her” will open in an exhibition in the coming fall in New York. I have immersed myself in learning about neuroscience and epigenetics and working on a body of paintings called The Grid, exploring the nature of neuroplasticity.

TNH: Tell us about your travels.
AZ: In my mid 20’s I embarked on a journey “Walking the Earth” through Europe, Israel, Sinai, Egypt, India, Nepal, living with people of the land, witnessing and participating in their rituals, culture, and arts. After three years, I returned to New York with in-depth knowledge of different people, tribes, religions, history, and their interconnectivity with each other and most importantly, peoples’ commonalties, regardless of belief systems. In my first visit to India, I entered a different world that altered my sense of reality as a young New Yorker. I discovered life, death, and love among appropriate tools for yoga and meditation, a road map for the labyrinthian exploration of the psyche.

TNH: How do you relax?
AZ: Living in the middle of the city, I find solace in spending time off the grid. I’m in awe of the beauty of our world. I have seen tigers and leopards in the wild next to me vibrating with pure life force and swam next to whale sharks. I love the Himalayas as much as I love Delphi and our deep and abundant and precious treasures of history and culture in Greece.

TNH: What do you believe our purpose in life is?
AZ: I believe our purpose is to be of value to others, to care for each other, to nurture and love one another. Forgiveness and gratitude are fundamental to happiness. Connection to self, each other, and our earth allows for a deeper meaning and a better quality of life.
Our work reflects our time on earth, so it’s best to be governed by what we love.

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