Sofia Mitsola’s work is developed from a fancy range of female figures captured in large-scale canvases, which are rarely on the close up; on the contrary, the highly composed structures appear in their full perspective among Mitsola’s imagery landscapes or playfully rendered large interiors. Freedom and lack of fear are two watchwords in Sofia Mitsola’s body of recent paintings. Her female protagonists seem unafraid, cool and confident with nudity in their scenes of leisurely lounging. Although the nude scenes depicted in her paintings could redirect the viewer’s concentration into more superficial interpretations about the female sexuality, Mitsola’s painting aesthetics and strategies unfold a deeper exploration in regards to the representation of the female body. Her figures, despite their nudity, are not depicted indelicate or tactless; rather, their shapes reveal some sort of eerie magnetism derived from a mixture of girly and playful attributes as well as a strangely distant and vague set of expressions.
Words: Yannis Kostarias
The emerging artist pays attention to the silhouette of her figures’ composition. Burly or plump bodies are common ground for her painting themes. Almost full rounded bodily shapes characterise her female portraits, while the body position and movement conjure further explanation. Despite the flabbiness, the bodily expressions reveal a stylized elasticity, flexibility or even a desirable coolness. In these figures’ fantastical ordinary life and very personal way of being, this sense of freedom and looseness successfully brings up a closer engagement with the artist’s imagery. These portrayed young women look almost indifferent about being observed naked. Additionally, these bodies are not only painted as plump entities, but also as enlarged and imposing executed arrangements. Mistola introduces, on her big and colorful canvases, large and more extensive compositions without any sense of judgment.
Nevertheless, these long body cores, hands and legs state an impressively creative contradiction with small-scaled heads and even tinier facial features. In paintings such as Balona (2020), Soft (2020) or The Urchin Cruncher (2020) the artist’s visual language highlights these antithetical elements. Besides these painted moments of ease such as when lying playfully alone on the ground or next to another female figure, the protagonists’ unstrained gaze seems directed right at the viewer. The loose body language and the unconcerned attitude have a paradoxical relationship with the figure’s act of looking, which underlines an intimate gazing.
Mistola’s colour vocabulary also sports an important role. Her portraits present a palette of vibrant and vivid tones and hues as an additional compositional device, which operates dynamically into the final painting result. The artist conveys a revealing and noteworthy command of colour; the tones’ combination and their level of intensity appear in balanced alignment with her visual iconography. The use of colour contributes effectively to create engagement with the artist’s fantastic narratives. Mitsola manages to create a visual vocabulary, which embeds modern narratives into figurative painting while asking questions about the representation of female nude body and yet, why not, gender in general.
Born in Thessaloniki, Greece, Sofia Mitsola (b. 1992) currently lives and works in London. She received her BA and MA Painting from School of Visual and Applied Arts at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in 2015. She also completed an MFA in Painting at Slade School of Fine Art, UCL in 2018. Recent solo exhibition included: Pilar Corrias,London, 2020, Jerwood Solo Presentations 2019, Jerwood Space, London (2019). Her recent group exhibition included dreamtigers, 125 Charing Cross, London (2019). Mitsola was awarded the Tiffany & Co x outset Studiomakers Prize (2018) and the British Institution Student Award by the Royal Academy of Arts, London (2018).
Art Verge: Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
Sofia Mitsola: I am always carrying a notebook with me to write down thoughts, words, ideas for paintings, titles. I draw a lot with pencil on a smaller scale and I use charcoal for bigger drawings. This is how I always start before making a painting. Drawing really helps me to loosen up my line so when I move onto the canvas my gestures are confident and clear, which is what I need the painting to be too. It is important for me to have this confidence coming from the subject and at the same time the way the painting has been made. I want the final image to hold the energy of what is left of my performance, the way I have moved around the painting, traces of rhythms. There is as much physical as mental work involved.
AV: How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?
SM: I’ d like it to be inviting, confrontational, pleasurable and a little uncomfortable.
AV: Are there any new painting ideas, themes or even techniques that you presented on your new body of work at your last exhibition at Pilar Corrias?
SM: In the previous work, I have been trying to invent my characters, understand who they are, what is their purpose, and relationship with the viewer. I hadn’t really given much thought about the environments they were in. For me, they were just backgrounds for the paintings, sometimes an indoor space, a pool, a photography set. The place was just a secondary element in the compositions. But recently, I felt I needed to work more with what’s around them, where is it that they operate. And so, for the first time my notes and writing which in my my mind had almost been separate from the paintings, seemed like the most natural source as the starting point for the place.
I am thinking a lot about how a novel is composed, its forms, the relationship it creates with the reader, the story. I have become more and more interested in the idea of narrative and what it means to have a narrative within the language of painting. How different textures and weights in the painting can be used to indicate things that are experienced more with the body rather than through the act of looking. Humidity, heaviness, lightness, warmth, and coolness.
AV: It seems that almost all your body of work has been concentrated on female representations. What keeps you motivated by such painting ideas or motifs?
SM: I have spent quite some time looking at sculptures, depictions of Goddesses and Sphynxes at the Egyptian and Greek section at the British Museum and making drawings from them. I started to realize why I was so attracted to them; their strong presence, their beauty, their power had this strange effect on me as if I was under a spell. I felt admiration, intimidation, and powerlessness before them. This was something that I wished my viewers experienced when looking at my work.
When I first started working with the figure, I didn’t think why I was choosing to paint female bodies. This, was almost an unconscious decision, it felt as something “close” to me, something that I knew well and understood because of the experience of my own body. Using a female protagonist, is for me a way to tell a story from the first-person perspective. Very similar to a novel written by an imaginary narrator, an invention of the writer to make the story more believable, to make it real, whilst it is just fiction. When I am making a painting, it’s like trying to make up a character, and sometimes it feels like I need to become them, to play a role. Then, I have to step back and become the viewer. There is this constant state of being within and without.
AV: Could you share with us some further details regarding your very fresh painting named ‘The Urchin Cruncher’, (2020)?
SM: In my paintings, when there are two or more figures, sometimes they seem to be sharing body parts as they embrace and their limbs are intertwined. A leg or an arm could belong to both figures at the same time, like in Darladiladada or Watersnakes. For The Urchin Cruncher, I wanted to make a work about this idea of a shared body, so that the figures would operate as a unity. It was very important for me that the four figures were painted in one go, so there is a flow to the body and it really feels like one. I was thinking about temperatures and how I could paint what it feels like to lie down on the hot sand. This sensation of being burned, whilst getting pleasure as the warmth transfers from the environment to the body.
I was thinking about the golden light of the sun reflected on the sand, a missing bikini that has left a mark on their sun-burnt body, a black glossy spiked sea urchin clutched by a soft hand.
The double azure blue arches that frame the work, are in my mind a pair of binoculars from which the viewer is looking through the scene. So in a way, the painting is activated when the viewers step in front of it and in it, becoming the voyeurs and getting caught as they realize the urchin cruncher is looking back at them.
AV: Can you name any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?
SM: It’s mostly specific works that have really stayed with me. Modigliani’s nudes, Renoir’s Nymph by the Stream, Nabokov’s everything, Paula Modersohn-Becker the self-portraits, Dana Schutz’s paintings at the Whitechapel now, Petrus Christus’ Portrait of a Young Man at the National, and Portrait of a Young Girl at the Gemäldegalerie Berlin, Alex Katz’s Adas, Holbein’s Portrait of Christina of Denmark.
AV: How do you know when a painting is finished?
SM: When I can’t touch it anymore, when I feel that it has a life of its own and I am no longer able to have any power or control over it.
AV: What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space like, and how does it affect your process?
SM: I keep changing studios all the time and I think every new space has a very different dynamic to the previous one. I have worked in small contained studios and in big shared ones and every one of them has affected the way I am making and given me something unique. In my current studio, there are notes and drawings on the walls, sketches laid on the floor, books, my notebooks, postcards, all sorts of things that I look at, or think about. These help me to form an atmosphere for the paintings I am planning.
AV: Which exhibition did you visit last?
SM: The PreRaphaelite Sisters at the National Portrait, Patrick H Jone’s first solo at the Sunday Painter and Kostas Sklavenitis first solo at Bosse and Baum. All brilliant for different reasons.
AV: What do you hope audiences will take from your work?
SM: Entertainment. Everyone takes something different and I wouldn’t like to give a direction especially with words. I think the paintings have their way to tell the viewer what they are about. When I see a film, or read a book that I really enjoy, or look at a painting I feel connected to, I get a great sense of pleasure and it goes on in my head for days because of how it made me feel while experiencing it. I think this is a form of entertainment. If some of my paintings can do this to even one viewer, then for me they are successful.
AV: Are you a morning person or a night owl?
SM: Night owl.
AV: Which are your plans for the near future?
SM: Travel more, work hard, experiment.