Artwork’s Title: Il Beniamino
Materials Used: Oil on canvas
Studio Based: London, UK
Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
The images that exist in my paintings emerge from day-dreaming visions I have in times of silence and isolation, distant from distractions. This form of social distancing provides space for the work to materialise. Of equal importance, however, are other periods of active research which shape and stimulate those visuals. Visits to exhibitions, reading texts, conversing with peers, watching movies and critically reflecting on current events that occur in the physical and virtual socio-political domain. These varying provocations are necessarily interconnected in order to produce meaning. And they are the reason why I don’t have a rigid ritual in the process of making a painting. If I did, I would start feeling repetitive and that the work is no longer exciting.
I go through periods where I produce lots of drawings and water colours. I go through periods where I read, visit archaeological sites and museums, party. These lead to the production of texts and photographic documentations that are later collaged into multiple ideas for paintings. Shows like Dorothea Tanning’s incredible retrospective or the extraordinary William Blake show at the Tate will often lead me down a spiral of burying myself in the studio, drawing, writing and painting.
A painting may emerge from fragments of various drawings and photographs assembled together. At other times, the process might be reversed, and I’ll start working on a painting directly from a vision I have in my head which may later on lead to drawings and texts.
Sometimes, the surface will dictate the flow and direction of a painting which is why it is important for me to prepare and prime my own surfaces. Those imperfect priming marks will prescribe the positioning of the elements I want to exist inside the composition. For example, I’ve recently started painting on plywood, and this has opened up a world of unbelievably exciting scratches, bumps and cracks which complicate and layer the painterly process.
The pieces that I consider to be most successful in mediating my intentions are usually those where I manage to quiet down my anxieties and insecurities in the making process, and instead allow my hand, the brush and the surface to work out the numerous decisions.
Perhaps it was my time at Goldsmiths MFA that forced me to become highly critical of my practice and painting at large. But it is this criticality that has also immensely deepened my adoration for the medium. At the risk of sounding corny, I believe that good painting confrontationally addresses the complexity of those anxieties, insecurities, challenges and joys that exist in living.
How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?
Layered, playful, unresolved.
Would you use another three different words to describe the ‘Il Beniamino’ painting?
Voyeuristic, confrontational, fun.
How did you come up with this painting idea? Is there any story behind this painting?
I became deeply fascinated by the narrative that surrounds structures of power when I was introduced to Reptilian Conspiracy theories a few years ago by my good friend Paul Gaudet (fantastic painter). This painting, and my practice at large, is interested in exploring those practices of scapegoating and vilifying otherness in contemporary neoliberalist politics as well as the hierarchies that exist between human and non-human entities within the context of the Anthropocene at large. These concerns, and my practice in general, are deeply rooted contemporary feminist discourse, which is rather evident in the way the figure here addresses desire and sexuality by employing the trope of the reversed gaze, critically confronting both the viewer and the self.
I grew up in a deeply ecclesiastical environment where religion (and consequently morality) was deeply embedded in society and language. In the past I would bluntly reject, ignore and suppress those influences in my practice, an act which I considered to be my way of expressing my opposition to the toxicity of those hierarchies. However, these past years I’ve began addressing the complexity of “christian morality” politics that is deeply rooted in Cypriot society, by exploring medieval painting and ecclesiastical Byzantine iconographies, examining the violence and hierarchies that exist within them, stealing their signifiers and applying them onto my canvases, in hope to recontextualise their meaning and blur those divisive boundaries and dualities.
I recently acquired Christopher Dell’s Monsters, A Bestiary of the Bizarre to satisfy my deep fascination and curiosity of monsters, and to explore the vast history of creative painterly depiction of imagined anthropomorphic entities. The monster that stands next to the figure is borrowed from a manuscript of Marco Polo’s Book of Marvels, c. 1410 at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, which features in Dell’s book.
What colour is used the most in this painting?
I think it’s probably Slate Grey or Ochre.
What would be the best way to exhibit your work?
To be honest, I’m still trying to figure this out. I usually exhibit the paintings on their own or accompanied by audio pieces. However, I’m currently exploring how the curation of the paintings, texts and sound pieces can become a voice in the dialogue and further intertwine these elements together.
Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?
I always turn to Maria Lassnig, Dorothea Tanning, Michael Armitage, Miriam Cahn, Francis Picabia, Kai Althoff, Nicole Eisenmann, Dana Schutz. Lately I’ve been following Jessie Makinson, Sara Anstis and Christina Quarles – all producing incredibly powerful figurative painting. The list could go on and on!
How do you know when this painting was finished?
When I feel like I can’t touch it anymore, when I have nothing more to offer.
What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?
My studio is part of an artist’s complex in Deptford, South East London. However, at the moment I’m on lockdown in Cyprus due to COVID-19, so I’ve converted my parents’ backyard into my temporary studio. Working outside has proven to be surprisingly enjoyable.
What does your mum think about your art?
She’s always supportive.
Which exhibition did you visit last?
I think the last show I saw was Lena Kitsopoulou’s solo at the Breeder in Athens during a research trip (we’ve been on lockdown for such a long time that I can barely remember!)
Which are your plans for the near future?
I am currently working on a research project which will be exhibited on Data-Saturated, an exhibition supported by the Cyprus High Commission in London. I am also developing a body of work to be exhibited at the Mediterranea 19 Young Artists Biennial in San Marino in 2021 and preparing for my Abbey Fellowship at the British School at Rome which will happen sometime later this year.
*Eleni Odysseos was born in 1991 in Cyprus, lives and works in London, UK. In 2018, she earned an MFA Fine Art at Goldsmiths, University of London and also received her BA Fine Art from University of Leeds in 2014.
© All images are courtesy of the artist