You're in for a treat with this interview between DECORAZONgallery gallerists MK Semos and Hugo Garcia and artist Apostolos Chantzaras as a part of our #StudiotoWall campaign. Brew a cup of tea and start reading below.
Thursday 17 June, 2021
Since meeting in 2013, the DECORAZONgallery team have showcased Apostolos Chantzaras‘ artwork all around the world at our fairs and they continue to have a productive and close partnership. They describe Apostolos’ classically inspired but bold, contemporary work as ‘Pop Byzantine’ and we’re sure you won’t find another style quite like it! We interviewed MK Semos and Hugo Garcia from the gallery as well as Apostolos as part of our #StudiotoWall series, read on below.
MK SEMOS AND HUGO GARCIA, CO-OWNERS AND DIRECTORS, DECORAZONGALLERY, NYC, LONDON, DALLAS
When did you first discover Apostolos Chantzaras’ work and how has your relationship evolved over time?
We at DECORAZONgallery first met Apostolos Chantzaras in 2013, and were introduced to his wild, bold world of creative genius. During the Affordable Art Fair Brussels 2013 edition, a Greek friend familiar with the Athens art scene suggested that we meet him. And as it turned out, she was spot on with the introduction!
We will never forget our first in person meeting with Apostolos in Kolonaki, one of Athens’ glitzier neighborhoods. We were in town for a long weekend, as we were based full time in London at the time. After having a coffee in the lively square, we went up hill towards Lycabettus and almost to the top of the mountain we walked into his studio. As a gallerist, visiting artists’ studios can be very exciting but difficult in a way, because you enter the artist’s most sacred space. Some of these meetings can almost be seen as a job interview or first date. That is how closely we view our relationships with our artists.
Immediately upon walking inside Apostolos’ studio two things were obvious. That A. this was one incredibly prolific artist and B. his creativity was unbridled and approach multidisciplinary… This was indisputable by the sheer amount of works that took so many various forms all about the studio. To us it just looked like infinite creativity.
We were specifically on the hunt for works for the Asian market, it was actually the debut Affordable Art Fair Hong Kong in 2013, and we were thrilled to be among the selection of galleries chosen for the Affordable Art Fair’s first fair in Asia.
Apostolos’ presentation of contemporary work with a basis in iconographic technique and classical studies, captures the essence of human spirit within a fun, playful, colourful and bold framework. The term we coined for this is ‘Pop Byzantine’.
How do you aim to inspire your artists? Do you ever get involved in the creation process?
As gallerists, we enjoy being involved, and at times making suggestions that we believe help the direction of the creation process of the artwork. We’ve gained enough experience in the global art market and offer our artists whatever insight is possible for everyone’s continued success.
In our pre-pandemic world, our visits to Apostolos’ studio also included visits to amazing Greek archaeological sites, museums, Athens galleries and yes some of these ‘meetings’ also incorporated amazing trips to the beach and wonderful places to find inspiration.
With two US locations in Dallas and New York City, how does taste differ amongst your various clientele and are there any notable regional preferences? How do you reach art collectors further afield?
Apostolos’ artwork was met in Asia with flying colours, and as DECORAZONgallery participated in 10+ fairs that year, we included his work in almost all of the shows. From Houston, Texas to Seoul, Korea – London to New York City, the response continued to be fabulous and gave us a great sense of the universal languages that his work portrayed. We realized that although he draws inspiration and subject matter from ancient Greece and mythology, many of these stories can be seen as universal. Audiences in every market felt a connection, every culture had their own ‘Saint George and the Dragon’. Their own narratives portraying the battle of dark and light.
Although we certainly prefer the in-person studio visits, along with all the rituals of drinks, meals and long political conversations before we get down to business of seeing the new body of work, planning of exhibitions, commissions and suggestions of new work, during these pandemic times it has become almost the norm for virtual meetings with our artists and clients. Now we can visit their studios anywhere in the world more often virtually.
Apostolos’ artistic career also includes the participation as a main character in the modern Greek tragedy AJAX, directed by Yorgos Nanouris and alongside actor Michalis Sarantis. Apostolos paints and renders the characters live on stage during the performance, making it an amazing piece of performance art. This showcases his dexterity and ability to paint a strong body of work even in front of an audience and within a very short time.
Our growing audience continues to feel inspired and strengthened by Apostolos Chantzaras’ artwork, because these stories have universal appeal, and our hopes are that these courageous characters help shine a light during these mysterious times. DECORAZONgallery looks forward to what the future brings and nurturing and growing this special relationship.
APOSTOLOS CHANTZARAS, ARTIST
Your visual practice draws influence from ancient Greek sculptures and Byzantine iconography using bold lines and saturated colors to express movement and entertainment, could you tell us more about your evolution throughout art and any other influences?
For me, antiquities have not only been an inspiration, but has also held an inevitably close relationship to me since my birth in Greece. Growing up in an environment full of these treasures, a large part of my artistic foundation and training revolved around a rich education in research as well as a detailed study of ancient Greek art and the Byzantine style. I spent several years helping my father, an established Greek iconographer, paint a variety of churches throughout Greece.
In addition to restoring and painting their ceilings and copulas, I was able to learn technique and discipline, as well as the history and symbolism behind the work we were making. One of the challenges of working in this fashion was learning about proportions and training my body to withstand work for hours on my back on top of scaffolding, often times more than 40 feet from the ground!
Throughout my youth, I enjoyed visiting museums all over Greece and greater Europe – I think that museums are precious depots where one can identify all of the various expressions of humankind. Visitors can extract very different meaning from their experiences, which I feel happens to viewers of my work.
I must confess that I am in awe of European and American contemporary art. I mostly admire artists like Andy Warhol for his bold graphic style and electric use of colour, as well as David Hockney and Edward Hopper for their ability to put a feeling to silence.
Nowadays, an artist can be heavily influenced by social media and the high speeds of modern life, but all forms of art have the common denominator of feelings. When I draw and create, I am completely driven by my feelings, the subject is often secondary to me, I couldn’t do anything else as a job. Each individual has a different story to tell, and I feel blessed to be able to express my feelings in my work and see the reaction of a variety of individuals in front of the same piece.
The joy of my art is the composition of colours and shapes. I usually start with a basic colour palette and then go beyond those boundaries by adding stronger, brighter tones which express my contemporary style. Although you may find repetitive subjects in much of my art, the bottom line is each one is meant to express, stimulate and ultimately touch your soul. I strongly believe that painting is a form of art with direct communication and with a glance into our emotions. My way of expression can be easily described through one of my favourite subjects: the story of Saint George as the rider and the dragon. To me, the theme of Saint George and the Dragon symbolizes the opposing forces of our emotions. It is a battle against what we think is evil and the constant human struggle once we face our demons.
Tell us about your studio, is it messy or orderly? Does it reflect your personality?
My studio – the place where my soul is trapped! It is located near the city centre at Mount Lycabettus, perched high enough to see the Acropolis and the islands near Athens. In my studio you will usually find a showroom with my most recent artwork, my motorcycle collection and some antiques including ceramics, African sculptures and some of my father’s handmade violins. I am obsessed with motorcycles; riding makes me feel so free. I also have a boxing area, with a boxing bag for my daily training. I recently acquired a large engraving press which I am now incorporating into some of my artwork.
On the second level there is a very large worktable where there is typically a lot of action. It has a strong glass top, and this is where I usually mix my paints and test the colours.
I have a kitchenette which I often use to cook for various art gatherings and friends. One of my other passions is cooking, and I enjoy entertaining my friends and collaborators with the finest ingredients Greece has to offer! Pre-pandemic, I may say the studio always had plenty of visitors, so yes it stays pretty tidy.
With an impressive and ever-expanding resume, how has working with DECORAZONgallery and participating in various Affordable Art Fairs around the world benefitted your practice and exposure?
The Affordable Art Fair has been a wonderful vehicle for my career having participated in so many of its global fairs – including Asia, Europe, London and New York. I think both DECORAZONgallery and I have grown our visibility tremendously in all these markets. In 2018, I visited New York for the first time to attend the Affordable Art Fair Spring edition and it was a phenomenal event. It was great meeting so many clients that had gotten to know and love my artwork over the years and of course to see my gallery in action! During this trip, one of my beloved collectors, who is a producer on Broadway, invited us to see Kinky Boots which was fabulous!
As the gallery’s name illustrates ‘from the heart’, I love DECORAZONgallery with all of mine. MK and Hugo are my closest collaborators and part of my inner circle – especially now during pandemic. We have grown together over the years, and still have many exciting things to accomplish!
We hope this blog has left you feeling energised and inspired! Many thanks to MK Semos, Hugo Garcia and Apostolos Chantzaras for opening up to us and our readers. To discover more from Apostolos Chantzaras or to read more from our #StudiotoWall series, follow the buttons below. Alternatively, follow this link for more works from DECORAZONgallery.