Friday, 8 November 2013

Blame game

Venturing out to see what the contemporary art world has to offer, I made my way to the Sluice and The Other Art fairs. Sluice's erratic, attic-like layout resembled a chaotic aftermath of children's play (an ambiance further facilitated by the number of children present). Yet it's playful and experimental edge grabbed the show and like play-doh, moulded it into a relaxed and engaging occasion.

The Other Art Fair, however, took on the role of the materialistic, money-grabbing, mother in a suburbia-approved cardigan. The damp, concrete stairs took me up and pulled me back, screaming and shouting, to an A-Level end of year exhibition. All the students stood proudly next to their carefully-crafted pieces, longing for that elusive A*. The alleys of portraits and landscapes with as much imagination as Conor Maynard's lyrics, were nothing but a gentrified version of a middle-eastern market. 

Yet a glimpse of wide, architectural photographs arrested me with their careful, geometric recounts of chaotic, derelict areas such as the Heygate estate, which conjured questions about their history and significance to the artist. I sparked up a conversation with the man behind the lens, Nicholas Gentilli and asked about 'Chimney People', a dimension-warping, surrealist photograph. The process, he explained, involved reconstructing the Tate Modern chimney then overlaying it with images of passers by. Opening my mouth to ask about his creative drive, he hurriedly cut in front of me - 'Are you gonna treat yourself?' narrowing his eyes to scan my modest attire - 'You don't look like you're gonna treat yourself'. With my question answered, I bowed my head and trudged on under the looks down noses that would snort the rolled note before anything else.

Low in spirits (of both varieties) and about to scale up the dismal stairs, a corner alive with bright yellows, reds, greens and a chorus of every other tone magnetised me. The name at the top of the board spelled out 'Panos Antonopoulos' and the work below cried out a sea of energy. It's creator approached me shyly from his position - eyes reserved, yet glinting with colourful history and vigour to explore the realms of creativity, which he went on to divulge.


The London-based artist is no ordinary Greek. Rising from the ashes of the ongoing 6 year-long economic downturn in his home country, he walks amongst the dampening spirits of the nation, using his paint brush as a weapon to call out the lack of hope and opportunities. Yet along the way he came to believe the ridiculous, egocentric hierarchy of politics is as much to blame as the idleness of the people themselves.

At first trained as an engineer, he felt tied down by the monotony of the work. Deciding on an art pathway came naturally as he began to disentangle from the net of his past and finally found an outlet for his vibrant views. 'I started to experiment myself to find something that can satisfy my ego and apparently I found it through art.' Moving to London again in 2013 (he has been in and out of the city for a few years) alternated his view on the modern social establishment 'London has influenced my view on society in issues like consumerism and a completely uncontrollable financial situation in terms of products and services, under the umbrella of liberalism.'

'What Is Contemporary Art?'

Each one of his artworks is a unique rendition of the governing cartel's callous greed. All bold and contrasting for he proclaims 'everything can be an inspiration. A political event, a poster on the street or another artist. Each work is a different concept, expressed in a different way'. He cites Marcel Duchamp as an inspiration and 'a rebellion of modern art'. Yet Panos himself takes on a defiant stance within today's art sphere, counteracting the bland mainstream mentality: 'art has become quite commercial during the last decades, which was the initial inspiration for my painting' he speaks of 'What Is Contemporary Art?' which questions the infinite translations of art's ambiguous creations and the materialism which has dimmed some of his contemporaries' fiery imagination. 'A very simple artwork can be much more powerful than a complex one. A lot of new elements entered the art game, like technology and art is transforming. Real contemporary art has to do more with the concept and less with the technique. If I start creating art similar to Monet's landscapes or Picasso's cubist paintings in 2013, then I have nothing to offer to the art scene. Those guys did that 100 years ago. It can only satisfy people who just want to put something nice on their walls.'

'Experiment in Berlin'

'I believe that we should be able to challenge and criticise everything that is against us.' 'The Ego and His Own' fabricates this notion by raising the individual 'above the religion, country, family or any kind of society'. Unsurprisingly, the rough and dishonest civic climate both in his home country and the world is a driving creative force. Yet it's the individuals' reactions to these which inhabit the narrative of most pieces: 'I believe that the problem is not primarily financial but cultural. It is the general way of thinking. It is very easy to blame anyone but ourselves. I think that Greece is a fucked up situation, mainly because the majority of people are not willing to take any responsibility for anything and this is why parties like the Golden Dawn or Independent Greeks have such voting percentages.' 

However recently Greece began to take baby steps in a promising direction by absorbing the EU structural funds and generating neoteric schemes to rebuild it's economy brick by fractured brick, 'there is some hope, mainly from young people who are not so 'polluted' like the previous generations and they need to get far away from that.' Panos' art is as frank, loud and liberal as the energy of the youth today, shouting out for us to take initiative and stand up for our rights and against 'the culture of fear'.