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Posted on Sep 9 2013

You gave up a career in law in order to devote yourself full time to photography. How did that decision come about?
Growing up in Melbourne in the 1960s as a child of Greek immigrant parents, I felt under pressure to succeed at school and then study at university. As I was not talented at drawing and felt hopeless during art classes as school, I focused on other academic subjects. After leaving school, I studied law at Melbourne University. I began my professional working life as a lawyer in 1985 and continued to practice as a lawyer until 2000. When I began my legal career I thought that it would be a good idea to have a hobby and photography seemed to a good choice.  While working as a lawyer I decided to study photography more seriously and in 1996 I enrolled as a part-time Fine Arts student at RMIT University Melbourne. My ideas in photography continued to grow and I began exhibiting my work.  I decided to leave legal practice in 2000 and have worked solely as an artist since then. The decision felt natural and timely. In 2007, I graduated with a PhD in fine arts from Monash University, Melbourne.

As a child, did you have the opportunity to see art? Did you enjoy it?
Growing up as the child of Greek immigrant parents in Melbourne in the 1960s, in a sense we were living on the margins, living a life that was different from mainstream Australia, but also different to the life I would have had if I was born in Greece.  As both parents worked hard trying to establish a new life for themselves, there was little opportunity to see art. My mother’s brother arrived from Greece in the late 1960s and he seemed more culturally aware. He lived with us and he was a bit of a film buff. One of the most profound experiences of my early childhood was the day my uncle took me to the cinema to see Stanley Kubricks ‘A Space Odyssey’. I was about 8 or 9 years old at the time. This was probably my first art or cultural experience as a child. I didn’t see art in galleries until I was a teenager in high school.

Growing up, who were the visual artists that moved you?
This is a difficult question as I did not become aware of art history until I was much older. In my 20s of course I was going to museums and loved the painting of Matisse, Monet, Van Gogh, Manet and Picasso to mention a few. When I started making pictures I gravitated toward photographic artists and especially loved the work of 19th century photographers such as Julia Margaret Cameron, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and Oscar Rejlander, all of whom understood photography as performance in the tableaux tradition full of illusion, symbolism, the imaginary, theatre and performance. Other favourite photographic artists include, Cindy Sherman, Sally Mann, Diane Arbus, Jeff Wall, Thomas Demand, Joel Sternfeld, Martin Parr, William Eggelston, and Ralph Eugene Meatyard.

Your oeuvre in the recent years revolved around children and the meaning of childhood.
Why did you choose this subject?

From the time that I started taking photographs, I was drawn to people who were exploring personal identity through dress and popular culture. The themes of dress-ups, performance and the representation of identity have been a common thread in my pictures of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe fans, drag queens, wrestlers, body builders and more recently children- (the child transforms through role play in a similar way). But these people are often seen as other or living on the margins of conventional society.
I was drawn to photographing children, as I wanted to explore notions of childhood identity and its representation. I wanted to discover for myself what the condition of childhood means to our culture and I have tried to create a context within which we can think about what childhood means.  While my work takes the viewer into the realms of fantasy and story telling, it also questions our understanding of the portrayal of childhood in photography.
The subject of childhood is multi-faceted and I’ve drawn upon its cultural representation in various ways. In ‘Dreamchild’ (2003) and ‘Wonderland’ (2004) I used themes from 19th century photography to question notions of innocence. In ‘Phantomwise’ (2002), I explored the power of dress ups, role play and boundary crossing. I revisited the experience of childhood in colonial Australia and our relationship to land in ‘Haunted Country’ (2006) and in ‘Games of Consequence’ (2008), I reflected upon a lost freedom and the regulated lives of children growing up in the world today. In ‘Between Worlds’ (2009), I looked at what separates humans from animals and children from adults and explored ideas about the extremes of age, young and old in ‘The Dreamkeepers’ (2012). In ‘The Ghillies’ (2013), I reflected on the personas and roles that children take on allowing for their transition from childhood to adolescence and the adult world. In my work I’ve attempted to look at the historical as well as a contemporary understanding of childhood.

Have you found out something, or maybe remember something, about what it means to be a child through your work?
We remain children for such a brief time over the span of our lifetime, yet it is a time of immense transition and change. Our experiences during childhood shape us and continue to influence us for the remainder of our lives. I’m interested in the liminal and transitional stages in life such as childhood, adolescence and old age. This is the time when we experience the most profound changes in body and mind. The whole point about being a child is to grow and with that growth eventually we can become old. We all carry the germ of ageing within us, both young and old at once.  When we reach the end of our life, childlike traits can emerge as we let go of worldly concerns. I don’t think that children are necessarily bothered by the external world, concepts of reality or with materialistic or earthly things until they are much older. Possibly as we age, we revert to that beautiful state where we experience the world as children do in a non-grasping way and imaginative way.  I have rediscovered what it means to be a child through my work and wondered paradoxically what it may feel like to grow old.

Why are masks important to you artistically?
 I have been photographing people who have transformed their identity, masked it and constructed an alternative one. The drag queens for example, wore elaborate evening gowns, make-up, wigs, and false nails; the Elvis Presley fans wore 50s rockabilly clothing, the body builders had oiled and sun tanned bodies and the wrestlers wore decorative capes and masks. In some ways they were masking their identity in a metaphoric way.
I decided to use masks in my work as the mask is a powerful device and creates paradoxes in the photograph. The mask has the power to shift identity from the real to the imaginary - both body and photograph transformed and fixed by the mask. By using masks on the children I was able to move beyond their identity as both subject and child and therefore speak in a more universal way about childhood. A mask can conceal the identity of the wearer but also expand the reading of the subject as a universal figure. The masked person is no one in particular, but can be anyone or everyone. The mask allows the wearer to look both, familiar and unfamiliar, yet another paradox. 

Do you make up stories that you photograph as you go along,
or do you already know the "story" of the picture you are going to take?

My work has the appearance of being highly staged, whether it is created in the studio or in the landscape.  While the process of taking the picture is made up as we go along, the preparation for the work is planned. There are many elements involved in creating a photograph such as narrative, location, mood, lighting, costumes and the acting.  It is important to have a framework ahead of time by creating a backdrop in the studio or by choosing a landscape location, sourcing the costumes and having an idea of the narrative, scene and poses. I don’t write any of this down, as I’m not working with a team of people that need to follow my directions or a plan. I just talk to the subjects and try to direct them as best I can when I am photographing them.  I think about how I’d like the process to develop, but as I am often working on location unexpected things happen that can make the photograph either better or worse that I intended.  These days I have a better idea of how I want the realised photograph to look before I begin the process. But this does not always guarantee a better result.

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BUBI CANAL Interview  
Posted on Jun 14 2013

What did the first character you created as an artist look like?
The first character that I created was a self portrait mixing elements of Mickey Mouse and Michael Jackson. I did it when I was studying in the Basque Country and he was part of my first show called “Joyboy”.




Before taking shape thanks to your intervention, where do all these characters stem from?
Do they come from fairy tales, from dreams maybe?

These characters are created in my head. They are a projections of what is happening inside of me. I'm also very influenced by Japanese characters. When I was a kid I used to watch all the amazing Japanese shows on TV in Spain.

 In what way do your innermost wishes find their way into your art? Is it a conscious process?
It's not very conscious. There is always something that tells me what I should do. I trust in my feelings. My artwork is my way to communicate with the world.

What's the most important lesson that your art has taught you so far?
Art can heal us.

How important a role does financial stability play in allowing or enhancing an artist's creativity?

I want to be free creating with or without money. Most of the materials that I use are recycled. I try to not allow money, or lack thereof, to affect my creativity. To me, feelings are the most important.

What is your strongest wish regarding your future as an artist ?
I must keep growing and learning everyday.

Can you recall at what age you first had strong feelings about a work of art? And can you recall those feelings?
When I was a kid I was always creating but I wasn't sure that I wanted to be an artist. It was when I started to study art in school that I saw it clearly. I remember that I wrote a letter to my mom and explained why I wanted to study art. She wasn’t sure at the moment that it would be good for me, but both of my parents always support me in whatever I want to do.

 Does the mood you are in affect the way a piece you are working on evolves?

Totally. I think everything is connected. When I look at my old works I can see how I was in the past and how I felt when I created that work, but at the same time, now my old work is totally independent from me.

What is the most interesting thing someone has said about your art ?

A person once told me that they felt happier after looking at my work.

If I asked you to name the three contemporary artists whose art you most appreciate, who would they be?

Matthew Barney, Cindy Sherman and Jeff Koons.

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RAY CAESAR Interview  
Posted on Feb 10 2013

Can you recall the first time that a piece of art drew your attention?
I remember a painting of Dali «The Enigma of William Tell» in a tiny book my brother gave me when I was 8. It was as if I knew this world and I had been there before in some previous life and I had to keep looking at that little book. I used to sleep with that tiny book under my pillow and I often wonder if the images made their way into my dreams. Making images is one way to communicate that mood and place that cannot be explained in words. I can remember the feeling that Dali opened a window into a world I knew in some way ... or a world I would eventually know.

And can you recall when it was that you decided to spend the life of an artist?

I have never made that decision...Ha! I still haven’t. I still don’t think of what I do as art. I wake up each morning and work on what I love to do happens to be pictures and some people call those pictures «art». I did decide to start showing my work only ten years ago after the death of my mother and sister and series of dreams that came after their death. Previous to that I wouldn’t even show people who came over to my house and if I had anything on the wall I would take it down. I look at my life now and I suppose I am living the life of an artist ...but it just feels more like I am spending my life doing the thing I love.

Why is it that you always draw female characters?
I grew up with a very difficult father, a very cruel and angry man and in some ways a very dangerous man. I developed a complete disinterest in men and their childish, self gratifying needs and attitudes. Look around this world or watch the news on any given day and you will see a lot of men getting what they want at the expense of those much weaker than themselves....let’s just say I have issues. I have been much more interested in the feminine qualities of our species, kindness, empathy, creativity are the requirements of bringing life into this world...and art. Those are the qualities I search for in myself. I think we all have a masculine and feminine side, the anima and animus but many men are very afraid of the feminine in themselves. They tend to aggressively dismiss it and refuse to acknowledge it at all because they are terrified and fearful of some small imagined humiliation. I may make what seems like female characters but many of them are anatomically correct under those dresses and aren’t all female. I just like putting things in dresses...strangely enough I once found out that my ancestors were dress makers for the London stage back in the 1880s ...I wonder if it’s a genetic memory? I have in fact done many male characters or with male characteristics but often people don’t see them in my work’s a mystery to me.

You have said that « I spent 17 years working in a Children’s hospital and I suppose that’s why I am making these images today.
I saw so much in that place that I can hardly talk or think about it without becoming emotional.» Would you elaborate? Are you making these images today, in order to create beauty, in order to express your emotions without speaking about them?

I create a world where my memories of my own difficult childhood and the difficulties I saw in the Children’s hospital have a place they can call their own. I make a place where the archetype of the hurt or the divine child can hunt back what was taken by «Man» and «Nature»..a place they can hunt back their innocence and freedom from pain and suffering. I make a world in which those little hunters are in power and no one and no thing can hurt them ever again. I do this because I choose to and because it feels right. The child in each one of us is an ancestor that learnt to walk and talk and survive in this world and it’s the adult that takes this for granted. The adult is precariously balanced on the shoulders of the child within each one of us ... we grow but we do it on the foundation of who we were back then and who we still are deep down inside us. I make art that helps us to remember and honour that.

Would you describe how you decide to start working on a new painting - how the inspiration comes and how you work around it?

I create by doing something called «automatic drawing». I just start moving my hand with a pen in a sketchbook in a crowded place like a coffee shop ...I feed off the caffeine induced energy of people sitting around me. I then just begin working in the same way ..a kind of free association that to me is like «playing» as a child alone in a room. I let every care of others go out the window and all of a sudden I am by myself... talking to myself and imagining a world in my mind’s eye. I never let the piece be defined by my original concept and I let it evolve and change and mutate into what it wants to become. I use the sketches not as a plan but as a reminder of the feeling I had when I drew the first window into the new world that came to mind.

Are there motifs or images that you always find yourself returning to?

The archetype of the divine or hurt child is one that is paramount. The image of the concept of a Christ in each of us as the basis for spiritual growth. The Hunter is a common theme in my work and the Survivor and the balance between innocence and ferocity. Gentleness and empathy .. the feminine or anima basis of the feminine side of the male mind is a continuous exploration. I continually make a consistent effort to try and understand beauty and happiness from the point of view of an outsider and I dreg the past history of art trying to explore the emotions of why certain pieces of art from the past cause such an emotional impact for me. I try to understand not what the artist is communicating in meaning but what the artist is communicating in emotion and feeling. Since childhood I have been familiar with the dangerous side of our species and as someone with dissociative Identity disorder I have to be continually aware of that side of myself ... it shows up in my work as a kind of visual map of what is inside me a way for me to understand my own emotions, so that I don’t dissociate myself too much from them. Art for me is an act of survival and the motifs I use in my work are the tools I use to survive.

You have said that it’s not children that you are painting, but pictures of the human soul - and these pictures tell stories. Among those pictures, do you also attempt to draw pictures of your own soul? And if so, do you know the stories beforehand, or do you explore them along the way, as you paint?
I feel souls around me and I feel my own soul is mingled in that world like a sea or Morphic field of humanity, or more accurately the sea of Life on this planet. I think there is more to existence than we can imagine and all life is somehow connected. All of my work is in some way a self portrait of my own soul image and my own soul feels like only a part of what is a Sea of souls. I do not know the stories before I make them as they evolve and tell me the story as I make the work ...that’s what I love about the act of doing it as I feel a communication from somewhere so deep in the subconscious that it doesn’t feel like me. When you knit a sweater from a pattern there is an idea of the sweater in the pattern and in the pattern of your mind as it preconceives the finished product. What you have when you finish the effort is much’s different in some way as it’s a surprise that you made that thing from linking and weaving colored wool. Everything evolves as it’s created and years later you look at that created thing and who wore it and the smell and the feel of it, and the memories, and its so much more than the pattern as its life embeds something like a soul or memory. As you experience your child wearing that sweater and the warmth and the love and the concept that the sweater kept your child safe is all woven into it...The feeling that those memories evoke is important.. and as the child grows out of the the little blue sweater, it becomes even more important becomes a treasure and you keep it in a special place and when you take it out you handle it with reverence and you hold it and smell it and care for it ....because you know what it holds in your heart. I do not know the story of each piece of work’s as if the story is told to me as I make the story of the knitted sweater becomes more than the pattern or the creation.

If I asked you to name a painter whose work you always turn to, for joy or inspiration, who would that be?
I could name any artist or creator...anyone who spends time creating what they love... I love creation in all its aspects. Its a very feminine and gentle art of the human species but I do very much love the work of Antoine Wattaeu. I can feel what he felt when he made his paintings and that’s a hard thing to communicate to someone hundreds of years later in just a picture. If you can make someone feel an emotion then that’s the kind of communication I want to be inspired by. It’s what I feel when I look at the cave paintings in Altamira as those artists tried to communicate in pictures the feelings and passions they had no words for.

When you don’t paint, how do you usually wish to spend your time?
I enjoy life with my wife who I love very much and who I have been with since I was 15 and we walk the dog and eat wonderful food and we watch movies and listen to music and read books. We swim in lakes with family and hike in forests and go to art museums and gallery shows. I walk a lot as I have no idea how to drive a car and walking is an exploration. I am a very quiet individual and spend a lot of time alone ... pictures are always on my mind.

What is the most accurate comment that someone has made about a painting of yours?
A comment that maybe revealed something about your work even to you?

I remember at one opening a long time ago and a mother was carrying a little child who looked at one of my pictures and pointed and laughed... a happy infectious giggle, that made me feel she understood the joke. She kept looking at her mother and pointing and looking back at the picture and laughing. As they moved on I looked at the picture again with open eyes almost for the first time...and I felt a laughter rise up in me.

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Posted on Dec 28 2012

Your works, taken together, somehow seem to be stemming from a kind of personal mythology whose contents range from ancient stories, funny stereotypes, traditions but also ecumenical human questions - but then this is my interpretation. Would you tell me if I come even close?

You come straight to the point of it all.

Better even, would you describe your personal mythology and your personal philosophy for me?
I cannot even describe it to myself. It has to do with desires, pervert jokes, love-hate, É am a misanthrope except all.

What is it that precedes a new work? Is it a need, an inspiration, a request even?
Sometimes inspiration comes as if it has fallen from the sky, out of nowhere, and the next day you turn it into an artwork, at other times you have to stretch an idea for years and years in order for it to finally fit it.
It sounds like a cliche, but it is like that: it is a request. And I prefer Don Quixote's that Colombus's request.

Your work evokes a subtle, playful sense of humour - would you say that this humour is a talent in itself or a defense mechanism that one can grow into?

Humor as a defense? Yes, it is so. For me humor is a very serious thing, and I cannot be serious.

You have said that some of your work stems out of a subconscious process - would you elaborate?
It is a surrealist's thing that works come out of the subconscious. For me this is rare. I love the surrealists, but I always consider everything fully consciously before I materialise it. Every idea, dream, joke or story.

You've been living in Germany for quite some time now - in your experience , what are the main differences between the artists' microcosms in the two countries?
The artists microcosms? Those are secret to each artist. Well to tell you the truth I am very stuck in my own little microcosm to notice others, so all I can say is that germans make very german art.

If you could change one thing about the art world in general what would it be?
I would make it possible for every artist to be a master. But then also everybody should be a milionare and everybody should be a genius.

What's the most important thing that art has offered you?
Pleasure. Of making, and of seeing.

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