“My work depicts the inner collapse”
“Being a sculptor is not only taking mud and turn it into a form, it is Mathematics, organization, discipline, drawing, mechanics, technique. I’d like to speak about the inner collapse, what’s going on inside us when the world wants us always to look perfect. Not everything is what it seems. However, the ideals of Art are to be free and creative, nevertheless, the world of Art is all about management and public relations.”
Mary Vareii: Katerina when did you interest in Sculpture start? And when did you consciously decide that you wanted to be an artist?
Katerina Mitsiali: I always liked the feeling of materials on my hands and every time that I went to our country house with my family, my sisters stayed inside by the fireplace, reading books and watching TV. and I went outside in the garden, digging the earth and playing with mud.
Every time that my parents saw me drawing, they told me that I will have all the time in the world to draw after the university and I should focus on my studies. So I did, but I didn’t like any of the universities and I wasn’t happy.
Then, in the summer of 2001 when I was 18, I found a book in my mother’s bookcase, that I had never seen before. It was a magical moment, it was a book about a Greek sculptor named Lukas Doukas , he is my uncle actually. No one had ever spoken to me about him, they told me that they had forgotten to mention him. His work was revealing, it was so beautiful, full of feelings and professional technique. At that moment I decided that this is what I wanted to do with my life, I wanted to do what he did, I wanted to do sculpture.
My parents were really disappointed with my choice because I had already passed in the University of Architecture and I had to give it up, if I wanted to go to the Fine Art School of Tinos, to learn how to work with marble, but I had already made up my mind.
Have you experimented with other forms of art before or during studying or practicing sculpture?
In my opinion, sculpture is a very difficult form of art. It combines everything. So now that I’m getting older, I realized how much I owe to the education that I was given at school and at home. Even though I didn’t like it then, I see now that being a sculptor is not only taking mud to turn it into form, it’s Mathematicss, organization, discipline, drawing, mechanics, technique. Furthermore, it is diplomacy and managing, when the time comes to sell or exhibit your work. If you take part in a symposium in a foreign country, it is expected to speak at least two languages. So I didn’t experiment with other forms of art before studying sculpture but I was enriched with other knowledge, totally necessary for becoming a sculptor.
Did your environment motivate you in any way? Tinos has a tradition concerning the art of sculpture.
My mother comes from Tinos and she loves collecting antiques. So our house is full of rare, old things. Among them there are some marble sculptures and paintings from Tinian artists. Strange as it sounds, as a child I had never realized the artistic value of the things surrounding me. It was when I returned home from my studies that it came to my notice.
Tell us more about the tradition of Tinos island. How did the tradition start there?
The story goes like this. The Catholics came to Tinos and took over all the fertile land and only the barren land was left for the Orthodox. The Catholics, until our days are still farmers but the Orthodox dug the land and found marble so they started working with the only material available and gained a great reputation for their abilities all over Greece.
The mass abundance of marble, combined with their will to live in such difficult times during wars and poverty, made marble their only source of income. So they worked with it and became masters in their field.
Is there a School that you would categorize yourself as to sculpture?
No, it’s too soon yet. I feel that I ‘m still learning and experimenting. To tell you the truth I don’t know if I would like to be part of a category.
Is there a message you wish to convey by means of your work?
I like to speak with my work about the human body. Not everything is what it seems. The inner suffering. You see a beautiful girl and you see only the image. You say that she is in no need of anything, she has beauty, you see the clothes and you think she has money, she seems strong; you judge her only by her appearance, the surface but you don’t know what she’s hiding in. How well she is covering it all up. How much she suffers. How much effort she gives every day to keep going and to put her pain aside.
So I like to speak about the inner collapse. What’s going on inside us when the world wants us always to look perfect. The same goes for men of course. My message is “ Don’t judge from only what you see”.
Is solitude or collective spirit the general idea that your work expresses?
Unfortunately, solitude. I would like it to be otherwise but I can’t help it. This is what comes out of me, because this is who I am.I felt alone as a child, being different from all the other children, not playing, not speaking with them and in the university, we were obliged to work alone, in contrast with the universities of other countries that promote team work.
I have tried many times to work in a team, in a symposium or an exhibition but every time the other artists of the team failed me. They haven’t learned to be punctual on the schedule and they don’t take it seriously enough. So I have been accustomed to being and working alone.
What kind of materials / media do you use? Which do you prefer?
I work with marble, metal and natural materials, like ropes, bee wax and resin. But I prefer marble, it’s revealing. As you curve it you never know what there is under two centimeters. You have a general view of what you want to do, but you never know what you will find inside the marble. Maybe a mass of dust or glass or on the worst case, a piece breaks! So you have to change your plan and continue with what you have and always the result at the end is better than your first estimation. It’s like the marble guides you.
What are the topics that you usually elaborate on?
Feelings created by interacting with other people or how I feel towards the rest of the word or some situations. All my topics are revolving around human existence.
What are the obstacles a true creator has to face nowadays?
Not having any money. An obstacle that all artists always had but they didn’t have all these bills. Nowadays if you are a sculptor, you have the rent of your house, the rent of your workshop and you can’t work with candles as the elders did or take water from the well. So you must have electricity, water, phone, internet, a site, leaflets with your curriculum vitae and photos of your work and it goes on. All that, need money. Even to exhibit your work, you need money.The second thing is not to be influenced by others.
They ask you “What job do you do?” and you reply “I ‘m an artist”,
‘’ Yes, but don’t you work somewhere?”, “No, I’m an artist” and then they say “Oh, so you are unemployed!”
Or you see them going on vacations for a month or buying new furniture and you haven’t been on vacation and you have very old furniture or your fridge is empty and you get sad and jealous of them. But then you realize that you don’t need a new couch, the one you have is perfect, or why must the fridge be full, I’m only one person.
They have made us believe that we are in need of many thing, that we have to follow a certain lifestyle, only then we’ll be happy.
But then I think that the best smile I have seen came from a ninety year old lady in Tinos who leaves in a very small house, alone, with only the basic things necessary, she cultivates the land, fishes and has five sheep. She is happy because she doesn’t need anything, she’s free, she only needs a smile back.
So, do not forget who you are and what you want. Gain some to pay your bills and buy only what you really need, not what others buy. You don’t need material posessions to be happy.
Do you agree with the idea that sculpture is for at what the opera is to music. An absolute, unapproachable form of initial art that can break in easier forms such as painting, photography, design.
No, art is divided in many forms and sculpture is one of them. The initial art for painters and sculptors is drawing because in both cases, you first have to draw your idea before you make it a painting or a sculpture. There is no such need for the photographers for example.
Apart from Tinos School of Fine Arts you have also a degree in the Athens School of fine Arts, right?
Yes, I graduated from School of Fine Arts of Tinos and I was so happy, I felt free, I felt that I had learned all there was about art and I was anxious to work alone without any teacher telling me what to do. I couldn’t be more wrong. After one year, doing all the projects that I had in mind, I came to a dead-end and I saw my lack of knowledge and how many more things they were to be learned about art. So I started preparation for the exams of Fine Art School of Athens and I passed.
Tell us about your experience next to Harilaos Koutsouris and George Houliaras.
Harilaos Koutsouris is a very talented sculptor and painter. He was the only one that let me in his workshop and gave me the opportunity to be his assistant. It was right after I had graduated from Fine Art School of Tinos and no other marble-sculptor wanted to hire me for their workshop because in the School, we worked the marble only by hand, following the traditional way but at the workshops they work with electric machinery to gain time and I didn’t know how to use them. So they didn’t want to train a new employee, it would be really time-consuming for them, not to mention I am a woman…
Koutsouris believed in me. He taught me how to use the machinery and taught me all his techniques in marble and sculpture. He trusted me and for that I will always be grateful.
George Houliaras, my professor in Fine Art School of Athens, was really difficult to cope with in the begging because he didn’t speak a lot.
He was severe. When he came to check the measurements of the statues that we were making by observing the model, he could always see where we had measured wrong, though every time I hoped that I had done everything right. He was strict on the subject and I don’t blame him because he taught us to do it the right way. Cubism or expressionism in art are well-admired and wanted, but when we would finish the Art School and someone would employ us to make a statue representing a relative of his, he’ll expect that it will resemble him.
So he was strict and many times he made me furious but he was right. He was preparing us for the world outside, he taught us that sculpture is not only having an idea, it’s a combination of things; what materials you will use to keep stable, to keep the work of art dry, to have a connection with the surroundings of the material, to keep only the essentials on your sculpture and to dispose all the decorative things as they’re not necessary.
Do you have synesthetic experiences using other art stimuli to get inspired, or even things not related to the arts, like contact with nature for example?
Yes, music. I can’t work without music. Even when I am in the nature, I get inspired by its sounds. The sounds of the waves, the sounds of the birds or the sounds of the wind. I despise the sounds of the city. Once I read about a painter that he had to walk fifty kilometers to listen to music! I hadn’t thought about that since then. They worked without music. It’s unthinkable for me.
You have worked in the preservation of The Theatre of Dionysus, tell us about your experience there.
It was beautiful, pure magic. To be in the center of Athens, in such a sacred place and to work under the trees, turtles were passing by, hawks flew over you. It was unbelievable.
Unfortunately the organization of the project wasn’t good. We had to be there at seven o’ clock and some of my colleagues came at ten. We had to work until three o’ clock and they left at one. You could come and go whenever you wanted and work as much as you wanted.
That was unfair for the ones that followed the schedule and worked hard, as it was expected of them. There was no control. And on top, there wasn’t any workshop to work inside. We were exposed to all weather conditions and you were lucky if you could find an umbrella to work underneath. It’s a shame, because it’s the oldest theatre in the world made on the fifth century B.C. with a capacity for 20,000 people and should be properly preserved.
Are you willing to make compromises concerning art?
If they don’t offend me or take advantage of me. I felt both while I was working for the preservation of Dionysus’ theatre, that’s why I stopped working there.
Do you enjoy exhibiting?
When I exhibit, yes. I love to talk with the people, to see what they like and what they don’t, to talk about art or things that interest them. The recognition of my work. It’s something totally different from your everyday routine. You put on your good clothes and you go to a nice place where you show your work under the lights. You appreciate your work more, it look so much better than when in storage. But I don’t like all the preparation needed, all the managing that’s necessary. To advertise your work, to do public relationships, curators and gallerists that take advantage of you.
I had many co-students at the University that their work could be on the best museums of the world but they were so shy of promoting their work and with no money that they left their creations at the garden of the University for whoever wanted to take them. They didn’t even have the money to pay to even transport them. In the best of cases, an art-lover would take them to sell them or take them to his house. Worst case, the gypsies took the abandoned sculptures to melt them for money.
It’s sad that the strongest survives, not the most gifted one.
You have taken a dynamic part in 7 group exhibitions, are you preparing a solo one?
No I don’t think that it is very wise in this period of time. It is not worth it. You need at least 1.000 euros to exhibit and you have no reassurance that someone will buy something. Nowadays, with the economic crisis, you exhibit only for your curriculum vitae or your ego. It’s a very big risk.
Is the world of Art compatible with the ideals of Art?
No it’s totally the opposite. The ideals of Art are to be free and creative , nevertheless the world of Art is all about management and public relations.
Art for art’s sake or art for people?
Art for your sake and if it sentimentally moves even one other person, you are happy.
Your partner in life is a highly talented sculpture too, Yiannis Brouzos, how is your common life influenced by this? Do you work in the same space or exchange ideas for example?
No one can understand better an artist than an artist. Our needs, our wills, our way that we behave is different from these of other people. He’s good in things that I am not and me at things that he isn’t, so we help each other. But sometimes it’s difficult to keep the balance. When he finishes a piece he asks for my opinion and maybe I am working on something or I’m in a bad mood and I tell him the raw truth, then he is pissed off. The same happens with me. We are so close to each other that we sometimes we both forget the effort that has been given in creating a piece of art and we are not very kind to each other. If he is in a bad mood, I try to motivate him, if I am in a bad mood he does the same thing. If we are both in a bad mood you better stay away, it’s not really fun to be around.
Any sculptors you admire?
Totally admire, no, some pieces that each one has done, yes. Like Giacometti or Claudel and of course the Greek sculpture, it’s unbeatable. And some of my colleagues, at my age, that are doing an amazing job and unfortunately no one knows them and they have to be given a chance.
What else do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
Gazing at the sea, walks in the mountains and taking care of my plants, is very anxiolytic.
Favorite artists, directors or authors?
Not anyone really. I like to see and read everything but not someone in particular.
Any projects you are currently working on, or any future plans?
A very good artist, Elena Polychronatou, who was a professor of mine in Fine Arts School of Athens had a very touching idea to make a project called “public hanger” and she has invited me to take part. The idea is that each sculptor has to make a unique artistic hanger that will be placed in different parts of Athens, to give the opportunity to people that want it to help others who are in need. It will be a meeting spot that food and clothes in bags will be hanged on the sculptures.
I am also taking part in a group exhibition that will start on the 22 of October until 2 of November at gallery “Kaplanon 5” in Athens.
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