Interview with Collage Artist, Athena Petra Tasiopoulos

How did you get started doing what you do?
I majored in photography in art school. However, I eventually realized that although I love the medium of photography, I didn’t really want to be a photographer. I found myself more interested in making photos to use in my digital illustrations.

I took an encaustic painting class right before graduation. It was incredibly freeing. Around the same time, I also found a bag of old black and white family photographs that belonged to my grandmother. She passed away when I was very young. I was fascinated by these photographs and in a way felt as though I was reconnecting with relatives I never really had a chance to know.

It took me a while to figure out how to proceed after graduation. I went through a roundabout process of experimenting with collage and encaustic painting, all the while incorporating the same handful of old family photos.

Eventually I began working primarily on paper. I love how delicate paper is. I now use photographs I purchase from antique dealers –‘instant relatives’ that intrigue my imagination. I like giving them new life.

How would you describe your creative style?
My style is very minimal. I like to work in a high key, muted color palette. I like each piece to feel like a little whisper—with just enough symbolism and visual information within the piece to hint at a dialogue while still allowing the viewer to find personal interpretation and meaning.

Interview with artist, Athena Petra Tasiopoulos on Jung Katz
Interview with artist, Athena Petra Tasiopoulos on Jung Katz

What’s your inspiration?
I’ve developed a huge appreciation for folk and “outsider” art – work that comes from a very pure place, unencumbered by technical etiquette.

I’m also drawn to the patterns and primitive mark making techniques found in aboriginal and native art. There is something very meditative about the process of repeating hundreds of tiny polka dots by hand – connecting to our ancient ancestors through the use of the same repeated primitive symbols and shapes.

Greek Orthodox iconography has also inspired me. I remember visiting Greece as a child, sneaking into the tiny mountain village churches and just looking around. I think my need to embellish my prints with tiny gold dots stems back to my fascination with all of the shiny gold icons that intrigued me as a kid.

What is art to you?
I like to think of art as a method for communicating the thoughts and feelings that are too big or vague to clearly articulate with words. Art is a way to connect with others and share the human experience… if it turns out to be beautiful, that’s a bonus.

Interview with artist, Athena Petra Tasiopoulos on Jung Katz
Interview with artist, Athena Petra Tasiopoulos on Jung Katz

What does your typical day look like?
I work a day job. I manage a small art gallery in a tourist town in New England. So, my evenings are usually reserved for studio time. I’m definitely a night owl. I work best after I’ve met my daily obligations, after everyone has gone to bed and the world is a little quieter.

How long does it typically take for you to finish a piece?
I will often work on a few compositions at a time. When I hit a dead-end with one piece, I’ll move on to the next. Each piece has its own rhythm and teaches you something new. So by shifting my focus when I get frustrated, I can often work though whatever block I was facing and then come back to the original piece with fresh eyes. When a piece comes easily it usually takes me a day or two to complete. However, some pieces I start and set aside, coming back to them a few weeks or months later.

How do you keep motivated?
Motivation is tricky. It helps to have close connections with other artists. Sometimes an honest conversation with a friend is all that it takes to make me want to run back to my studio and work.

I used to worry if I wasn’t constantly motivated to create. I’ve come to realize that it is ok to let your creativity ebb and flow. When it’s flowing, I try to work as much as I can. When I’m not inspired, I look at it as an opportunity to relax, spend extra time with my husband, and indulge in the creativity of others’ — by reading, discovering new music, watching films, etc…

Interview with artist, Athena Petra Tasiopoulos on Jung Katz
Interview with artist, Athena Petra Tasiopoulos on Jung Katz
Interview with artist, Athena Petra Tasiopoulos on Jung Katz

What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
I feel accomplished when I know my work resonates with someone. The world moves so fast and it’s easy to get caught up in the mundane. If my work can make someone pause and self-reflect for a few moments, reconnect, then I feel satisfied.

How have others reacted to your work?
I think sometimes people are taken aback. I can understand that floating heads and eyeless faces are not everyone’s cup of tea. I do love when people can find the sense of humor in my work. I get a lot of questions about the technical process.

What do you want others to take away from your work?
I’d like them to find connection… to the human experience, to their spirituality, whatever it is that moves them.

Interview with artist, Athena Petra Tasiopoulos on Jung Katz
Interview with artist, Athena Petra Tasiopoulos on Jung Katz

What, if anything, would you tell your younger self?
Be patient and you will find your voice. As a young artist you feel the urge to directly imitate the work that inspires you. Eventually as you grow, you will learn how to digest that inspiration and transform it. Just keep working until that happens and don’t be too hard on yourself.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
“Know whose shoulders you are standing on.” Understand your influences. Use those shoulders as a boost but then you must keep climbing and evolve an idea to make it your own.

Any words of wisdom to aspiring artists who want to pursue a similar career?
Don’t be afraid of creating pieces that fail. The pieces that don’t work out can often teach you more than the pieces that are successful. This is how we grow. You don’t make good art until you’ve made a whole lot of bad art—and even then, some bad ones will still slip into the mix. It’s ok; you will learn to edit.

 

Interview with artist, Athena Petra Tasiopoulos on Jung Katz
Interview with artist, Athena Petra Tasiopoulos on Jung Katz

What art supplies do you use?
I try to avoid supplies that are super toxic. My studio is in my home, so there are a lot of materials I used to use that I just don’t want around anymore.

My supplies are pretty basic. I do a lot of work on my computer. I print on a fine art photo rag paper made by Moab. It holds up well to paint. I also use basic graphite pencils, wax pastels, watercolor pencils, and acrylic to embellish my prints.

What’s your process like?
My pieces begin as digital collages that I construct by scanning found vintage portrait photography. I collect ‘cabinet card’ photos from the late 19th – early 20th C. I alter the photos on the computer to create a basic composition. I print the unfinished digital collage on a heavyweight photo rag paper. I like to think of the print as the skeleton of my piece. I then finish working by hand, adding detail and color by drawing on my prints with graphite and by painting with watercolor, wax pastel, and acrylic.

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