I was born in 1974 in Romania to Greek immigrant parents. In 1980, my family was repatriated, and since then I have lived and worked in Serres, Greece. Serres is a small city with a population of around 100,000 inhabitants, located in the northern part of the country, eighty kilometers away from Thessaloniki. I live here with my wife and our two children in a house with a rather large yard, where I also have my studio. I feel fortunate since this arrangement allows me to easily divide my time between my family and my sculpting work. Having my studio next to the place where I live is essential to me. It is part of the normal flow of my life; I grew up in a ceramics studio working with my father, a visual artist himself, who often resorted to the study of nature to get ideas for his ceramic creations. I believe it was then that the idea of observing nature from a different perspective was unconsciously planted in me. It has compelled me to continue to observe the natural environment to this day, as well as the changes that occur in it.
This idea remained with me when I enrolled in the School of Sculpting Art, located on the island of Tinos, to study classical marble sculpture. After my graduation in 2001, I received a scholarship to continue my studies at the University of Athens’ School of Fine Arts. While studying there, I was fortunate to have exceptional and inspiring teachers like Theodoros Papayannis. It was also there, because I had to meet a series of requirements from the faculty, that I begun to consciously recognize nature as a storage of ideas. This marked the beginning of the creation of my first organic forms. I draw elements from the natural environment (plants, cocoons, fruits, living organisms), as well as from industrial materials and residues from our contemporary world. Then, through a variety of optical angles, I observe, conceive, and finally proceed to the fabrication of my “biomorphic forms.” Yet, although my work derives from an observation of the natural world, I try to avoid the representational mode. Instead, I strive to give new substance to my creations; an entirely new identity.
Today, my efforts have moved towards expressing my growing unease about the genetic mutations that organisms must undergo in order to adapt to the constant technological changes of modern environments (i.e., genetically modified organisms, genetic pollution, technically mutant products, etc.). It is this feelings that gave rise to the series “Mutations” which, as described by art critics, is concerned with “foreshadowing mutations of organisms in a dystopian post-industrial era.”
Drawing is almost always my starting point. My drawings continue to shape my work. However, when I move to other mediums, I don’t totally subject the work to the guidance of the initial drawings. Instead, I let the particularities of any medium lead me to new forms during the process towards completion.
I wish to constantly challenge my audience. In fact, I hope that the people who see my sculptures learn to decode the complexity of the shapes I put before them through their own personal and subjective prisms. I don’t want to compliment viewers – to allow them to be passive. I like to challenge them to reflect on their choices and responsibilities within the living spaces of their actions. As the Greek critic Athina Schina remarks, it is in such a manner that viewers become better able to decode the “micro” or “mega” worlds that surround and besiege them.
The works in my new series are made using white clay as the sole material. This natural, white matter, flexible yet also fragile, frees me from any compromises and limitations, thus avoiding the rather ephemeral nature typical of my previous works.
My new series titled “Findings” evolved from the previous series titled “Mutations,” which consists of works created using colored wrapping paper, as well as recycled cheap materials such as plastic, rubber, cartons and newspapers.
To conclude this brief self-presentation, I should note that it is not at all easy to pursue my artistic ambitions while living in Greece. We are in the middle of a difficult and grim financial crisis, where anything related to art is considered a luxury, and therefore expendable. However, I should also note that artists in Greece experienced a cultural crisis long before the advent of the economic one. I feel that new artists need to be freshly motivated. Most artists in Greece are unable to meet their basic living needs through their work alone. People interested in buying artworks are fewer and fewer and as a result, the number of galleries and art houses is dramatically dwindling.
To many, it may sound strange that in such a discouraging socio-cultural and economic context, there are still people who talk about and value artistic creativity. Yet I make a concerted effort to remain optimistic, and hope that this plight will not prove detrimental to artistic inspiration in general. It is with such a hope that I prepare for a new exhibition of my recent work. It is going take place at the end of March at the exquisite ALMA Contemporary Art Gallery in Athens.
Aris Katsilakis teaches Plastic and Pottery in the Department of Interior Architecture, Interior Design and Drawing Objects in the Technological Educational Institution of Serres, Greece. His work has been shown in some of the most influential galleries: He has presented solo exhibitions at Kalos & Klio Showroom (Thessaloniki), Kaplanon 5 (Athens), and House Papavasileiou (Serres), and participated in numerous group exhibitions at ALMA Contemporary Art Gallery, Kalos & Klio Showroom, Baton 7, Gallery Zoumboulakis, Gallery Myro, Kaplanon, House Shina, 8th Festival of Ancient Amphipolis, Municipal Gallery of Kallithea “Lambrakis,” 12th International Month of Photography, 11th International Month of Photography, and Biennale Internazionale Vicenza.