Artist Interviews 2023
By Johnny Otto
Elen, tell us a bit about your upbringing and what drove you to become an artist.
I can thankfully say I had a very good childhood. I grew up in the capital of Armenia, Yerevan in a huge block with many other kids that went to the same school which was literally in front of the building. I remember spending a lot of time with my amazing grandfather. He raised me alongside my parents - it is very common in our coulture for many generations living in the same house. So I can say I got some aspects of his personality in me. His introversion and calmness. Just like every kid, I was drawing with colored pencils and crayons and I’m not quite sure what led me start drawing only after the age of 5- possibly I just then discovered pencils?- but I was always a very sensitive kid with a big imagination. And from the beginning I found myself drawing people like I still do now. I remember a quite realistic watercolor portrait I made at the age of 5 of a famous Russian poet, Αlexander Pushkin and my family called me a genius then. Things got a bit tough when migrating to Greece at the age of 8 and on till my teen years where I found myself feeling more and more vulnerable. I ended up drawing and painting as a way to escape from anxiety and depression later on. I still believe art was the reason why I came out alive actually. Art therapy as they call it, right? Art is a sort of meditation for me and nothing compares to making a piece you’re so proud of. And it basically came natural for me to take it on a professional level.
How would you describe your style and who or what are your influences?
I still don’t think that I have much of a style, and people laugh when I say that and that’s fair enough! We artists are pretty stubborn and perfectionists when it comes to our craft so it’s difficult to see them from a different perspective. Though it is mainly figurative realism. Also most of my work has a more gothic feel to it, across all different subjects and color palettes. I blame my love for gothic imagery to Tim Burton! Forever in love with his films. And all sorts of bands and artists my older sister got me exposed to like Anne Stokes, Victoria Frances and those early DeviantArt-sad-gothic-girl-wallpapers which I still love dearly. My main influences basically became artists with similar darker vibe i discovered later on like Kevin Llewellyn and Steven Assael. Also I’m very inspired by pop culture like cinema, tv shows - or anything Halloween. Not forgetting about human anatomy, classical art and a lot of contemporary art from my school. I currently study fine art and I found that it’s the best place to find your originality although, I’m not there yet but feel definitely quite close to it, but as always there will be some dash of dark imagery even if it’s with a pink palette. There’s still gonna be tattoos, demons, skeletons and punks! Which I find is such a nice contrast with a pastel palette and keeping things minimal.
What is the art scene in Greece like at the moment?
I wouldn’t really consider a big of existence of art scene in Greece necessarily. You see, it’s quite a poor country - so people don’t have time for art. You hardly find art galleries in towns and people rarely pursue art as career path. But I can say you can definitely make it as a tattoo artist or graphic designer. Art and music had been shut down from high schools and quite possibly the government will be closing down public schools of theatre, music and film in the near future. Which I find so immensely sad because Ancient Greece was a major pioneer in art. But thank goodness for internet right? And us emerging artists can make our way online at least. But nonetheless, being in art school you are constantly surrounded by creativity in all corners and students always find ways to make mini exhibitions here and there in little cafes and such.
Are you exhibiting your work or working on an upcoming exhibit? What are you currently working on?
Unfortunately I am not exhibiting anything at this moment. It’s also pretty tough to exhibit work in Greece and most galleries abroad hardly collaborate with artists overseas. So I mainly rely on social media. But on the other hand, I am focusing on making more original and better art with each piece. So I can say that things can definitely be done on their own pace as I’m aspiring to be more independent financially and thus, with luck moving abroad in places where art is more important to people.
What else are you passionate about?
Aside from painting and drawing, I am also passionate about a lot of things. I was always saying to myself that if I wasn’t an artist I’d definitely be an archeologist or genealogist since I have a big love for learning about ancient civilizations, cultures, languages (currently trying to learn my 5th language) and human history in general. I think part of it comes from me being multicultural, a third culture kid as they call us. Aside from that I have other artistic hobbies (quite obviously) like photography, sculpting, I had a jewelry making phase this year, which I’d love to pursue professionally at some point, some guitar playing here and there and I’m pretty passionate about gadgets, I’m not gonna lie! Technology never ceases to amaze me. And almost forgot, I’m a bit of a chess nerd as well!
You’ve said that “sadness and loneliness” are common emotions in your work. Why is that? What interests you about those themes?
Sadness and loneliness are two major feelings I felt as long as I remember. My family says I was always this way. So it’s quite natural for me to depict those feelings in my work as to reflect my inner self. But on the other hand, that’s what I find beautiful. These are natural human emotions and I embrace both the good and the bad and not hiding behind rainbows. Thus, I feel more connected and inspired from art that depicts these emotions as well.
How does music influence your work? Do you listen when you paint?
Of course music played a huge part for me making art. Back in the day, my art and the music that i listened to had the same kind of vibe to it. It’s what inspired and motivated me, to lift my ass and go to work! I can also say that I get pretty bored in silence, unfortunately. Except boredom, it also keeps away annoying thoughts, since my brain likes to think a lot. Although, over the past couple of years, I started listening more to podcasts, having documentaries or tv shows on bc I noticed music doesn’t really help me from wandering in my thoughts or thinking too much about my painting, because I want to let my subconscious guide my hands. So having my attention focused solely on a topic in a podcast for example, is just like a mantra, which acts as a tool to ease the mind and release worrisome thoughts and just let things be. In our case, let the hand wander on the canvas.
Are there any living Artists whom you’d like to collaborate with or just have a glass of wine with and pick their brain? If so, who and why?
Ah, if you didn’t mention living, I’d definitely say Andy Warhol with all his celebrity and New York-elite-people gossips, or Zdislaw Beksinski, with his mysterious and quite haunting nightmares which said inspired his beautifully dystopian surreal art. But in my daydreams I definitely see a collab with Kaws! Something about the art toy world inspires me a lot. And it would be interesting seeing a realistic painting, for example, combined with a cartoonish Kaws character in the background. Sounds strange but sits well in my book!