'Foreign Saints'

George Sfougaras 3 months ago

I have recently added two new aspects to my practice: Firstly, I started to keep sketchbooks, which are chronologically curated.  In other words, whereas in the past I just picked up whatever bit of paper and unfinished pad and scribbled in it, I now feel the need for linear progression and continuity. More of that later.

The second was even more unexpected.  I started to want to return and review or somehow even improve old work.  Now, this is very odd for me, as I have always just moved on.  Moved on at the rate of knots. Good ideas came and went and often I galloped on, looking for the next thing, the next big revelation in my work. Interspersed with various themes such as ‘Personal Maps’ and ‘Recovered Histories’, came some museum commissions and residencies which although within my general themes of sense of place and identity took me down different paths.

The review of old work revealed a theme that has driven interesting experimentation and ideas. It goes as far back to my teacher training days when in one of the assignments, we had to explain an artefact or art system. Literacy in the Visual Arts, had me looking at my upbringing as a Greek Orthodox.  I created an ‘altar’ and an ‘icon’ both of which included authentic items and distortions of their conventional forms. It was that piece of coursework that redeemed my grades and even more surprisingly earned me a distinction.  Until then, I had struggled to find my footing with the academic demands of the course.  Then suddenly it all fell into place.  I did have the words and the ability, I just needed something that was meaningful to me, and which made me want to engage and do the work.

So that must have been the first attempt to create work about Orthodoxy, what it meant and how a departure from the conventions actually ‘destroyed’ the meaning of the icons and rendered the ritual equally meaningless.

As I started to look back at past work, I realised that there are in fact allusions to orthodox Christianity in a considerable number of my works. It would be true to say that if one looks carefully there will be a symbol, a church, an object, or even an artistic technique borrowed from the visuals that surrounded the religious beliefs of my childhood. More accurately, there are allusions to religion, what it means, and how it manifests itself in our daily lives.

When immigrants from Greece and Cyprus first arrived in the UK they congregated around the church. With time traditions and religion have become less important in my life, primarily because I am not attached to the Greek Community, and because of my own disposition and background. All the same, my sense of who I am has been shaped by my religious upbringing, where the year is defined by religious observance, festivals, symbols and of course the theatricality of the Eastern Christian church rituals, vestments, and culture.

I decided to look at the ways these have re-emerged in my work over the years. I will try to do this roughly in chronological order and comment on how and why the paintings, prints, and three-dimensional pieces emerged, my feelings at the time of making, and the evolution of my belief system, where relevant. However, it may come to pass that a thematic approach may prevail, rather than a strict chronology.