Elena Papanikolakis

  • Words. Alexandra English

Art | September 2 2016

Imagine a life in bohemian Paris where you have nothing to do but paint and nowhere to be but The Louvre. You wander barefoot through your light-filled, white-walled studio with a beret atop your head and a cravat around your neck, a croissant in one hand and a paintbrush in the other. You feel a breeze come through the open window and watch as it rustles the bouquet of wildflowers you picked that morning. You spend your evenings drinking coffee (because why not) and writing in your journal – long, heart-felt letters about how great it is to live in bohemian Paris with nothing to do but paint and nowhere to be but The Louvre.

Come April next year, that fantasy will be Elena Papanikolakis’ reality thanks to the Eva Breuer Travelling Art Scholarship. The award commemorates one of Australia’s most prolific art dealers and is specifically designed to support young female artists under the age of 35. The recipient is provided with the opportunity to live, travel, study, and create art in Paris for a three-month period – an experience which would surely be over too soon, but stay with her forever. 


As told to Alexandra English:

I don’t think art practices should be geared solely towards art prizes, but in saying that, they can be a wonderful boost. We face a lot of rejection and financial hardship, so a prize, grant or residency can be an amazing opportunity to inject time, funds or experiences into an artists’ practice. The Eva Breuer Travelling Art Scholarship provides an incredible opportunity to a demographic that can be unrepresented and overlooked in the arts (and in general). An opportunity like this is really important for providing a platform to a variety of voices.

My proposal outlined my interest in exploring my cultural heritage by researching Greek artefacts in the Lourve, and exploring how this feeds into the development of new work in the studio. I’ll be trying to squeeze in as many museums and galleries as possible, and I look forward to discovering whatever additional, unexpected influences are waiting for me.

At the moment [my practice] swings between using found and personal material, and I felt that exploring my cultural identity was important to the development of my practice. For a long time, my own cultural heritage has kind of been the elephant in the room, so to speak. I am interested to gauge my response when confronted with ancient objects that are essentially markers of a long cultural history that I am linked to, and exploring what this means: will there be a sense of recognition or understanding? Or will these things feel quite foreign? I look forward to finding out.

My work involves painting and collage, and sometimes text and photography. It sits somewhere between figuration and abstraction, in that it sometimes links to reality, even if the link is quite ambiguous. My current work usually involves pairings of found material like images I’ve cut out from magazines, or something I’ve read alongside moments related to me personally. Generally speaking, I’m interested in exploring information and meaning in my work.

I’m interested in making sense of imagery from disparate sources and I think this usually means searching for a point of unity. Having said this, it’s not only about finding harmony, but also looking for and allowing for a certain level of dissonance. It’s not something that just happens, I kind of have to push things around and look for it.

What I am trying to get at here, and I do find it difficult to articulate, is that in bringing together disparate materials and multiple layers of information (whether it’s a picture I’ve cut out from somewhere, or a snippet from my own experience, or maybe even just considering the possibilities or potential of something), I find these things naturally start posing questions, such as what is mine? What is yours? What is ours? What is real? Does the meaning or value of something remain, even if it’s recontextualised?

What happens when the function of something is disestablished, for example, if three-dimensional space is squashed flat, or if words don’t communicate as they should? I am not so much trying to deliberately capture these things or qualities in each work, but I think that these questions or themes come to the forefront in my work generally, because of how I approach materials and the way I think about things.

It’s quite a lengthy and time-consuming process, because I don’t plan my works before hand, so there are limitless potential outcomes. The best way I can describe it is that rather than having steps that I follow, I tend to start works by creating new challenges for myself that build off previous work- so there is usually the introduction of a new element. Sometimes I’ll begin with a collage, other times it will be a pattern, or a word or phrase. From there, I essentially look for opportunities in the work to create interesting compositions while making sense of a variety of unrelated material, and conveying my ideas.

I spend a lot of time on my titles and I consider them to be a really important part of my work. I suppose I approach language in a similar manner to how I approach interpreting visual elements like forms, in that my use of it can be quite coded and ambiguous, and essentially abstract. My titles often link to overarching concepts that I am referencing in my work, and can have multiple meanings, personal significance, or appear seemingly nonsensical. I am almost always alluding to or hinting at ideas, processes of making, and elements that have affected the work.

I have four days a week in the studio, and the other three are at my day job. My day job is uneventful, but a typical studio day involves me heading to the studio as early as possible. Once I’m there it’s a combination of painting, collaging, scanning, reading, checking emails, writing applications and lots of looking at and considering what I am doing. If I’m in major deadline territory I tend to stream podcasts, music and TV shows as a kind of narrative white noise that keeps me in a space between focused and distracted. Also at the moment I’m lucky to be at Parramatta Artist Studios so a nice part of the day is chatting to whoever is around at lunchtime.

Working hard is really important, as is making connections and engaging with the practices of your peers. I think it’s worthwhile doing a lot of research, so that you can kind of plot out your trajectory, and of course, apply for lots of things! If you are a decent human being/or at least professional, it will make you easier to work with. But you should also be yourself, unapologetically.

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