By Méri Charitonidi
Stefanos Rokos is a contemporary artist with a wide spectrum of activity, awards, scholarships, collaborations and exhibitions. Towards this creative life and career, his background was an evident influence upon his art and studies. Brought up by a family of artists Rokos grew up to become an acknowledged painter, counting dozens of solo and group exhibitions in Greece and abroad. In his various interviews he oftentimes mentions that music is an indispensable ingredient of his artistic production.
“Stefanos Rokos: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds” No More Shall We Part | 14 paintings 17 years later” is curated by Stavros Kavalaris at the Benaki Museum / Pireos 138. A triptych, two silkscreens and a fine broadery handcrafted by Antiope Pantazi - a fundamental piece exposed in the prominent spot of the central aisle depicting a faithful transfer of the painting "And no more shall we part" - are exhibited as well.
The exhibition concludes with a short video documenting the story of this unique ideation, working procedure and partnership between the two artists.
Nick Cave: It was extraordinary to stand in the studio and see the paintings for real – the grandeur of them, with all their congested details and terrifying blank spaces. I feel connected to the essence of them. I feel they are very close to the way I write lyrics – intense bursts of memory, ecstatic detail, sudden erotics, esoteric imagery; the forging of frozen narratives that hover about like dreams, haunted and strange and life-affirming.
On your visit it is highly likely that Stefanos Rokos will be around, always in the mood for a friendly chat. His tone of voice, gestures and calmness reveal a person who is highly cultivated, grounded and appreciating. His paintings reveal fragments of a singular universe existing inside his head, open to diverse interpretations according to each and everyone's stimuli. Rokos’ art is formed by an unusual narrative, characterised by strong storytelling via a distinctive craft. A fascinating factor of his work is that, when revisiting a painting, it seems like observing it for the first time, due to their mixed and complex iconography.
FU: Can music be drawn?
SR: Scientifically speaking, I could not really say how something like that could possibly happen. I am no expert; though, if I am not mistaken, there is quite a number of interesting examples on how technology can be applied in order to formulate images out of sound.
For instance, artists and musicians amongst which Kandinsky and the Fluxus community have specifically focused on approaching this subject in the past. Now in my case… I am primarily driven by emotion: To me, it’s enough that my art is conceived within an essence of musicality; even for the paintings that have no connection to an immediate musical reference - as I neither had any musical specialisation nor learned how to play any instruments.
I am mostly intrigued by the dialectic relationship between an album’s cover and its songs; on how these two can directly identify without having any clear association between them - just like Andy Warhol’s banana to the Velvet Underground & Nico album. I have found that I am instinctively inspired by the melodies, the noises and the lyrics, that I somehow, in my own way, visualise according to what I listen to and how that feels. Music provides me with the illusion that the image I paint is acoustic; that it might be some song I would probably compose if I were to be a musician, having in mind how I would paint it if I were to be a painter.
FU: “No more shall we part”. The one and only thing you would never part from apart from your art.
SR: Some people in my life, 2 or three vinyls and the psychotherapy sessions.
FU: Which piece of the exhibition you cherish the most and why?
SR: “Bless His Ever Loving Heart” - one of the two b-sides of the album - which is a song I mainly focused on; I believe it embraces the whole meaning of the album through its concise lyrics and simple melody. Hearing it for the first time was a breakthrough to me, since it was very special and yet hard to find. From the very beginning of the project, I had decided to work on it towards the end, even though throughout the entire creative process I would not “paint the songs” on the original order as listed in the album.
This piece has another particularity along with the other b-side, “Grief Came Riding”: they both have served as my main preparatory paper-charts I somewhat used as a pallet for the preceded pieces. Therefore, on the opposite side of the paintings lie the colours within the tests and the dirt of the 12 other works of this exhibition - which is actually apparent on their surrounding colourful frame-scheme.
Furthermore, the idea for the large triptych, the cover page and the silkscreen version of the book’s limited edition, was generated by the motif of people closing their eyes. “Bless His Ever Loving Heart” explains my attitude towards Faith and God. To me, the God to whom those people pray and hope, by shutting their eyes to misery and despair, is no other than the starry night sky. Though, this sky also seems fragile and damaged, like some piece of paper held by paper-tape; a human construction that was made in order to provide solutions and hope to the mortals’ eternal unresolved problems and questions.
FU: Your work seems personal and emotional. What stimulates you the most in your everyday life and what is the feeling that underlines your days?
SR: All of which comes out of an immense inner torturous or actual promenade is the stimuli that leads me towards the creation of my paintings. «I thought I'd take a walk today | It's a mistake I sometimes make». My days are always-mostly full of colours, sensitive and hard lines, and big dark forms.
FU: If not a painter … ?
SR: … then definitely an astronaut! It had always been my second choice.
Stefanos Rokos has been working on this project since 2015, solely with the goal of forming a collection that would convey his intimate visualisation on the album’s songs. The result is an impressive interdisciplinary dialogue of creators, where each painting represents a song and -consequently- vice versa.
Additionally, a luxurious book edition of 1.200 copies, of which 300 are numbered collectibles of different cover and the original silkscreen of "Bless his ever loving heart", are available too. Last but not least, the exhibition was celebrated with a concert of live performances by Jim Sclavunos, Stef Kamil Carlens, Eleanor Friedberger, Illegal Operation and The Callas, on the 9/5 at the Benaki Museum.
Ph: Courtesy of the artist
Stefanos Rokos: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' No More Shall We Part
14 paintings 17 years later || The exhibition is extended until May 26th.
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