Achilleas Christidis

Interview: Avgi Kalogianni | Photo: Ioanna Fysilani

I could easily be a painter of large surfaces

Achilleas Christidis started his career as a painter with an exhibition at the “Medusa” Art gallery of Maria Demetriades. He lived the Paros of the 80’s, adored the cuisine of Arghiro Barbarighou and this year he is coming to Antiparos for his third exhibition at the “anti” gallery of Mary Chatzaki on 8/6-3/7.

You were born in Piraeus, studied set design and music but you paint and live in Athens.
In the old days Piraeus was very beautiful. Now, it’s becoming beautiful again, its urban features will totally change, it’ll have a metro link, the tram… People are more cheerful, unaffected by the gloom of central Athens, but I can’t go back. I left when I was 25, the time when Piraeus was destroyed, the big coffee houses closed, everything closed down.

However, your first exhibition was at Piraeus.
Yes, at the Town Hall when I was 18. I was very wild then, we made some constructions, we played music as well. In the end the councillors shut us down, although we had paid rent for the hall. It was a small scandal!

So, you have been painting from an early age.
I wasn’t what you’d call a special talent. I had talent but I didn’t practice much and I wanted to study music. At that period, I dedicated myself to classical music and stopped painting. But after 4-5 years I gave up music because I realized that I’d end up playing at the bouzouki clubs. I had an idea about some small paintings and I worked on them. I also found a gallery in Athens, after much effort of course, because no one came to Piraeus.
It was the “Medusa” gallery of Maria Demetriades, I had been besieging her for six months to persuade her to come down to Piraeus. Finally, through a coincidence and thanks to a friend from Paros, Nikos Tziotis, she came to Piraeus and saw my paintings. She liked them and this was the beginning of my course in painting. I’ve had two exhibitions at “Medusa”, which then was a very serious place.
At that decade “Medusa” was tops, Maria was young, forceful, full of energy, everybody wanted to go there. Later, she changed somewhat and she managed things from Lefkes Paros. She had set up an internet system, she could even see who entered the gallery! Unfortunately, Maria died very young. This girl was unfortunate.

When did set design enter the scene?
Set design was actually an alibi for deferring military service.
As I developed a comfortable relation with the owners of the School they gave me the keys and I went there and studied music. I got a degree in set design simply because it was easy for me and I liked it. I even gave drawing lessons to my fellow students! Set design gripped me…
As soon as I read a play I could visualize it at once. It was an ability I lost later. I tried to start a career in set design, but I got disappointed, too much drudgery. So, I told myself that when I became a known painter I’d act like Tsarouhis. I’d have my assistants and I’d tell them “paint this green, paint that red”. Well, I can’t see that coming. I no longer like reading plays. The text blocks me, I have to work on the lines and I don’t like it.
Contemporary visual artists frequently use alternative forms of expression, while fewer and fewer young artists do painting in the literal sense. Could this be the end of painting?
This happens because everybody has the tendency to shy away from what is difficult, the natural course is towards what is easier, provided that the economic conditions allow this. I don’t know, history will tell us.
It surely is an art which demands craftsmanship and continuous work. You can’t do something now and then return to it after a year. You have to be there, with your small paintbrush, with your hands ready, relaxed and skilful. Anyone who does this, is called a painter, he does painting. The other thing is easy. I don’t snub it, but it’s easier. Painting requires dedication.

What inspires your painting?
I can’t know this either. Inspiration may meet you at a street corner. Anything might play a role. You might not even leave your room and have inspiration come to meet you. In your paintings there is body in your colour and strength in the lines.

What has led you to this technique?
First of all, this is a judgment made by the others. For me it’s just the tempo I got used to work with. I think that it’s because I was very wild, I had too much energy. The other thing restricted me, I could never be a miniaturist. But I could easily be a painter of large surfaces. I work with paste and a spatula. I started with a brush but in the end what I’ve done is with a spatula.

What’s your relation to Antiparos. Do you work on the island?
I work in Athens but I’m also a photographer, I take photos and I have a full picture of the island. I know the island and have many pictures to work with. I’ve painted many landscapes of Paros and Antiparos.
I started going to Paros when I was 20. I stayed for five years, working in the summers. I didn’t use to go to Antiparos then, Paros was enough. Antiparos is now like the Paros of the past. It has joy. It’s a bit small, but when you are a youngster it’s okay. The central street, the camping, the disco, they are bristling with life. It’s a nice place.
In Paros there was an amazing place at Ambela, owned by Arghiro (Barbarighou) and her husband. The reason I stopped going to Paros was that Arghiro closed it.
I used to go there for the past ten years. Well, what do you love in an island? The beach you go to, the cafe you will have your coffee and mainly where and what you eat. You must have a hangout to eat well. If you find such a place you get attached to it. That’s what Arghiro offered. She had her own vegetable garden. I used to go at noon and Nikos had fished two scorpion fish… a real piece of art! Omelettes with zucchini from her garden, they were masterpieces.

This summer we’ll see your third individual exhibition at the “anti” gallery at Antiparos. What is its central concept?
Mainly drawings of Paros, Antiparos and possibly Santorini. It’ll be nice, take my word for it!
I like this gallery very much, we have a perfect understanding with May Chatzaki. She is a good person and this is what I’m looking for. I trust her and it’s a pleasure to have an exhibition there and stay at Antiparos for some time. Having lunch with Mary, drinking beer and watching the girls pass by… That’s fine with me.

Summer 2019