Citing a wide range of inspiration for her works, from poetry to philosophy, 36 year old artist Sophia Stevi’s playful paintings are full of energy and turn the often dry space of the gallery into a dream-like world. She fills the gallery space with paintings and drawings as well as installations of hand made cushions and books inviting the audience to participate in her creations.
Sometimes Stevi describes anatomical features blown up to abstraction, other times the things depicted are unidentifiable. These marks become motifs that are repeated across the room creating a constant conversation between the works leaving nothing in isolation. This generates the lively feeling of Stevi’s work and creates the bewildering impression of a dream as we float between the faded pinks and pops of orange into the dark black Japanese inks.
Sofia Stevi, turning forty winks into a decade, 2017-2018, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead UK. All images courtesy of The Breeder Gallery
© Colin Davidson
The last 12 months have been busy for Stevi, having had two solo shows, one solo show at The Breeder Gallery in Athens and her first solo museum show at the BALTIC in the UK. After graduating from Central Saint Martins, her bright colourful paintings brought her a lot of interest and she went on to exhibit internationally from Austria, Switzerland, Cyprus and North America. Stevi continues to keep up the momentum as she speaks to us from her artist residency in Lisbon:
Tell us a bit about your experience exhibiting at the BALTIC?
I am very familiar with the UK so it was a really easy going experience for me. I have the fondest memories from all the people that I met and worked with during this period, everything was very well organised and I worked very closely with Emma Dean, the curator. I find the North of England fascinating, I was lucky to do a solo day-trip to the seaside on a sunny but freezing day. Wondering alone in the castle with the roaring waves underneath, coming out of a ruined temple to realise it is snowing – what a treat to the senses! I am the daughter of a seaman, I have travelled with merchants ships around the world together with my father and every time I am close to the ocean and able to see cargo ships I feel a sense of belonging. Even right now I’m writing this from Lisbon and through my window I can see the Atlantic and the ships, perhaps this is an invisible thread that connects everything through me.
Sofia Stevi, mr nose’s nose, 2017, ink and acrylic on canvas, 120×100 cm
clockwise from top left: a burning sensation/ proud male figure / history is not kind / don’t go (before i go first) / floating tits / athens weather report / my non purity as a white flag / 2016, Japanese ink, gouach and acrylics on untreated cotton, enamel on plaster, dimensions variable, each 150×100 cm
Sofia Stevi, turning forty winks into a decade, 2017, ink and acrylics on cotton fabric, 300×700 cm
Sofia Stevi, turning forty winks into a decade, 2017-2018, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead UK
What was your main inspiration behind the show?
The show was called “turning forty winks into a decade”, it is an expression that explains precisely the feeling of a dream in only six words. There were paintings and objects and books about dreams and dreamers – not so much as a way of explaining but more so as a way of putting things down, get everything out, a personal psychoanalysis. Dreams after all are reflections of life and life is also a collection of events. The event and the possibility are very important to me structurally. Sensuality is also a “language” that is somewhere between the event and the dream. It is also a mechanism of peace as much as it could be a mechanism of violence.
What is your creative process?
Being in a state of work is important. That can include many options (and not just studio time). Reading and talking and sharing feelings too. Also learning how to be idle, I feel that can also be part of it.
You work across a large range of media including painting, drawing and sculpture. What are your favourite materials to create with?
I always feel insecure if I don’t have a full bottle of ink in my studio and one at home, as well as paper. Drawing is important because I can quickly capture notes and ideas.
Is your work political or personal? Or both?
I think the act of making something and opening it to interpretation is political by default.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
From the moment I stopped being too scared.
How is your project space Fokidos doing? Could you tell us a bit about some recent activities you have there?
I’m surprised to think about it but Fokidos is already five years old. We have done a lot of different things there. I will never forget the magical reading by one of my favourite Poets, CAConrad, all thanks to the curator Maya Tounta, as part of Otobong Nkanga’s public program for Documenta 14. To run a project space as an artist means to create space for chance. Fokidos has recently been relocated from my apartment to one of my studio rooms. From now and until the end of the month we are present a painting exhibition of my good friend and painter Amalia Vekri. It is called “a touch of magic in this world obsessed with science” and deals with the ideal of youth from a female viewpoint.
Have you got any events in the near future?
Right now I am in Lisbon, participating in a residency called Z.U.T. that deals with Utopian ideas. In terms of Fokidos, it is very much a punk project based on chance and goodwill. I would like it to stay this way.
Sofia Stevi, are we ever really in control?, 2017, ink and acrylics on cotton fabric, 300×350 cm
Sofia Stevi, idols, 2017, ink and acrylic on untreated cotton, 300×600 cm