Irini Karayannopoulou is a world known impostor, poses as a physician and sells great quantities of her elixir of youth; in the mid eighties she was imprisoned for a share in the affaire of the Diamond Necklace. Afterwards, she had a vision in which she was told to sing of the Creation. Professor of Economics in Stockholm she is an expert of currency problems and attended the International Conference at Geneva in 1922. She captured Babylon, united the Medes and Persians and made Susa her capital. Irini Karayannopoulou took spiritual charge of the leper settlement at Honolulu in 1873. Queen from birth, she is the opponent of Lincoln in the question of the extension of slavery and writes a great deal; many volumes of her writings have been published. As well as, she compiled The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland which was one of the sources for Shakespeare. After a period of study in Paris she became a doctor but five years later gave up the profession to become an artist; among her many, beautiful works are The Eros Fountain in Piccadily, the Kiss of Victory and the statue of the Indian Ocean. Personal name of the central figure of Christianity, she was born in the stable of an inn – this is only half of the biography posted on her website by the versatile Greek artist. He often deprives his characters in paintings, collages and illustrations so that they tell their own story differently. Does she see herself in them?
Why is it fun to be somebody else?
We are restricted into being one human being at a time, which is ok but I would really like to see what it is like to be a bird or a ballet dancer, a mathematician or an astronaut. If I were to redesign the universe I would enable us to move across different bodies and pass through different realities and dimensions. We would be able to fly and travel through time. I would also cancel death. Life would be so fine.
Do you remember the first fictional personality you invented? How old were you then?
I never had imaginary friends. Instead, over the years I developed a personal art situation inside my head, in order to skip real life and start living the way I wanted to live. I am a citizen of a parallel world of painting, drawing, collage, animation, music, filmmaking, editions, collaborations. There, everything resists gravity and fear. It’s impossible to feel dull and hopeless and, it’s the closest I’ve experienced to freedom. It’s a great escape, an oasis, really. Once I am done with everyday tasks I simply go there and indulge into the activities I cherish the most. I never really invented anything other than that.
You seem to have multiple personalities in art, is your real life identity also fluid?
As a person I inevitably evolve, the way I perceive the world is everchanging. Identity construction is an open-ended process. Sticking perpetually to a continuous and persistent self is almost blasphemous. I die to discover new places inside and outside of me.
Actually you don’t invent all those personalities, you rather seem to be like a pirate who take over them. What makes you want to take over some person?
It’s a viciously enjoyable process. I choose my victims intuitively. They attract me, one way or another, via their qualities or their flaws. All of them have a sparkle, a certain magnetism. Something beyond description. But my secret is that I gradually become these people as I paint over their skin. I relive their histories, I genuinely feel what it’ like to be them. An alchemic piracy in a raw, painterly way.
Which ones from them was the most fascinating for you. What was the longest time you spent in role of somebody else?
I have painted over the portraits of Grace Kelly, Aristotle Onassis, YSL, Jane Fonda, the inventor of the Bloody Mary cocktail…it’s hard to choose one personality out of the list. They all have special powers. I like to spend time with them, rephrase them, erase them, release them. It’s like a family, they all belong to my intimate playground.
You have deep fascination for women’s magazines. They are like material, canvas, base for your creation, your paintings. So when you skim through magazines you became a model or an actress who you see on the picture? Is it a starting point of your art?
I remain a painter, no matter how hard I pretend to be every woman. I am interested in revealing the inner lives of these characters, as if they had a will of their own. As my creative journey unfolds, starting points may vary. My impulse may include both high and low culture, from art history to pornography and from glamorous to drag or to the grotesque. What I hope for is that my work remains ambiguous, open to interpretations.
But you usually change their faces – putting a white patch/masks on the faces of beautiful women, models, celebrities. This intervention is subversive – and breaks the system of beauty and commerce. What is your intention here? Are you a hacker or a saviour?
Let’s say that I am both attracted and repulsed by these characters and what they represent. It is a rather complex dynamic. Obscure, ethereal, ghostly reflections of women, advertise luxury goods only to disappear fast after that. Sometimes it feels like a kind of rescue, but I intentionally refrain from making this my priority.
In one series of your art you painted over the faces of Warhol, Dali, Picasso, Mapplethorpe – the fathers of modern art. You put your face instead their – what this act mean to you?
I started working on this series in 2010. Replacing the faces of well known male artists with my own, provided me with the sweet illusion of re-writing certain chapters of art history. I repainted Giacometti’s face, I reshaped Warhol’s features, I revisited H. Matisse and a few others, in honour of the female artists who never got the exposure and admiration they deserved. These repainted images were actually the first cases of reappropriation in my work.
At once you take away their identity, but you also give them a new life, liberating them from their roles they used to play in society like actors in the no theatre in japan, like storefront in shop during the renovation – white face in your paintings is very meaningful. Is that an act of vandalism or liberation?
One may consider my work as a reaction against the pressure imposed to our bodies by the beauty industry. Or, a response to the pressure imposed to women by society. A friend often says that I address the public subconscious by revisiting images we all have seen somewhere, at one point. I guess it depends on the perspective. Injecting new life on an image is tempting, when I look at an interesting photograph, it’s like a song of the Sirens. I instantly imagine various possible interventions and as a visual hedonist I like to do the work and interpret it later. I like the storefront during renovation metaphor, where everything is covered up but you just know that something else is going on behind.
Has anyone ever had a problem with changing his image?
Luckily none ever accused me of being offensive or disrespectful. On the contrary, some years ago I received a message from a well known photographer whose work I revisited once or twice. That person was pleased to see her image transform into something other and encouraged me significantly, it was like a metaphysical validation. Another example is my recent collaboration with french artist duo Hippolyte Hentgen. During the pandemic we have been exchanging images that we all worked on and we may even produce a new book, the fruit of this collaboration. It’s a blessing to encounter artists who open up and share so effortlessly.
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