fotini hamidieli
A Watchful Perception
talks to JP Delaney

An internet search results in many examples of her paintings, drawings, prints, past interviews, and comments demonstrating the increasingly international popularity of Fotini Hamidieli's iconic portrayals of women that inhabit a calm and deeply expressive world bounded by sentiment, nature, and memory.
ArtProcess would like to add to this store of material on Fotini with a discussion touching on the motivations and explorations that inspire her artistic journey.

In a comment [LINK], you vividly described the trauma of emigration to North America as a young adolescent with very little understanding of the spoken language, and the consequent discovery of your art as a means of communication that presumably allowed you gain the acceptance of your new-found acquaintances.
Do you think that this youthful harrowing experience was determinant in you becoming an artist, and to your mind, does art itself require upheaval in order to be realized?

As a child in Greece I always drew and had gone to art classes outside of school,this was between the age of 8_10. When we left Greece I was 12 and felt like I was uprooted violently and then faced a reality that was very strange .My english was non existent .At the school art class I had great help from my teacher and gradually through this class I started to feel more confident and this made communication easier. As a teacher I confronted the exact same situation with children who came from near by countries and tried to adjust to their new environment , they excelled in art , they found satisfaction in their artwork and became more confident

I am grateful for this experience which was a shock but pushed me towards art. Returning to Greece I again faced a similar situation as again I found myself in a strange environment.And again difficult situations in my life were the cause which in a way directed me .Yes I believe that strong experiences energize or in our need to understand and process them we do this through our work , through art and as a consequence elements of these experiences appear in our work.

You gained your Fine Art degree at RISD [LINK] a very well regarded US art school. Usually this would be considered the first step towards a career as a professional artist in the States. When, and why, did you decide instead to return to live in Greece?

There was this great greek poet who had one of the most important galleries in Thessaloniki,I showed my work there. He was always concerned about this battle that he saw in me between life and art and he was concerned that life was taking over. After graduating from RISD I returned to Greece because I fell in love and nothing else mattered.I married this man a little later .Life took over many times but my need to create art resisted strongly and somehow I believe that I managed to balance them out most of the time. I wanted both. When I refer to" life " in Greece I mean a family in a very traditional way along with a full time job as an art teacher.

I'm sure you get asked this a lot: You paint an enigmatic and thoughtful world that appears to be exclusively feminine, so why is there no room for the male in your artwork? I don't recall ever seeing a man or boy in your paintings. Is this omission a conscious decision, and does the question (implying that we men feel left out) irk you in any way?

Up until 1993 I mostly painted landscapes, still lives , interiors with figures .Until this time I think my work was mainly a study of the world .I worked from life and the figure was my chance to study it. My sister was my model and then after a long illness during which I refused to work at all with the human figure , she died. It was then that the female figure became prominent in my work ,it was a way for me to keep her present in some way. Later after establishing very close ties with other women , more ideas concerning the female existence became prominent subjects.
There are three great men in my life , my husband and two sons and the figures of children , sometimes of vaguely rendered men appear.
What may irk me is the overpowering presence of the work of men in museums, galleries , generally in the art world , is! Of course this is well known and I am not saying anything new.

I am sorry for the loss of your sister, Fotini. The depth of feeling in many of your works is a fine tribute to her memory.
May I ask you about what you refer to as
the female existence What do you mean by that, and how does it differ from existence in general?

(by the way, even if you are not saying something new, there's no harm in repeating the fact that works of male artists get too much prominence, and the majority power held by male figures in the world of art can be viewed as unfair)

The way women think, react and feel I think is somewhat different than that of men.It often seems like women have a lot more to deal with as it is finally up to the female to hold things together. Home, children , jobs.At least this is my experience or maybe I am old fashioned and that is how I perceive things.

Might that separation also apply to making art i.e. does your perception tell you that female artists think, react, and feel differently than male artists, and if so, to your mind, how are these differences manifested?

Well I don't think that the process of making art differs although it may sound like a contradiction to what I said before .Art is one as it should be. When I look at art , I am not concerned or interested if a man or a woman has made it but I look at what they have done.
How an artist thinks about life does not change the way he/she makes art but it can affect the approach to the subject matter. For example a female artist may be more concerned on the subject of feminism like Paula Rego is, but it is the way she does it, the way she handles the paint, color , space etc that makes her work so powerful.
We see that Bertha Morrisot often depicts scenes of great tendernes between mothers and children , images she may have longed for as she did not have children herself but we also see how lovingly Picasso draws his son.

On another website [LINK] you say the female form for you serves to explore various aspects of the female psyche. I was surprised to read that your influences include Cézanne, Matisse, and American Expressionism which struck me as examples of mountain-high, river-deep machismo in art history, and very different from the delicate feminine intimacy of your works. Can you describe the ways in which they impacted upon your development as a painter?

I learnt from them! Cezanne got a great range of tonalities and hues from mixing opposites. I love his red_green greys. His brush strokes which left the canvas showing through.Also from his series of Mt.Saint Victoir I was impressed with his insistance of the subject, how he studied it and the variety of results he came up with.
Matisse's bold, flat , color surfaces ,his brush strokes which seem random and so effortless, his interiors with the distorted perspective ,the floors and tables tipped up and forward intrigued me.
When I was in college American Expressionism was the big thing so we looked at this style even more so that we could see it in the museums and not only in books. I loved the swirling power in how De Kooning laid his color, the distorted figures of his women. Arschile Gorky , Diebenkorn are artists I looked at a lot.
An artist feeds on whatever catches his attention , who knows what the workings that happen inside are and how these in turn find a way to come out.

You have said that you:
put down on paper or canvas things which I am fighting with, trying to make sense of what is happening around me However there is little sense of struggle in your works. What are the forces you battle - emotional, political, financial, or other? Can you speak a little on what you allude to, and how painting helps you prevail in the conflict?

Must struggle be so apparent? Through the creative process and simply laying down colours and lines the mind finds some sort of peace. Whatever or whenever there is emotional struggle going on, I don't believe it is necessary for it to be obviously revealed in my work, after all it is mine and it is personal .If the viewer at times finds elements to identify with or recognize that is fine .
Although I dont feel very comfortable talking about the content in my work I will tell you about the nude figure shown above with the woman bowing her head, her face hardly visible. It is part of a series of drawings and in most of them the trunk of the body is presented ,not very accurately with dark ,thick patches of lines and spots of colour. To me it was like drawing a map and it was done during a period of changes .

In another interview [LINK] you made this interesting observation:
most people cannot relate to the art part of the work. So they first approach it through sentiment and what they can understand more easily It's as if you intend to lead us, by way of our emotional response to your images, to a deeper understanding of what is the inherent value contained (the art) within the work.
I was surprised to see how you appear to discount a sentimental approach to your paintings in favour of a possibly more difficult and profound appreciation. Can you expain what you mean by the art part?

A viewer ,a music listener, a reader must be trained in looking, listening and reading stuff he/she knows little about or has not come in contact with something like that before. You cannot expect people to appreciate or even have the patience to look at something they are not familiar with. In most cases anyway. This is why art education is essential to a person's growth, children must be taught how to use certain keys in order to open some doors. Most of my colleagues at school were very reluctant at first to talk about art with me or voice an opinion further than I like it or I don't like it and they are highly educated people each in their field but not at looking or understanding art .
In class while teaching art history I stressed what is underneath the picture and the kids loved it. Teaching Renaissance art for example we looked at the geometric lines and shapes underlying and supporting the structure ,the composition .This developed in a game and the kids were all over the artworks discovering all these secret thoughts of the artists like , the directions, the weights, the rythyms .
An artwork is made up of both content and the "art part" , the aesthetics. Of course the content is fascinating when you try to get into the creator's thoughts and mind. But in order for the content to happen and be strong it is good to be aware of the aesthetic part as well because it makes your appreciation of art greater, the enjoyment more satisfying. It is as interesting to wonder about what the artist is trying to say as well as how he/she says it and education plays a very important role .

Many artists view having to teach for a living as a drudgery, yet you appear to gain satisfaction from the practice, and perhaps even feel a sense of duty for assuming that role. What is it that is compelling about teaching art, and do you have words of advice for those artists who feel weighed down by the obligations of the profession?

I never wanted to go into teaching either because I thought I would loose my way. But the reality is that it helped me economically, made my anxiety a little less and I could make choices I believed in.
The fact is that teaching gives you the opportunity to be with kids who are full of life and you can remember , relive , enjoy this carefree feeling they have. They can also suck the life out of you ! But it is so satiyisfing to see light in their eyes .
Art education in every form is absolutely necessary to help people increase their sensitivity, their creativity as there can be no civilization without Art.
Of course you get to laugh a lot and feel like a proud parent when they achieve goals .I cannot describe the feeling when I meet up with my old students or hearing a "Γεια σας Κυρία" which means Hello Mrs....!

You have a strong sense of the need for art in society. In your own practice, you've had (women) strangers come up to you and say:
You have painted me which speaks of being receptive, of understanding, and an ability for the visual expression of that which may be difficult to put in words, bordering on the mystical.
Is this shaman-like figure the role of the artist, as you see it?

Just think through man's history of the powerful impact art has made since ancient times , how it has been used to send such strong messages like the" Guernica" and so recently the "banana" by Mauricio Catellan.Everytime it has reflected the values of society with Cateĺlan's latest statement mocking the art world or even the world in general.
I don't know if like in prehistoric civilization, the artist can play the role of a shaman but an artist can help to open society's eyes or act as a mediator to express its thoughts.

There's a charming video [LINK] of you painting a large watercolour at an event before an Italian audience who go on to demonstrate their enthusiastic appreciation of the resulting piece.
I was surprised to see you work in public like that because so many of your paintings speak of solitude, introspection, and contain a silence that I was sure demanded the intimacy of your studio; and yet this was a performance.
Do you think artists should do more to leave the safety of their studios, and allow a curious public share a more direct experience of the art process?

Working in front of a public is another way to get people interested and have a more immediate experience with art. I have done this sort of presentation several times and they were all different and provoked conversations with people .So why not do it ?Many artists open for certain periods their studios anyway for the public to visit in an effort to get people involved or show their work in a different context and even attract future buyers.
I am always surprised at how fascinated people are watching an artist at work, how appreciative they are to be allowed to participate in the mystery of the creative process.
In some of these presentations I painted at the same time with other artists , it was good to see how they worked and I learnt from them .I wish we could do this in our studios , working together maybe on one piece , react to each others' choices just to see what happens , to let ourselves work freely , to feed off each other.
As for the video you refer to , that event took place in Fabriano , in Italy where every year this large watercolor exhibition takes place and very accomplised watercolour painters from all over the world come to show and work .I was invited by Anna Massinissa the curator of the exhibition to do this demostration and must admit that I was overwhelmed by the number of artists present.
Many years ago after my children were born I realized that the idea of working in the quiet and solitude of a private space it would just be a utopian dream. So if I wanted to continue to make art I had to make the compromise to work anywhere and under any conditions.

Knowing your reticence to discuss individual works, I'll ask instead about the visual device of birds, or a bird, that accompanies the female figure in many of your images. Art history presents a broad spectrum of avian references, from representing absolute political power on one end, to reflecting the soul of the individual on the other. Is there a specific symbolism that you associate, or an emotion that you wish to evoke, with the presence of birds in your paintings?

The form, the shape of birds is what I find interesting, the way they move in short jerks, the trembling of their hearts when you hold them in your hands but the jerking of their heads , the pecking of their beaks is kind of scary.Although I never depict them in flight , I like the sound of their fluttering wings and in early spring when it is quiet in the garden and you can't see them I like listening to them sing so by using images of birds in a way it is a connection to nature , a representation of it.Sometimes they are in dialogue with the figure and often they are aggressive and threatening , their beak ready to strike. So they are companions , sometimes waiting to be fed , or even perhaps they are the souls of the figures.

You made a couple of works on paper [LINK] entitled "Pain" but didn't elaborate further, other than to mention the technique used.
I was reminded of Hillel Kagan's work [LINK] that dealt with a similar subject.
Repeating the same question I had put to him, and presuming a personal significance of the title, did making the painting help in any way with overcoming the suggested distress of that time?

I actually cannot remember the feeling right now but having given this title it must have expressed something that I felt. It is difficult for me to give titles to my works as the titles reflect thoughts and feelings depicted.
When I work feelings are put aside , my mind must be clear so I can make the decisions needed but also to enjoy the process. But sentiments can trigger thoughts and ideas interesting enough to be explored .

Were the Genie of Art to grant you a wish concerning the development of your art or your art practice in the next year or two, what do you think you might ask for?

I just want to be able to continue working and discovering. So far I have been lucky enough to have had very good collaborations with galleries and I would want this to go on and perhaps start some new ones. There are two poetry books I have done work for so I am anxious to see them published. I would like new things to happen , new opportunities to explore . Kind

Well Fotini that's such a modest request I'm sure you will achieve it even without a Genie's assistance.
And so in conclusion, I'd like to thank you for your kind participation in this interview, and wish you many continued successes in the coming years for your work and career.

Thank you so much!!!It has been a pleasure and a challenge sometimes to answer such interesting questions.


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