Platon Alexis Hadjimichalis interviewed by Zinovia-Christina Liapi
Most of your compositions have nature as their basic, raw material. Is nature your only inspiration?
P.H: No artist has just a single source of inspiration. Moreover, nature is not always the basis of my work. My compositions are the result of many factors. Nature lies at the root of my inspiration, but the resulting composition is the product of different inspirations, closely tied to my history and upbringing. I see forms in nature that enable me to combine them with abstract art. I do this inspired by different artists and art movements from the 1960s and 1970s.
Do you have a favourite material in nature that you particularly love to work with, and why?
P.H: As you've noticed, I work with both flora and fauna, as well as with other organic elements. The materials are infinite, whether they originate from the sea, from the earth or from the sky. The truth is that I have a preference for sea elements. Because of the Aegean, obviously. When a detail in nature influences my brain cells, I see in my mind's eye the conversion of that image into an art piece. I madly start collecting the material and then shape it the way I want in order to create my piece. This material can be seaweed, shell, bone, skin, the feather of a bird, a butterfly or insect, a leaf, a vegetable, husks, or any other organic material.
How has the Greek public received your work compared to the public in the rest of Europe?
P.H: The Greek public, apart from friends, has not yet seen my work. Due to my parallel careers, I have not wanted to mix diplomacy and art. For this reason, I have never had an exhibition in Greece, despite offers. These two professional worlds accept each other with difficulty. There have been many diplomat writers and poets with parallel careers. Carlos Fuentes, Paul Claudel, Jean Giraudoux, Paul Morand, Saint-John Perse, Pablo Neruda, Alexis Saint-Leger, Georges Seferis, Jean-Christophe Rufin, Georges Veis, Roger Pierrefitte and so many others. But you will not find diplomat artists. On the internet you will find only one, born in 1577. I won't tell you who it is - I'll let you find out for yourself.
What is your relationship with nature today?
P.H: Always a passionate one. Every time I roam in nature, I continue to be amazed and in love with her.
Besides the clearly ecological message diffused in your work, do you have other activities or daily habits that help the environment?
P.H: Like every contemporary citizen, I try to respect the environment, something I was taught at home and which was part of my upbringing. Education is the fundamental tool for teaching new generations that respecting nature and the environment is our only way forward.
Why does your work escape the two dimensions to enter a third? Do you believe it makes it 'resonate' more?
P.H: I am not the one who determines the three-dimensional aspect of my work. It arises organically, from the nature of the selected medium. You can't determine beforehand whether an art piece will resonate or not. It either works out or it doesn't, as we say.
Your family always had ties with art. Why did you choose this particular art form?
P.H: I was quite young when I first felt the need to express myself. The environment I grew up in was so remarkable that it was hard for me as a teenager to say "I will be an artist". It wasn't easy as a child to be surrounded by the likes of Hatzikiriakos-Gikas, Morales, Tsarouchis, Mavroidis, Pappas, Kokkinidis, Molfessis, Pierrakos, Coulentianos, Axelos, Castoriadis, Kandilis and many more. I was learning or absorbing silently, but I was frightened and didn't even dare lift a pencil. So when the need to create became urgent, I chose organic compositions because that's what I was able to do. Speaking of which, I'll tell you an anecdote. In 2004 I made a composition that I called "In honour of Yannis Moralis". It was made from smoked salmon skins. I wanted to show it to the master, so I brought a big photograph of the piece along to Moralis' last exhibition at Zoumboulakis Gallery. There he said: "Show me your fish piece -it's nice, why don't you draw it?". I gave him the same answer I am giving to you now, in response to your question: Simply, because I cannot draw.
Your work is governed by an absolute or, at times, subtle geometry, like the geometry seen everywhere in nature. Have you ever considered breaking away from this geometry in your work?
P.H: I have not considered this, nor do I want to break away from the subtle geometry, as you put it. My eyes and my esthetics as a child had a rough time being immersed in architecture and archaeology... The geometry found in nature, ultimately, highlights my work. Of special interest in this respect is the fractal theory of nature. Without intending to, I construct my pieces using fractal features.
Do you believe your work can have a positive influence on a person's position on the environment?
P.H: Normally, it should. When I create a piece from shark fins and call it "I don't like soup", the reason is purely ecological. Radical ecologists might say "look at him, he's taking part in the destruction of the shark population. Or: "look at how many insects or butterflies he cleaned in order to make this piece". The truth is that I would prefer my work to have a positive ecological result. Whatever I use is already dead and comes only from the market or from what I collect during my walks.
Although you are a traveler, have made a career in the diplomatic service, and now live in Morocco, you have said "I see Greece everywhere, wherever I am in the world". We Greeks, it seems, always remain in love with this magnificent country and want to promote it constantly.
P.H: Our relationship to Greece is a passionate one. We cannot do without her. When we are far away, she attracts us even more and we notice how different and beautiful she is. Having such a beautiful nature is a divine gift. Unfortunately, we Greeks are self- destructive.
You have mentioned that you are not a fan of modern, 21st century art. Is there any expression of modern art that inspires you and gives you hope for the evolution of art in general?
P.H: Permit me to correct you. I have never said I'm not a fan of contemporary art. What I have said is that we have come to a point where there is not much evolution or advancement in art. Contemporary art is caught up in a vicious circle, from which we are unable to escape. After the revolution in art at the beginning of the twentieth century, the battle between academic realism and abstract art ended with the latter as winner. Not only because of Dadaism and Duchamp, that heralded the reign of conceptual art. I believe that we've gotten stuck on what we call contemporary art due to the excessive interference of the market in art, with an establishment today that does not allow other forms of creativity to thrive and develop into something new. Already in 1910, Kandinsky wrote that the integration of the realistic and the abstract would create something new - which, as a matter of fact, he called divine. I maintain this as well. We need change in order to come out of this creative deadlock.
When can we expect a future exhibition in Greece?
P.H: I hope that the moment I retire someone will want to exhibit my work in Greece as well.