Painter Emi Avora, known for her pluralistic colorful compositions that mix Greek and Asian elements, transfers her worlds onto clay.

Words/Interview: Elena Aya Bundurakis 

Plaque from the series Casual Relics / An Aroma of Myth, 2023

Greek painter Emi Avora, who lives and works in Singapore, spent a month in the mountainous village of Porta, on the island of Corfu as a guest artist of REON's Residency Program. During her stay, Emi experimented with the medium of clay inspired by images and personal memories emerging from greek mythology, nature and the island life.
In Avora's colorful paintings, disparate elements meet and converse with each other, initially giving the impression of something familiar and joyous, but while diving further into Avora's fantasy world, you fail to fully grasp their identity. A mix of elements from different cultures, modern and ancient, natural or banal. The ceramic works that resulted from Emi's residency seem as if they have been extracted from her dreamy paintings to enter the tangible reality.

Ceramic objects from the series Casual Relics / An Aroma of Myth, 2023

Hi Emi! How would you describe your work and your life during this period, in 3 words?
Instead of 3 words, I would say 3 pairs of contrasts describe my current work and life better:
Tension - Calmness
Chaos - Introspection
Imagination - Observation

Looking at your works, we dive into worlds with a continuous fusion of asian and greek elements. Shiny lobsters, voluminous tropical leaves, splashy pitayas, Cycladic figures, diverse chairs, plates and utensils. Observing your works, it seems as if new elements are gradually added to your personal vocabulary, which later become parts of your compositions. How did these elements come about and what were those new elements that you incorporated during your stay in Porta (the village where REON is based)?
Indeed my visual vocabulary grows and changes over time and depends on my surroundings, what I observe, but also what I remember or research: it is an organic process. The period at REON was particularly productive, not specifically in quantity but in patterns and elements that enriched my vocabulary. A group of elements taken from the two museums of Corfu that I visited again after years (Museum of Asian Art & Archaeological Museum) but also from the natural wealth that surrounds REON: insects and plants more specifically.

Α summer banquet, 120x100 cm., 2023

How did you transition from dark baroque paintings with strong architectural elements, to colorful motley compositions that connect concepts such as exoticism, motherhood, everyday life and domesticated nature? Would you like to share with us when this transition happened and how it relates to your personal story?
Despite the fact that I usually work organically and without a very specific plan (my work evolves somewhat autonomously, based on the things that influence me), I would say that there were two big events that led to this change: pregnancy and motherhood. I had to change the materials I was using, and also my rythm slowed down naturally as I was spending time with the babies - it gave me a break to think again. I spent much more time at home, and observing my surroundings became more important to me than the research I had done up until then.
The other event was moving from London to Singapore. Very different environment, different nature, different light, different stimuli. Obviously this change played a big role. The vocabulary, as well as the color range changed. Despite all the changes I would say that there are still basic similarities: the creation of space, the use of light and the way of writing remain close to my earlier work.

It seems that your father, who is a painter himself, had a significant influence on your decision to become an artist. How is your relationship today, you being an artist with your own path? What was the attitude of your own environment in your decision to follow this profession, growing up in a purely greek environment?
Painting and art was part of my family because of my father, it was something natural that was around me so I didn't have to discover it. I really didn't realize that this is quite rare, especially in Greece where the arts are not particularly promoted in education. The attitude of my environment was very positive, it helped and supported me and still supports me, but there was always a critical eye that raised questions. I think both are important. Of course, the most important thing is to have someone in the familiar environment who understands the need for creation!

What has been your relationship with ceramics and clay so far? What do you think your stay at REON gave you?
My practice is mainly painting. But I've always loved the idea of pottery and clay, its history and its plastic potential - I admire how these ancient techniques can still be used today. I did some classes every now and then to learn some basic things. The truth is that it takes a lot of technical knowledge and time - also a lot of equipment. The period at REON gave me space to discover a way to integrate ceramics with my painting practice and I am very excited about it.

Ceramic objects from the series Casual Relics / An Aroma of Myth, 2023

Being a mother of young children, I suppose that the studio can be a very important part of your work. What does the ideal studio look like for you? What do you always have with you while you work?
Being a mother of little ones makes things less romantic and more practical. I would say that the most important element is the time and not so much the space where I make my work. I'm lucky enough to have a fairly large studio which I absolutely love, but I could also work at the kitchen table if I needed to. All I need is paints, brushes and a clear mind.

Could you describe to us the process of creating a new project? Did you see any significant difference in the way you operate, working with the medium of clay compared to that of painting?
In painting I always start quite abstractly, with colors, and without any very specific pattern. The composition is built organically, based on images or drawings I already have, bringing new elements into juxtaposition and thus creating a dreamlike space.
I worked in a similar way with the clay as well, building the base organically and incorporating patterns that hugged or changed the base. Of course, clay does not have the illusionistic element that exists in painting, I would say that the works become more symbolic.

Is there a medium other than clay that you would like to experiment with?
Yes, a lot but I don't have time to deal with them all. At the moment, I would say the techniques that appeal to me are those that have to do with manual work and materials, since we spend so much time in front of screens in our daily lives.

From Emi Avora’s sketchbook, July 2023

You were an art teacher for 20 years in London. Many times teaching is perceived as a way of survival for an artist in order to enable the development of his personal practice - what was your experience, how has your teaching experience informed your path as an artist? What do you think art offers to children in the school environment?
Teaching was indeed a means of survival after finishing my studies in London. But I was lucky enough to get a job at a really good school with fantastic art studios for the kids. We had the freedom to do very ambitious projects and therefore I never saw it as a mere surviving necessity but as an opportunity to learn more things. I also learned a lot about clay there since we had a pottery studio. It was really a very good experience and the truth is that I miss it a lot. I think art can offer a lot to the school - it increases the ways students understand the world, it allows them to use their imagination and create in a variety of ways, it promotes independent learning and inquiry. If done right it can open up many horizons and should be part of teaching everywhere.

What do you think art spaces can offer in isolated places and how did you experience the artist residency experience in such a condition?
For me, my artistic residency at REON was a place of calmness and really what I needed to develop some ideas - without pressure but with a certain period of time to push me to work intensively. The fact that the studio is somewhat isolated was good for me as I wanted to have a little break from the intensity of family life and I also wanted the space to experiment without distractions.

Object from the series Casual Relics / An Aroma of Myth, 2023

Spending time in the workshop during your artistic residency, we experienced a wildfire in the immediate natural environment. We also discussed the use of ecological materials of natural origin, etc. What do you think is the role of the artist when it comes to climate and environmental issues?
Unfortunately the fire forced us to stop a few days earlier than planned. It was a week of great stress for all the residents of the area and the island in general. The topic of climate change worries me as an artist - it's hard to balance it all but I think we have to think about these issues not only within the context of the work but also practically: how we use our materials, what impact our practice leaves, transportation of the works, etc. It's something I think about a lot, but I haven't found many solutions yet.

What are your plans and wishes for the near future?
I'm currently trying to re-organize back at my studio in Singapore and think of ways to use what I discovered over the summer. I have some plans for exhibitions and projects in the coming months so stay tuned!

Thank you so much Emi!
Thank you very much for the hospitality!!

From Emi Avora’s sketchbook, July 2023

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