Marina, welcome to Reprehensible Digest. Tell the audience a little about yourself – your background, where you're from, what you specialize in as an artist.
First, I would like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to share more aspects of my artistic life with your audience. I'll start with the basics... I was born in Athens, Greece, where I have spent my entire life. I've always lived near the sea, which has always been my refuge – long before I decided to use it as my theme. Most Greeks have a special connection with the sea and the sun. An art teacher once told me that Greeks have a different perception of color thanks to the strong sunlight. I'm not sure if this is the case, but I've been taught to paint the light. It is the light I seek in every picture, and light is what makes everything visible, after all.
When I studied at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, I explored many ideas. I was drawn more towards conceptual art and completely quit painting in the traditional sense of the word. My works were mostly big installations made from polyester resin. I was very young and quite fascinated by the works of Cornelia Parker. My intention was to take the painting out of its two-dimensional surface and bring it into the air. I wanted the viewer to establish a deeper personal connection with the art – to be more like an experience. These works turned out just as planned and I still remember the deep satisfaction I felt.
How long have you been an artist and when did you realize this was your calling?
I believe artists are born. There is nothing you can do to become one if you aren't – there is no way to ignore it if you are. I remember sketching all the time since early childhood. My school books were filled with sketches. Many teachers were fine with it, as they realized that I paid more attention to the lesson while I was sketching. When I was 16 I decided to study architecture. I took architectural design lessons for a couple years, but the results proved that my freehand sketches were "too artistic" and therefore not suitable for architecture. It was my mother's idea to pursue a position in a Fine Arts university. In Greece, universities are free, but you need to take certain exams which can be very difficult depending on the faculty. After two years of constant charcoal sketches of statues and hundreds of nudes, I was finally admitted to university to study what I loved the most.
You are known for your fabulous seascapes and crashing waves. How did this subject evolve to become your primary focus?
It is important to clarify that after I graduated university, I quit my artistic quest for more than a decade. I did various jobs and one of them was teaching art to children. The reason I quit was mostly because I didn't believe I could ever fit in with the artistic system. When I had my second child, I felt a very strong need to rediscover myself. I think many mothers can relate, so I unpacked some oil paints and old brushes and painted over some of my old paintings.
That first painting is still hanging in my studio. My theme then was Santorini – the place where my mother was born. I created many paintings of Santorini, focusing on the paradox of that location: how the sea is found where the sky is expected. All of these paintings were sold, apart from the last one which lead me to the seascapes. I realized that I enjoyed painting the sea more than the rest of the elements. I thought, Why not paint just the sea? This is how it all started...
What is life like in Greece and how does the Aegean Sea influence on you as an artist?
I am very fortunate to live in Greece, a very unique place on this planet. Even though living in Greece is nothing like visiting for holidays, we still enjoy the beautiful weather, bright sunlight and magnificent waters – both in the Aegean and the Ionian Sea. Every little island has its own beauty, unique beaches and sea waters. This variety continues in the mainland as well. I am very proud of my country's history and contribution in arts, science and philosophy. Modern Greece has undergone many difficulties, but I do believe in the ability of the people to change things if they really want to. We can move mountains if we all work together. I will never stop hoping.
How long does a single seascape take you to complete? Explain your process and how you approach the canvas once you've seen the picture in your mind.
I had never been concerned about the time it takes until I started working on commission. An oil painting takes at least ten to twelve weeks, no matter how small it is. There is a certain process I use involving layers, each of which needs at least two weeks. This specific process was instructed to me by my dear friend and talented artist Mr. Sef Berkers. It is based on a very special recipe for a medium used by artists centuries ago. Sef contacted me and suggested it was really worth trying. I followed his advice and it really took my work somewhere I could have never imagined. It gives my colors great flow without losing the brightness and strength of the pigment. I could even achieve the effect of water colors using oils. Sef gets all the credit here. For this reason, among others, I will never stop thanking him!
Before applying pigment to the canvas, do you sketch out your rough ideas first?
Most of the time it all starts with reference, mainly from dear friend photographers and passionate wave lovers. They are generous enough to allow me to take out all that energy they've captured onto the canvas. A blank canvas disturbs me, so the very first layer is really quick, as I'm trying to create a new world with very large brushes to cover the entire surface. It is the most exciting part of the process and that energy is what I aim to maintain until the work is finished. Towards the end, I put the reference aside and let my hand dance, my feeling being my only judge. Paintings that I worked with no reference were driven by a strong, inner need. They were quick and defined directly on the canvas.
Are you planning to continue on as a seascape artist, or follow another subject at some point?
What I love about the sea is that it can provide me with a million different ways to study. What is important to me is that there is always a reason for each painting to exist. They may all depict the sea, but my personal goal is always distinctive. There is no point in painting the same thing over and over again. It doesn't give me the sense of progressing, of moving forward, of challenging myself. I once accepted a commission to make the very same painting. I accepted only because I wanted to test myself. I don't believe I will repeat it as there is no reason for me to take on the same challenge. If and when the sea can no longer speak for me anymore, I will just follow my heart once again.
Have you managed to exhibit your works in galleries or art venues? Please share some of your most noteworthy attractions?
I've never felt particularly comfortable in events, where exhibiting myself goes together with exhibiting my work. That is why I prefer the internet. It is the primary reason I avoided exhibitions. Fortunately, that is also why Mr. Steve Burnage, owner of The Papillon Gallery, came my way offering to fully represent my works and exhibit them in prestigious art fairs in the U.K. He's already exhibited my works at the NEC Art & Antiques For Everyone Fair (2019), the Mayfair Antiques & Fine Art Fair (2020), and the Open Art Fair Chelsea (2020). Unfortunately, our plans have been somewhat disturbed by worldwide Coronavirus measures, but I am positive we will soon get back on track. Until then, Steve curated my first solo exhibition online, which is accessible by everyone...
Do you accept requests or commissions to create new work? If so, how does the pressure to deliver vary opposed to just painting for your own leisure?
Commissions are new to me. It was only a few months ago I undertook my first one. It was a huge challenge, as I had to produce a similar work to one I had painted in the past. I kept the buyer posted throughout the entire process and was extremely happy when she finally received the painting. She found it even better than she had imagined. After that, I completed two more commissions and I am now working on two more. One is the largest painting I've ever attempted, it is truly exciting. Keeping my clients posted on every step of progress is what keeps me comforted. I see commissions as group projects – something my clients and I create together. I want them to be happy with the outcome, and the happiness I get in return is much more than money can buy. I think they understand the way I see it, which is probably the reason they have not pressured me. That pressure comes from myself, actually!
You have quite an online presence as an artist. How has social media helped you as an artist?
I have the internet to thank for it all. When I first started my Instagram account, I did it just to find fellow artists around the world and to see their work. I wanted to post my own progress and keep something like a log. I'd have never imagined having nearly 10,000 friends – not followers – of which I consider hundreds as close friends. I've received great support and kindness. I was hesitant about LinkedIn, but Sef Berkers once again guided me through it. I'm so happy that I followed his advice!
You are always so humble and courteous with your admirers. Do you feel that building healthy relationships helps to nourish your desire to create more?
There is no secret plan. I just share my truth! I am not afraid to show my insecurity or seek advice when necessary. I respect everyone's effort. I really don't think there is something to admire in my effort. I believe I am a struggling worker – an ordinary, traditional mother who happens to be lucky enough to do what makes her happy. I see the good in everyone and always try to build healthy relationships. Behind every account, we are all real people who deserve respect.
Name three artists past or present who have made an impression on you.
This is a rather hard question to answer. I tend to seek uniqueness and inspiration in every artist's work. Even if what they do is very different from my approach. Therefore, I would like to highlight two Greek artists whose work I find fascinating. The brilliant colors of Panayiotis Tetsis have always a source of inspiration, especially his watercolors. Also, the brilliant mind of Takis (Panayiotis Vassilakis) managed to combine art and science in wonderful ways that I find absolutely stunning. Apart from these two Greek artists, I've also found inspiration in Cornelia Parker's installations, William Turner's and Ivan Aivazovsky's seascapes, Van Gogh's brush strokes, da Vinci's mystery... Every artist has something to give and I try to take from it. Even if they are established or emerging.
As an artist, what would you like your legacy to be? What would like to be best remembered for?
I am happy just to be able to share my feelings with one person in the whole universe. Art is communication. So, if I can get my message across, it makes no big difference if it is only one person or millions of people. My mission will still have been accomplished. That is the thought I stick to and just keep working. Nobody can predict what they will be remembered for.
What advice would you give to struggling artists?
I consider myself a struggling artist, actually, but I can only share my own experience. It is not exactly advice, but it is my truth: keep dreaming, keep working. You never know when the skies will open. Dreams do come true. Wishes work if we are honest, and our energy does come back to us. We just need to be patient and positive. There is a reason and the right time for everything.
What challenges have you faced and how are you coping creatively during the age of Covid?
Everyone, artists included, have been affected by the virus one way or another. This is a very new global challenge we must learn to live with. I used my work as relief. My painting helped me deal with what my mind could not process. Although my plans were postponed, my motivation soon came back and gave me strength to continue trying. Artists can make use of whatever technology has to offer in order to adapt to the new conditions. My first solo virtual exhibition, curated by The Papillon Gallery, was the first step in that direction. It was a very exciting project, easily visited by anyone online and the feeling is very realistic. Art has power. It is our duty as artists to use that power in order to help society through these hard, trying times. Beauty is still here, but sometimes we just need to be reminded.
Any additional skills, hobbies, or interests you'd like to share with the audience – fascinating statements about the artist known as Marina Syntelis?
I believe I am a constant learner. I love learning new things and I wish I could learn even more. My dream has always been to create Augmented Reality environments. I lack the technical skills to do so, but fate has brought certain people in my life so that I can hope to make this dream come true in the future. It may sound strange, as I am a traditional artist, but expression has no limits and it is a dream I've had for many years. It is definitely an idea that I will never stop trying to bring to life. In these trying times, art can make a difference. It is our duty to bring out the beauty in our work. In this world of madness and ugliness, we need to keep reminding people that beauty is still there. The world can become a better place. I have personally been greatly affected by the pandemic and its effect on our lives. I find it very hard to work and concentrate these days. I know it will all pass and our lives will soon return to normal. Artists have that power to help society and this is what we must all do right now!
Marina's Personal Website