Intro by Helen Dimaras
The first time the GOTH team came across Cypriot artist Leontios Toumpouris, he appeared curiously, zealously, maybe even obsessively, fixated on beards.
And just like that, we were hooked.
Exploring themes of gender, maleness and the nature of the artist, Toumpouris’ work is unexpected and inventive. Take, for example, the Greek dictionary he redesigned to include his own coined word “Leoris” (a composite of the beginning and ending of his full name, Leontios Toumpouris), which he defined as “young homosexual, Christian orthodox of Cypriot nationality.” In a 4-minute video installation depicting himself trying to remove his beard with erasers, he explores the relationship between the artist and audience; his stony gaze appears to remain on the viewer as he more furtively rubs at his beard.
Though you wouldn’t know it from the number of exhibitions, publications and collaborations under his belt, just a short while ago Leontios Toumpouris was a student at the Athens School of Fine Arts. He’s exhibited his work in his native Cyprus, Greece, as well as the Netherlands and Serbia, making this Cypriot artist definitely one to watch.
Vasilios Xydias for The Goddess of the Hunt: So it looks like you bounce around from Athens, Greece and Nicosia, Cyprus. Tell us what the art community is like in Cyprus.
Leontios Toumpouris: I am pleased to find out that more and more young people take matters in their own hands in Cyprus. There are some interesting spaces and foundations that provide a “safe” place for young artists to experiment and work. Cyprus is changing and it will keep changing because of the crisis. People will need to make conscious decisions about everything.
GOTH: Lets pretend you are in an elevator and you meet a curator of a famous gallery or museum. What would you say about your work?
LT: In my work I investigate the concept of personal and artistic identity and the way it is defined through established social structures within the contemporary society and the contemporary art world.
I raise questions related to gender, the complexity of male nature and the artist’s nature in a self-referential way. I place myself centrally in my works, breaking down, each time, various elements that construct my identity: image, face, gender, sexuality, representation – as an example, in some of my recent works I isolated my beard and created a representation of it using embroidery, a repetitive, time consuming, and widely perceived as a woman’s vocation.
I am particularly interested in the ways viewers need to redefine their mutable relationship between themselves and the artwork, and between themselves and the dominant notion of the artist in general.
GOTH: We noticed some of your art has depictions of beards. Can you talk a little about how that series inspired you?
LT: I lead my work and my work leads me. Some decisions are consciously made by me and some others are made by the work, in relation to the conceptual aim of the work and the nature of the material.
GOTH: Your bio says you were an exchange student in the Netherlands in 2008. How were you perceived as an artist and what did you learn from the experience?
LT: It was the most interesting and educational period of my studies. In Netherlands I understood the structure of an art school. The methodology of teaching and the role of the student inside an institution.
GOTH: Tell us about your collaboration with Lito Kattou.
LT: I met Lito two years ago in Athens from a common friend. We instantly liked each other (I guess). We decided to work together for the group show Objet petit a presented in Isnotgallery in Cyprus. We did so for almost three months and we plan to keep working on it. Despite her young age she is completely devoted to art and she is the kind of person I want to collaborate with. We had our arguments but we eventually created something that pleased both of us and changed my perception of group work.
GOTH: You have many styles and mediums that you use. Is there one in particular that inspires you the most?
LT: No. The conceptual context/goal of the work is the main factor when it comes to the selection of the medium and the methodology for the creation of the work. My practice employs various media such as drawing, painting, photography, video, installation and performance.
GOTH: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
LT: Can’t really tell, but I can tell you what I would like to be doing. To live in a big city like New York, have my own studio, working on my projects, be able to earn a living from my art, and meet interesting people.
GOTH: Complete this sentence: «Leontios Toumpouris is …»
LT: …one of those artists who wants to produce, exhibit and collaborate. So therefore, you should support him and all the artists around the world in any way.