George Raftopolous is a tough Aussie artist who always speaks his mind. The Sydney-based painter has a bold, expansive style that is influenced by everything from his daily life to politics.
We caught up with him in TriBeca to talk about his creative process, running habit, the time he spent in New York and how giving up smoking influenced his work
So, I do a crazy thing where I will pick, for instance, an old Francis Bacon painting and an image that I found in the newspaper and I’ll just cut them out without knowing what’s going to happen. I’m creating it as I go and it fuses a lot of different concerns. It’s a method of working I enjoy, because it’s direct and I’m not second guessing what I’m doing.
Has this always been your method?
Yeah, I was always dissecting things and then recreating them. I call it re-creating a personal mythology, where I take what’s happening currently and then put my own print on it.
It’s taken me down a political road I never knew I had in me. The things that are going on with the wars have inspired me lately. I don’t want to paint pretty pictures. They’ve got to have meaning.
How does this look from the ground up? Do you literally go around hunting for things to use?
Do you have a singular A-ha! moment or is it a gradual process of discovery?
Through the process it becomes more and more abstracted and goes through a few different layers of creation. The best part is when you finally flip the thing around and it becomes even more abstract and interesting.
How do you keep your process sharp?
By doing something everyday, I’ve switched off that part of my head that says, Okay I’ve got a show coming up in New York and I’ve got to create twenty five paintings and they’ve got to be all bloody fantastic and have deep meanings. Because I am perpetually working, the work kind of informs me and takes me to where I need to go.
A conceptual artist in Sydney says to me, ‘Where do you sit? And I said, ‘Fuck you. I’m sitting somewhere in the middle.’ And that’s okay. I don’t have to sit there or there, I can sit in the middle.
Let’s go back to running. I know you’re a huge runner, what does that do for you? Is it purely recreational or does it somehow enhance your process?
Running has been a real revelation for me, because it goes hand in hand with my creativity. The running helps to get that build up of energy out of my head, and I also have these crazy bits of epiphany. They usually comes to me a half an hour in, when my mind starts to kind of lag a bit and I think, ‘Oh geez, I’m bloody tired and I should just stop.’
I love running especially in foreign cities and such because half of the time I never bloody know where I am. I love to just get lost and again, that’s a metaphor for getting lost in my mind. A lot of what I do is about relenting control and getting lost in one’s subconscious in a certain way. That kind of surrender comes when one is open and running affords me that same kind of freedom.
What about running in New York- how has that treated you?
I have to tell you, when I started running I was a heavy smoker. I used to smoke a packet a day and actually, my running started here in New York when we were staying down in Washington Square Park. So I would run around the park a couple of times in the morning and then I would go back and have a cigarette as a reward. I would have sweat dripping down my face and I would be smoking. It was the craziest fucking thing ever, but I eventually stopped and my whole world changed.
Giving that stuff up changed everything. My work previously was always big, but I used to work very swiftly. I used to scrape off paint and scrape it on. And now, here I am doing a lot of this very small detailed work. I think my concentration has improved to no end.
The constant buzz of movement and doing and fervor- it excites me- but it also can piss me off at times. But you gotta love that fervor- it’s addictive. You have that ability here to just simply walk down the street and just see amazing things. As long as you look for them, they’re there. If you don’t have guts of steel, don’t hang out here.