Artist Profile: Christiana Soulou
What motivates the artist Christiana Soulou is “a poetic dimension” that she “believes life has in itself.” It is also what serves as the inspiration for her work. The forms that are rendered in her characteristic style often originate in great literature, with previous collections taking reference from Jean Cocteau, Jorge Luis Borges and William Shakespeare. Soulou’s practice can best be described as ‘re-transcription’, both in terms of her choice of subject and her artistic style. She takes figures that have entered the literary imagination, and ‘retranscribes’ them through drawings executed in light brown or blue graphite pencil. The lightness of these drawings, in their colour and delicacy, adds to the sense of something that is transitive. Soulou’s work transcribes her subjects from their literary origins to visual art, and from history to the contemporary.
For Heartbreak, Soulou was commissioned to produce a series of drawings that drew on the story of Dido and Aeneas - an extensive task given the encylopaedic nature of Virgil’s poem The Aeneid. The series presents a chorus of characters: Eros, Iris, Mercury, Cupidon, Aceste, Camille, and Aeneas. Fittingly for these mythical figures, they float on the page in abstract, atemporal space. Their elongated limbs and dynamic poses show that they command the surroundings - a subtle reminder of the god’s inclinations to appear at opportune moments, like Mercury appearing to Aeneas in a dream to urge him to leave Carthage. Dido herself is curiously apart. Where Soulou has rendered the other characters mid-movement, Dido is seen stood naked with her arms outstretched and the flowers gathered for her funeral pyre at her feet. There is a stillness to this image that conveys Dido on the cusp of her suicide. It contrasts tellingly with Soulou’s three drawings of Aeneas; his development is shown, but Dido’s is stalled by her death.
Were Soulou’s imagination a pair of compasses, then the other pole to her literary sources would be the inspiration she takes from the body. Her style is close to Renaissance draughtmanship, and recalls Pisanello’s figurative drawings in particular. It also encourages comparison with the other treatments of the human body from the period, such as early modern anatomy prints. The attraction that Soulou’s works present to the viewer is this balance of precision and elusiveness which comes from the combination of technical detail and nuanced tone.
Soulou has previously said that “the artistic phase ‘create to leave your mark behind’ doesn’t speak much to me” because “art is an operation of adjustment which is necessary and temporal.” Although Soulou’s awareness of change means that she may not be concerned with her artistic legacy, her work fundamentally is. Inspired by ancient, literary stories, Soulou takes the mythological figures that are embedded in our collective memory and makes them visible through her delicate drawings.
Christiana Soulou (b. 1961, Athens) lives and works in Athens. She studied at l’École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris. Having developed her oeuvre since the 1980s, Soulou’s delicate drawings, executed in coloured or graphite pencil, approach topics often derived from literature. Soulou’s recent solo exhibitions have included those at Sadie Coles HQ, London (2016), Fuerstenberg Zeitgenoessisch, Donaueschingen (2018) and Beriner/Eliades, Athens (2018). Her work has been included in group shows at New Museum, New York (2010), Palais Brongniart, Paris (2014) and Camden Arts Centre, London (2016). She also participated in documenta 14 (2017), the 55th Venice Biennale (2013) and the 3rd Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art (2011).