Born in Athens, Diotis lives and works between Athens and Agrinio, a municipality of Greece located in the western periphery. Known for his large-scale dragon sculptures, he is an artist who is constantly exploring new means of expression, with his output including wildlife, nature, science, anatomy, and painting. Diotis has held three solo exhibitions and one among them one in Tokyo, while most of his works are part of public and private collections in Greece and Japan. His latest solo exhibition “Digging” at Zoumboulakis Gallery reveals a new aspect of his creative inquiry and sensibility.
How would you describe yourself and your artwork?
I consider myself to be the flow of events that I define and shape into art. I was born in nature, my being learned to follow the flow of nature, which is not determined by rules and restrictions. Since childhood, I have had contact with art, because certain events led me to it, of course in childhood and living in the province in a peasant family, I did not realize that I was making art. My need for play as a child created the need for me to create with everything I find in the course of my life. I started from mud with small animal sculptures and now I study and use materials that others before me, designers, scientists, chemists, engineers, spent hours designing them and after many experiments bringing them to market. Most likely, of course, they would not know that the bumpers, for example, that they designed to get into a car, would end up becoming the aerodynamic wings of the dragon. However, from this one can understand how I defined the flow of a series of events. My work is characterized by a strong extroversion and dynamics, like the one that pervades me when I am in my homeland, where everyone knows me since I was a child, who sees my development. I am as multifaceted and complex as my works, perhaps it is one of the reasons I make sculptures, I always look at all the dimensions of things.
Did you know what you wanted to create right from the beginning?
Every day, I do a search in the archive with the materials I have collected from the peripheral roads of the province. Many times I enrich it, because I may find something new on my way. When I feel the need to make something to express something intensely and sonorously, I do a complete study, choosing materials that stimulate my instincts. I gather them, I carefully observe their shape, how light and shadow form on them, what I would like to change in them, what they remind me of, and then an image arises in my mind. The following paradox occurs during the creation of my sculptures, I never draw my sculptures. First I give them material and physical substance and then I make a series of sketches with images taken from my thoughts during the creation of the work. It is like capturing and recording with my own means my thoughts, during the creation of the work, while I was wavering the material, wondering how to compose the form of my work. The same thing happened with the dragon of Digging. Of course, apart from sketches, small dragons followed, as studies on him. At the same time, I try with tricks to make comments that usually have a hidden and often dark sense of humor. Even the size of the dragon itself is a commentary, its very construction, which changes hybridly in every space invaded by the dragon. I make sure that his gaze says something new to the viewer, because many are the ones who will later see my work somewhere else and I do not want to let them keep the same impression. I aspire to transform spaces through my works, as was the case with the exhibition Digging at Zoumboulakis Gallery. While you were in the center of Athens, entering the gallery, it was like forgetting where you were and like entering a new limbic state between the past and the future. Through this work I led a visual passage to a dimension that the inhabitants of the cities had forgotten or neglected, that of tradition, history and roots from the East.
What is the meaning or creative inspiration for your work? We’re curious what the narrative or story is to what you are producing.
I’m not one of those artists who will tell you they’re inspired by something specific constant. As I mentioned before, I am part of a flow of events. I come into indirect contact with other works of art, such as traditional works of the West and the East, but also with more modern works of art such as films and science or historical fantasy games. I do not have special and intense contact with this technological world, because I seek to be close to the world of nature that has a variable but balanced function, always knows where to head. The way human has become today, makes him to subordinate nature to his own desires, changing its flow. I believe that nature will find the way to return to its balance. Many times, human needs a Dragon to remind him of his position and that at some point his own creations will turn against him, like another Frankenstein. The Dragon was a human contrivance, a creature made of other creatures of nature, where through fear, many times, it was created to cause terror in humans and drive them away from evil or to direct them. Let’s not forget that the dragon from a simple snake in Egypt, became a creature made from the most bloodthirsty animals of nature, such as the lion, the hawk, the snake, and over the centuries, its size began to swell.
A human thought, which naturally took shape through art, initially in legends and then with material substance, from the frescoes in Egypt, the sketches in medieval books, the hagiographies to the red dragons of Japan and China. The Dragon unites rather than divides, it may be a form that imposes fear, but ultimately, it imposes order on people. One of my comments, through the figure of the Dragon, was to recall the place of man in the world. Year after year, we become more and more anthropocentric, selfish and greedy, we often become parts of systems and do not stand up, we are mere observers of events and we are locked in our own microcosm. The Dragon landed in a gallery, would later land in a public space, with more audiences, such as a museum, reminding us that human arrogance can turn its creations against it, just as it did in Frankenstein.
The dragon is a symbol of evil, in both the medieval chivalric and Christian traditions. In the Orient, it symbolizes supernatural power, wisdom, strength, and hidden knowledge. In most traditions, it is the embodiment of chaos and untamed nature. What kind of definition are you giving to the dragon sculptures you create?
The legends and fairy tales of the Western and Eastern tradition have presented a specific interpretation, which has now passed into the realm of fantasy or even technology. Can we make modern legends that concern us? Definitely yes! The Dragon can represent the generation of young people who resist modern conformism, the irreconcilable who do not submit, the different, generally the exiles of modern society who chose to be unique and with a subversive identity. The symbol of the dragon is a human creation and should concern man and not nature. Even then, history shows how people wanted to make nature part of their domination to control other people. They exiled the dragon, bullying people, to incite their actions. Greek tradition and history are integral parts of my work, I can’t avoid them, they have taught me many things. But I can criticize, bring forward my own views, my own forms that are an amalgam of nature-technology, present-past.
I think I asked more questions than answers with my work. I made sure not to impose my own interpretation on things and let the audience choose what to take from my work and me and what thoughts to make. The dragon is something very important, that’s why I chose it, because it opens up discussions about many fields, even the field of science, sustainability or even justice.
In past interviews, you mentioned that plastic has a longer duration than marble or other raw materials. Could you expand this rationale?
Everything around us is made of plastic, even our dreams. I believe that plastic can be said to be the modern marble. It sounds extreme, but in Greece gradually begins to appear lack of marble. Plastic can be found everywhere, it is non-biodegradable. It harms the environment, but it created the need to use it every day. The marble can eventually end up in dust. But plastic, no matter how much you burn it, no matter how much you corrode it, will remain something. It is an incredibly machined material, a lot of energy has been consumed to make and ultimately, not unduly. We can’t get rid of it with anything from our lives, it’s everywhere, from wrapping cookies to space itself. Because of course, we made sure to leave our imprint there as well. Plastic is the imprint of man on this planet. Knowing that plastic is made of oil and knowing at the same time that at some point the oil deposits will decrease to disappear, I find that plastic will stay, because its production and abandonment is so great, that even in this extreme scenario, I will have materials to make art.
There is no universal definition of “success.” Everyone has their individual vision of what it means to be fulfilled. Who is yours?
Success is staying grounded, putting your feet firmly on the ground, no matter how much others inflate your being for little things you do every day. Staying grounded and humble is very difficult in a self-centered world like the one we live in today, that of self-promotion and self-affirmation. Success is about being less selfish, being criticized and becoming better, being let by others to impose yourself and not imposing yourself. Success is a few seconds away from just a firework or a time-spanning story.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am preparing a new work, with renewed materials and textures, but also sizes and will appeal to a more expanded audience. Each time, I make sure to do something new and unexpected. I like to keep the audience watching me on their toes, to subvert.
Diotis Thomas / The Dragon’s Gaze
Artist: Diotis Thomas / @diotis.thomas
Interview: Iro Bournazou / @irwb