Sydney based Andrew Christofides, show ‘Studio Archaeology’ was on June 18 at the Charles Nodrum Gallery in Melbourne.
His work in Studio Archeology is inspired a Byzantine iconography, Arabic cartography, symbolism, and mathematics. It is contemporary art that hints at ancientness.
Christofides, born in Cyprus in 1946, arrived in Australia, with his mother and siblings in 1951.
His father emigrated first in 1950 and set up in Sydney, he worked at the Trocadero a nightclub towards central station, which no longer exists.
Christofides studied economics and worked for Treasury in Canberra but was always painting.
The artist believes that Cyprus’ archaeological history is import in world history.
“Cyprus was a great centre for Byzantine art and Byzantine Orthodox faith, it’s at the centre of where Orthodoxy began. When the iconoclasts wanted to get rid of icons, because they were seen as vain Cyprus didn’t suffer from that.”
Byzantine artists moved to Cyprus and Byzantine art flourished from the absence of threat from the iconoclasts.
“I like the religious thing, the icon painting, the symbolism, it’s rich and abstract – a great source of visual imagery.”
Even for the non-religious a Greek Orthodox church, is almost like a Buddhist monastery and like Christofides’ art there is always an ethereal meditative quality.
“I’m not religious but it seems that Orthodoxy is open for interpretation on a personal level, it lacks the dogma and structure dominant in Catholicism, where there is little scope for personal interpretation.”
His work evokes meditation, by creating a liminal space.
“There is monastic meditative quality in my work, just like in the Orthodoxy where you get hermits going into the wild to meditate in solitude and that monastic solitude and individual reflection is what I am interested in.”
Christofides says that the meditative aspects of his works are “born of a similar monasticism.”
“I work 40 cm from the surface of the canvas, I cover every part of the painting, whether they’re small paintings, or large, I scan the surface while I’m painting, I get to know every aspect of the canvas.”
Like an iconographer his abstract paintings employ mathematical detail and precision.
In 1974 Christofides made his way to London. He had been living in Cyprus but after a few months realised he could not stay there “doing nothing.”
He applied for a postgraduate degree at Birkbeck, University of London, and while in London, the Turks invaded Cyprus, so he couldn’t go back.
“After Birkbeck I attended the Chelsea School of Art and had a scholarship, and later lived in Rome, it happened all of a sudden,” Christofides said to Neos Kosmos.As a student in London in the mid 1970s he met, artists who worked with numbers to create visual images, “that they couldn’t do working intuitively.”
“My first exhibition at the Chelsea School of Art had propositions generated by numeric sequences, I created compositions that people could look at and examine other traditions of perspective and space.
“I looked for abstraction that could feed into my work and so one of the reasons why I look at religious art.”
It is not only religion with which his abstractions begin with, he is interested in cartography. “I would visit the British Museum and look at ancient maps, like Islamic maps which were different from the western tradition.
“Once these were abstractions of the world that existed. I could tap into it; I didn’t have to invent another system of abstraction.”
Christofides was inspired by these abstract systems and adapted them.
“Of course numbers and mathematics are the purest form of abstraction of the world.
An economics background influenced him. In his early job for Treasury between 1972 to 1974 he set up models for different parts to the economy.
“You can see all that in my pictures, where mathematics, econometrics and statistics comes in useful.”
He reflects on the tradition of mathematics and mapmaking, in which he finds systems, or ideas which can be abstracted in his work.
“There is logic to it, a map of sorts, and it’s quite extraordinary it is like a sort of archaeology.”
He says that Charles and Kate Nodrum came up with the title of ‘Studio Archaeology’ after they visited his studio.
“The term makes sense, my studio, I’m constantly discovering things, the studio reflects different historical periods of work, I’ve been there for 30 years – it’s a large a warehouse and is like an archaeological site, as Charles and Kate looked through my works”