Touching the Hem of God: the Work of Angelica Sotiriou
On today’s program I’ll be talking with Angelica Sotiriou, a visual artist from San Pedro in California, USA.
As an Orthodox Christian, Angelica’s art is a vivid expression of her Faith. Using abstract and surreal forms, she originally started off drawing and painting with graphite and acrylics, but moved towards sculpture. Then after many years returned back to her first-love of colour and line on larges canvasses. Having been a teacher and lecturer for 39 years, Angelica finally decided to dedicate herself to what she truly loved. She established her own studio and has been painting for over 20 years.
Her work has been exhibited at many renowned galleries across the USA and forms the private collections of some very prominent people, including blockbuster film and TV producer, Jerry Bruckheimer.
Angelica, welcome to the show:
Angelica: Thank you Chris so very much. I am honored to be a part of you show.
So what can you tell us about your upbringing and how did art find its place in your life?
Angelica: I was raised in a Greek Orthodox family. My father was born in Pireaus and my mother was a first generation Greek born to parent from Kefalonia. We were wholesale flower farmers. My youth was spent working in the family business surrounded by acres of multi colored fields of rows and rows of asters…Intensely colored Salmon pink, purple, pink, lavender, rose pinks, shades of greens and blues were my visual field and colors became recorded memory. We were in a constant relationship with the weather…rain, wind and sun determined how healthy the crops would grow and eventually sell at the flower market in downtown Los Angeles. We were saturated in the mystical rhythm of nature and connected in a way that imprinted on the heart of a young introspective artist. My senses were richly fed.
Sounds like a magical childhood or the lavish cinematography of an Asian movie!
But getting back to the questions, why did you choose to blend Orthodoxy into your art?
Angelica: I do not see my Orthodoxy as a blend or a choice…it is how I breathe, how my heart beats, who I am in Christ. My painting have become what I pray. Luke 12:34,”For where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” As a young artist my sculptures were often of the interior angst I had at being a woman raised in a traditional family and the longing to choose the path of an artist. As I grew into young motherhood my work was about polarities and the angst of losing my artist self to a husband and to my children as being wife and mother. As my children grew so did my need to pray more and to hold onto trusting in the Will of God. As my prayer life increased so my work changed…instead of youthful angst and searching for definitions, my works became all about my relationship with my internal world and relationship with God.
Your artist statement describes your recent drawings and paintings as “a personal journey of uncovering and revealing pathways, windows and portals of light and of spirit.” What does this mean and have you achieved it?
Angelica: My paintings are large. The average size is 8’ x 4’. The process of painting them becomes a tango of sorts. The works take much energy and broad strokes. they are like a painted choreographies. The paintings are large like giant windows and doorways that I must pass through…I constantly work on creating and attempting to bring light out of the painted surface. I am always humbled and made small in the presence of the enormous size of each canvas. The process becomes a relationship and the canvas becomes a dimensional space that I have entered. Each painting I do has been inspired by passages from scripture, or a phrase or prayer that touches me during Divine Liturgy, or a perspective of the writings of the Holy Mothers and Fathers, or what I take to prayer…sometimes it is something as simple as the incense that rises or the image of the hundreds of beeswax candles lit in the Holy Sepluchre, or how the light enters through the stained glass images and shines on the iconostasis…all the images settle into my visual memory bank and become these wordless illustrations of the sublime. As I work on the sketch of the idea/concept I do my homework and explore more deeply the concept with more Orthodox reading, more prayers and approaching my Father Confessor with clarifying questions. As I work on the painting, more questions arise that await answers and sometimes the work itself answers them for me. When a work is complete I am often surprised at all that I learned and how I spiritually grew in the process of creating my work. It is a grace and always this process humbles me. I guess the Lord knows how to make me listen and how I am to learn!!!!!
Can you give us some examples of your ‘contemplative narrative paintings’?
Angelica: I have a portfolio of two hundred or more works…but my most recent works in the last decade have become more illustrative of my interior world. I will take for example the last ten paintings I have done in sequence. I finished a work called “Mary’s Yes” and it is an abstract illustration of the moment the Theotokos says Yes to the Lord. The image is the fusion of the very moment when the Holy Spirit and Mary’s Yes became one. The painting is vertically large and begs the viewer to look up to the point where the viewers neck strains to see the swirl of wings and spirit above the beam of golden light that descends into the swirls of amber, pink and blue living embrace. Or the painting I did of “Sin and Grace”…where sin is this viscous, undulating and dimensional application of deep red, broken apart by the thrust of illuminating golds and heavenly blues from above and below…covering and smothering the intestinal ribbons of deep red. Then there is the painting of “Theosis” where becoming one with the Lord is a collision of galactic proportions…the red of the union and blend of colors becomes almost embryonic and the shape of the union becomes chalice like and takes the form of the cup and woman. In the piece called “Candillia”, again 9’ x 4’ and an expanded and abstracted perspective of the brilliant light of the many candles lit by the faithful in prayer…the works are large and invite the viewer to enter into their world…listening with their heart as the colors and light saturated their visual field.
From the time you first started as an artist, has your artist direction and subject matter changed?
Angelica: I truly can say that I have always been searching in my work to find reconciliation in finding light in darkness. Some earlier works were more literal and figurative. As my paintings became more confident in technique and media the works became more abstract…but all the while still dealing with finding “light” and bringing Light out into the open as a dominant focal point.
What is your creative process? To go from blank canvass to art?
Angelica: As I said earlier, I start out in contemplation of a verse, a prayer, a chant etc. I enter into the images that form and I settle into them and sketch them out in my sketchbook…making notations on the sketch where and how color and texture will intersect. Most of my paintings start out being covered in black or in an indigo black…I mix black gesso and acrylic paint together apply it to the surface and at this point I make directional scoring while wet to create textural movement. The works initially start on the floor and then are lifted onto a very large easel to work in details….I work from dark to light and often times forgoing the brush as my tool and using my bare hands to apply paint and opalescent powders.
Deep shades of blue, gold and white light seem to feature predominantly in your work.
Angelica: Yes…what a wonderful observation Chris. Thank you for noticing. Blue has always been my “go-to” color. Perhaps the influence of my childhood working in the fields and always fascinated with the expansive blue sky above me…I always thought if I just looked hard enough I would see the Lord looking down on me. But yes, blue is like the heavens, the Kingdom…the blue that is not of this world….dense and infinite. Gold indeed is always found in some spot of my paintings. It represents illumination…the uncreated light of God and His heavenly kingdom….the Gold is Christ’s Divinity. White is always my final application or my first application on the canvas…like a moth to light…my canvas is always about the emergence of heavenly divinity. These colors describe the “light” that I want to portray in my works and in my own life…they represent a constant “renewal”…
Which of all your pieces would you say is your favorite?
Angelica: My favorite piece is title “Seventy times Seven”…the journey in creating this painting was a poignant spiritual journey for me. It was my most difficult yet my most successful and rewarding. I set out believing I could portray in a painting the concept of forgiveness…yet in approaching the painting I realized that there was still unforgiveness in my heart. So after many layers of humility…shades of purple grey I was able to create a golden portal into eternity where the key was forgiveness that let me into the heart of God through Love.
But not only are you skilled in the ‘worldly’ arts, but you have also written icons. Has iconography altered your overall artistic perspective?
Angelica: I took a beginning iconography class from my Father confessor, Rev. Fr. Michael Courey about 15 years ago. The notion of working from dark to light turned the corner in my paintings…also there was a very mystical relationship when my hand painted the glycasmo onto the Face of Christ…I truly can say I fell into Christ’s eyes for the first time in my life and I fell deeply in love. From that point forward all my paintings were done to Glorify Him. Period.
You taught art for many years before becoming a full-time artist, what has the experience of teaching ‘taught’ you?
Angelica: Teaching has taught me so very much about the power of the creative process. ..the power of the visual arts…how teaching art was such a gift because it always gave me a glimpse into the soul of my student…a wordless intimate connection into their hearts. I know there is not a student in the world that I can not love because of teaching. I became a better artist, a more compassionate member of the world, a seeker of beauty and a more thoughtful mentor.
What was it like making the plunge into the realm of a full-time artist?
Angelica: There was no fear in the plunge…life finally allowed me the time to use my gifts in a more focused manner. At my age now I no longer have to balance my roles as a woman, mother, wife, daughter, friend, employee…I have been blessed that I never lost sight of my soul’s desire to be an artist and I have been blessed to a have had all of my life's experiences and responsibilities that transformed and shaped the artist that I am today.
So what’s next?
Angelica: I will continue painting as long as the Lord has planned and I will continue to use my gifts to glorify Him. I also have made a commitment to offer my gallery and studio space to show faith based artists who otherwise in a secular world would not have the opportunity to show their works. I am enjoying bringing together artists in my studio and finding commonality is our works…like the Man says, where there are three or more gathered…there I will be!!!!
Thank-you for joining us on the show today, Angelica. God bless you and your remarkable work!
Click Angelica Sotiriou Page to learn more about her work.
** Podcast transcript from The Moving Icon show on Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) **
Broadcast May 2014