dp I have been keeping up with your work for some time now and I have really enjoyed the collage work in your Faces and Figures series and the encaustic geometric abstractions in your Shape and Texture series. Your new body of work in photography, Everything and Nothing, seems to be an outgrowth of the compositional structure in your earlier abstractions in beeswax. It seems that perhaps the works overlap in time, yet pursue similar compositional strategies, even though the mediums are quite different, one requiring more craft, the other capturing the image in a microsecond. Can you tell me about how these two sets of work differ and somehow seem related?
at My photographic work, including some of the images in the Everything and Nothing series, came long before my experiments with collage. It’s a body of work that’s been slowly accumulating throughout my career as an artist as I simultaneously work on other projects.
My concentration in art school was photography. It took a while, but I eventually found my aesthetic “voice” when I realized I wanted to use my camera to break down scenes into the most basic visual components: shape, color, texture, design. I was ultimately searching for a way to be more present and find relevance in things I would normally walk past every day without ever truly “seeing”. It feels like a truth is eventually revealed when you hone your focus on form.
This “breaking down” process continues to feel like an exercise in luring poetry out of the mundane. My abstract encaustic collage work is more of a hands-on approach to this philosophy. I’m still interested in design and finding balance through visual elements, but collage is a slower, less passive approach. There’s more time to meditate on the elements and the physical process. However, there are also similarities between the two mediums. Photography and collage both feel like exercises in editing – you carefully select pre-existing elements and make compositional decisions to arrange them in a way that feels balanced and authentic. Your artistic voice is heard through those decisions.
dp You graduated at the top of your class from The Art Institute of Philadelphia with a degree in photography. What type of photo work were you doing in college?
at I spent a lot of time in college working in the studio photographing various props which I would then composite together digitally. I also spent a lot of time documenting textures: stained paper, old wallpaper, dirty concrete. To me, making photos felt like gathering — a way to collect materials. It was the first step of a larger process. It makes me laugh now — I was definitely a collage artist posing as a photographer (even though I wasn’t entirely conscious of this at the time).
However, photography does offer something unique and interactive that I hold very dear. It’s a way of transforming the real. I love the adventure of scouting around a city with my camera looking for interesting shapes and designs. It’s an exercise in staying open and attentive, never knowing what I will stumble upon.
dp Did you drop back a bit from that medium (photography) while you were pursuing collage and encaustic work? ... or were they always coexistent.
at I do find myself taking long pauses from actively creating photographs so I can pursue other mediums. Straying from photography felt a bit scary initially. I justified my first experiments in analog collage by using old family photographs. They weren’t MY photographs – but they were still photographs, so it was safe. It was equivalent to dipping my toe in the creative waters. I eventually let go of my fear and jumped in fully to explore collage and encaustic sans photography. I realized I didn’t have to base my artistic identity on the materials I used. It was all about the act of creating, not what I was using to create. Now, I let myself take a break from a particular medium when I’m moved to experiment in a different direction. Everything is circular. I know I will always find my way back to my roots, and when I do it will be with more clarity and wisdom.
Athena Petra Tasiopoulos is a mixed media collage artist and fine art photographer. Originally from Pennsylvania, Athena studied photography at the Art Institute of Philadelphia where she graduated at the top of her class in 2008. She currently resides in central Vermont. Her artwork has been featured in several publications including ELLE Magazine (USA & Japan) and Frankie Magazine (Australia). Her work is collected internationally and appeared in Collage by Women: 50 Essential Contemporary Artists by Rebeka Elizegi (published by Promopress, Spain).
Tasiopoulos has shown her work in a number of solo and group exhibitions including exhibits at Retroavangarda Gallery (Warsaw, Poland), West Branch Gallery (Stowe, VT), Lightbox Photo Gallery (Astoria, OR), and AbingtonArt Center (Philadelphia, PA). She is currently represented by Soapbox Arts Gallery in Burlington, VT.