Leonidas is one of those artists who talk mainly through their work. However, when he discusses his work, one can see the passion he has for sculpture. Leonidas studied Sculpture at Athens School of Fine Arts and Architecture at the National Technical University in Athens, before he left for New York to study Sculpture as a Fulbright scholar. Through our conversation, we found out what inspires him, how he chooses his materials and how he manages to turn raw matter into elaborate constructions, but above all, we saw why art is a source of hope and optimism in dangerous times.
-What is your earliest memory related to art?
I remember a painting made by my older sister, which she created when she was 5 years old. It consisted of 2 parallel horizontal spaces; from bottom to top, the first was solid green and the second was solid blue. The painting depicted a house made of red lines, and next to it something that according to my sister represented a green flower even though its scale and color actually resembled a tree. At the top right corner there was a green/yellowish sun. Around that time, I also remember myself stealthily painting stripes on the walls of our home with the brand new markers that my father had bought. Red and green were my favorite choices, and blue and black came second. I would usually paint groups of diagonal lines, almost upright and close the vertical. I remember that it was great fun. Very early memories were also the Parthenon and the Mycenaean tombs (the inner space of Atreus’ tomb).
I never regret the time or energy that I spend on it, and I would not change it for anything else.
-Why sculpture? Did family history influence your decision?
I believe that the basic reason for my choice to deal with sculpture is that I feel fulfilled by practicing it; I never regret the time or energy that I spend on it, and I would not change it for anything else. The other part of the question, how much my family history influenced me, is difficult to answer because the answer is in between the layers of past memories way back in my life. However, it may be possible that family’s stories might have influenced me to some extent, because I do remember being impressed by stories related to my family’s tradition, although my family does not own any artworks made by my ancestors. So, from that perspective I believe that family’s tradition might be part of my choice to become a sculptor. However, on the other hand there is this clear feeling of joy that I get whenever I focus on my work; the happiness of creation and the optimism that I feel because it makes my life interesting; there is always a new fascinating project to undertake.
-Which materials you like to work with?
All materials are fine, provided that I feel the need to use them. However, I use no organic materials that fade away really fast, at least not for the time being. I mostly use metal, stone, plastics, plaster, wood, concrete, found objects and paper, and generally whatever is normally easy to find in order to construct things. The only condition that must be met is that the material that I choose has to be something that at least at that moment I am interested in working with; I regard as one of my obligations to be working according to what I wish to make and how, and to be free to do what I want when it comes to making sculpture.
the happiness of creation and the optimism that I feel because it makes my life interesting;
-Which artists would you call your inspiration?
The catalog extends from prehistoric to contemporary times and it is not restricted to fine arts; music, cinema and generally all kinds of arts and human action inspire me. To name a few who belong to the category of art and who spontaneously come to my mind: The maker of Willendorf Venus, the creators of the Kouroi, Phidias, F. W. Murnau (Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens), Robert Wiene (The Cabinet of Dr Caligari), Nick Zedd (They Eat Scum), George Lucas (Star Wars), Grigoris Bithikotsis, the wood carvers of the Sepik, Giannoulis Chalepas, Baining mask makers, S. T. Coleridge (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner), the Iron Maiden, the composers of Medieval Italian and Spanish music etc.
Generally, I enjoy the presence of things and the experience of situations and of space (urban, rural, wherever I may be); everything can be an inspiration (a cat on the street, Beethoven, a car, a spacecraft, any kind of feeling, everything and every coincidence can be useful); all things, stories and situations that I come across.
everything can be an inspiration (a cat on the street, Beethoven, a car, a spacecraft,any kind of feeling, everything and every coincidence can be useful;
-What is the most memorable experience or “lesson” you keep from your stay in the US?
America was an important experience to me in its totality. In fact, when I try to distillate my experiences in order to spot the most important, I always end up thinking that the rest is as important and that such task will not bring about any result. However, the bridges outside NYC and the people from all over the world who gather before the tolls and wait to pay and go through the bridges to go to wherever they are heading was an interesting experience to me. Also, limitless expectations, hard work, focus, looking ahead may also be few more. But still there are others that might be as or even more important; I need more time to realize them, and maybe a lifetime might not suffice to reach a conclusion. All in all, the whole experience from A to Z, even the application period and the experiences that initially had led me to decide to apply, everything matters to me.
-Do you find Greece or the US to be more fertile ground for your art to grow?
Both places are fine. It is all up to me, wherever I am.
-What inspires you and what disappoints you in Greece?
The natural environment, history, art, Greek language, the fact that Greece is my home, all these inspire me, and many things more. I am also inspired by the multiplicity of the political/historical dynamics of this country. I don’t find things that really disappoint me, because I try not to let myself become disappointed. Moreover, I have to say that similar things inspire me elsewhere too, such as the natural environment and the stories of places.
-What are the first thoughts or feelings you believe someone has when he/she encounters your work?
I cannot guess. It could be anything. It is up to the viewer and conditions.
For example, it could be fun, perplexity / puzzlement, irony, interest, indifference etc, but maybe not something too dramatic like emotions of love, hate etc. When it comes to my objects, maybe viewers’ feelings somehow might relate to a kind of joy to create stuff, to some kind of freedom, and maybe also to a certain amount of confusion. But all these are just a guess.
-Where can one see your work live?
There is no permanent exhibition. For the time though, there is a piece in Vermont at the sculpture garden of the Carving Studio and Sculpture Center (a marble piece / 2 Empty Spaces Divided By A Wall, a block of marble that I carved through) along with a few smaller objects at the depot of CSSC. There is also a piece up on a mountain in Ioannina Greece (Museum of Contemporary Art Theodoros Papagiannis in the village Elliniko, a car piece / Paranoid Little Car). And there is a Pyramid in Anixi Attika (Pyramid, stainless steel). I generally also put pieces in group exhibitions. The rest, I keep them in my storage.
Leonidas Chalepas is a sculptor based in the village of Pyrgos, in Tinos island, Greece. He works as the Sculpture instructor and manager of the School of Fine Arts in Panormos, Tinos island. He holds a Degree in Sculpture (BFA), a Diploma in Architecture and Structural Engineering, an MFA in Sculpture, and an interdisciplinary MA with emphasis on Anthropology and Visual Culture.