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Nick Mourtzakis

Studio

Jesse Marlow

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Studio

Nick Mourtzakis has occupied his self-confessed "cold and dusty" home studio since 1998.

Photography by Jesse Marlow. Interview by Varia Karipoff.

Nick: I’ve been in this studio since 1998. It’s not an ideal space for many reasons. It’s difficult to get good sources of natural light. My preference is to always use natural light. I won’t use artificial light on the surface of the paintings; it’s not so difficult with drawing because there’s no problem with colour being distorted.

I’ve made do with it. It’s a very old building and the floor is so uneven that I can never get an easel level. Then there’s the cold and the dust. It’s too small, it’s a cramped space, but then these old walls are so beautiful. I only discovered the old walls after removing some very ugly cladding.

This building was built around 1880 and was a little bluestone cottage then; there would have been two of them side by side.

The owner before me abandoned the building and it was quite derelict when I moved in. What I would love to do is to take the ceiling out and build a skylight that is south facing.

I have always worked where I’ve lived. In the past, I always just used the biggest room in the house that I had been renting. There was one occasion when I had the use of a significant studio. An artist whom I was acquainted with travelled to Europe and I was able to rent his studio. That was a very big room and an unusual experience for me. I didn’t make bigger paintings there.

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I love furniture and I think that if I were not an artist, I’d have a house full of old furniture. Living under it and literally climbing over it – that would be ideal for me. Everything that I have is functional, and often when I buy an old piece of furniture, especially for this studio, it’s with the thought of adapting it.

I paint every day. I have two very young children whom I take to school and to kindergarten in the morning and then pick up in the afternoons, so I grab the hours in between and paint in the evenings as well.

I think what’s so interesting about creative work is it inevitably brings one to a somewhat clear knowledge of oneself. One finds oneself responding in very emphatic ways because the studio allows one to enter into a thinking space with unbounded possibilities; it’s a space that really allows the temperament to find itself and deliver itself. Over a period of decades the process more and more confirms the temperamental predispositions of the artist. One is mirrored in the studio. I know this is really who and how I am. I feel great freedom here; it’s a freedom that extends beyond the studio.

One of the things that I learnt from my parents, and this is from observing them, was that things could be made really well, really beautifully, if one paid appropriate attention.

I guess that is a way of saying that one is totally responsible for the outcome of what one does. The outcome equates in a very exact way with the way one delivers oneself to the work.

I’m fastidious and part of that fastidiousness involves a hyper-critique of the work; I am always assessing what I am doing. And necessarily, I will radically dispose of a work if it doesn’t stand up to the critique.

This is part of what I mean when I say that I feel a great sense of responsibility for the works that I make.

As long ago as 1975, out of art school for only a couple of years, and thinking about what it meant to make a painting, I realised that painting is almost entirely a thinking process. I started to realise that for me – nothing I am saying is meant to apply to anyone else – this process involved an excessive level of accountability for what a painting would be. I also realised that I mustn’t let that sense of responsibility inhibit me and limit me.

It was there from the beginning: a sense of where I was and what I needed to do.

For me, art is really the solution to all our problems. I like to think that if art were a part of every human being’s life, human beings wouldn’t be suffering the degree of trauma they experience. Unnecessary trauma. I work small because I am not trying to impress anyone with large paintings. I believe in a small footprint. At this basic level, one makes decisions and then one suffers the consequences of them. The small scale on which I work presents me with the opportunity to compress and isolate my vision of things. It has always been a particularly seductive form of work for me, mesmerising and hypnotic… obsessive.

But small works somehow are, to a great degree, outside the contemporary forum. Small things for me have a minimal material presence and in that way they can be truly cerebral. I think they are in some way distanced from the physical world.

– September 2016

Jesse Marlow

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