In 2021, visual artist Stefanos Rokos marks twenty years since his first solo exhibition in Athens – two decades spent building worlds of which he is both creator and explorer.
He hails from a family steeped in the visual arts, the son of sculptor Kyriakos Rokos and painter-engraver Roubina Sarelakou, and this meant his foray into the world of art was bound to be central to the plot of his personal bildungsroman. “We grew up, my brother and I, in a home that also housed our parents’ workshops and so we experienced early on this idea of creation as part of daily life, along with all the virtues and obstacles – practical and otherwise – involved with making a living from art,” he says. “Our surroundings, our circle of family friends, and the artist’s routine fascinated us, but our parents did not guide nor did they pressure us to follow in their footsteps. It was easier for us not to give up painting like many children do when they start school, thanks to the resources we had available, thanks to our constant contact with our materials, and thanks to some very good teachers. And so the decision to take the entrance exams for the School of Fine Arts came organically, I’d say – a decision we took ourselves, having set our own goals.”
In creating, he finds more than what one would call a need for artistic expression; to Stefanos, creation is more of a vital need. “During this phase of my life and this terrible period we have all been going through since at least the start of 2020, I have wondered several times how I would face this situation if I were not an artist, or if my ideas and my need to create were to abandon me. This often concerned me in normal times, before the pandemic, but it is stronger now,” he explains, and it seems to be why he enters his workshop every morning with a spring in his step. “I am fortunate to wake up early with a desire to resume my work from the previous day, to see it with fresh eyes, to slowly discover how it progresses, eager to see the result. And because I always work on two or three pieces at a time, my creative flow comes like a chain reaction and is difficult to stop because each idea brings the next and each painting solution succeeds the previous until I realize that a solid new section of satisfactory work me has been completed, it corresponds to the goal I set, and I wish to show it.”
A journey, an experience, a person, and the arts are all among the things that can inspire Stefanos Rokos. All that, as well as “anything important or useless that can pique my curiosity,” he notes. “My painting is principally experiential and so most of the resulting images contain several hints of the things that were on my mind during that period. It’s certainly more psychoanalytic than sociopolitical; filtered, influenced by the environment in which I live and the conditions that shape it. Having set a goal, I work a lot, with dedication, awaiting that moment when the project will take on substance.”
Unwaveringly, music has conversed with Stefanos Rokos’s visual art throughout his trajectory – albeit not with the same intensity these days. “The influence music had on my paintings 20 years ago has changed today. However, it remains instinctive,” he explains. “Some of my landmark exhibitions are directly linked to music, such as 2010’s ‘Horror & Romance on Another Planet’ and ‘Stefanos Rokos: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ No More Shall We Part, 14 Paintings, 17 Years Later’ from 2019, which were first presented at the Agathi Kartalos Art Gallery and the Benaki Museum respectively. Previously, my musical stimuli were much more potent and novel – as is every new stimulus charging into the life of a 20-something, be it an art form or a different type of experience. The influence was stronger and more defining. It brought an awakening and even activated the qualities of my linework. Now that I have achieved more of a personal style, music and other stimuli come into my paintings in a different way. I see those artists I already love or am just discovering as housemates in the same big house, where we are trying to face shared problems, solve shared riddles. And this way, I never feel alone.”
This year, 10 years after its initial release, he revisits the music of the Horror & Romance On Another Planet compilation, which accompanied his titular exhibition, with a new release by United We Fly. The anniversary vinyl 10 Years of Horror & Romance showcases 3+1 songs, comprised of three remixes of songs featuring in the first album, in 2010, and a bonus track titled The Lost Engine, by Pavlos Pavlidis, the “missing track” of the initial release, as it was not produced in time for the initial album’s mastering.
What has been occupying his creativity in this climate was always going to have to do with reality and its clash with fantasy. “The pandemic, the restrictive measures, the isolation, the outlets that exist or that I fantasize as existing and to which my mind races are now a source of inspiration and found within my new works. And at the same time, I continue to work on my next solo exhibition which – if all goes well – will be in 2022 and belongs thematically to something I have not dealt with before. And it will not contain music – that’s a deliberate choice.”
Stefanos Rokos is a greek contemporary artist, born in Athens in 1977. From 1995 to 2000 he studied painting under T. Patraskidis at the Athens School of Fine Arts. He also took a course in printmaking under G. Milios. In 2002 he completed his post-graduate degree in printmaking at the Wimbledon School of Art, London, where he studied under a scholarship from the Propontis Foundation. In 2005 he was awarded a two-year fellowship by the State Scholarships Foundation for the production of artistic work.
He has had solo and group exhibitions in Greece and abroad. In 2010 he presented the music/visual art project “Horror & Romance on Another Planet”. In 2019, he attempted to visually approach the L.P. “No More Shall We Part” by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds with the publication of the art book and three exhibitions in Athens, Greece (The Benaki Museum) and in Antwerp, Belgium (Bernaerts Gallery).
In 2020, he presents the project “10 Years of Horror & Romance” with artworks and music, inspired by the exhibition of 2010.
He has designed album covers for artists of Greece and abroad. He has also designed book covers and posters for concerts, films and theatre productions.