In this interview, rising painter and textile designer Cristina Loukopoulos tells Artistic Director Joana Meurkens about her journey of self discovery through her art; from reclaiming and redefining femininity to how her Queens roots infused with her Greek and Colombia heritage live through her paintings.
Interview by Joana Meurkens
Photography by Joana Meurkens
Styling by Fefi Martinez
Joana: Can you start off by telling us about yourself? Where are you from?
Cristina: My name is Christina and I’m a fine artist and textile designer from Queens, New York, born and raised. I’m really focused on fine art at the moment and making as much as I can during this moment of quarantine and pandemic times.
What’s your cultural background?
I’m Greek and Colombian.
What was your first introduction to fine art? Was there something that really pulled you into it?
The moment I remember liking to draw was in sixth grade because I wanted to be a fashion designer and I would always draw little fashion models in my journal. That’s the first time I remember it, but my mom told me I’ve been drawing since I was little.
You said it’s a lifestyle, it’s forever. And you just graduated school for that?
Yeah I went to FIT for textile design, which is more focused on the fabric than it is making the garment.
Are you more drawn to painting/drawing or textile art? Is there a certain medium you’ve been pulled to this year?
Yeah, I really do feel like this whole year I’ve been focusing on fine art. After going to high school for fine art, it really turned me away from the industry and it made me want to do my own thing. This year I started painting and getting back into oil painting because I hadn’t done that in so long. But I’m really proud that I’ve been able to find my own style of painting through the last year.
Do you think being at home during the pandemic forced you to have a more introspective look at your art?
Definitely. I think this time made me (like a lot of other people) come to terms with things about myself that I was avoiding because I was so busy before. Painting was a great thing to keep my hands occupied with so I was just painting whatever I was feeling that day. And the music I was listening to also really inspired me.
What music are you listening to right now that is influencing you?
I was listening to this song by 070 Shake called Fish On Land and the lyrics to it are beautiful. I actually put the lyric “shaking to shake your hand” in a painting and the piece grew out of that.
Are there other things in life that you pull from to inspire your work? Is there a specific process you go through when approaching a new piece?
I definitely pull from my Colombian heritage because my family is really into art. My uncle back in Colombia is an artist himself and I’ve always been super inspired by him and his style. I take elements from Colombian art styles and integrate it into my work. My work touches on femininity and how I always felt disconnected from it, but it’s something that is so prevalent in Colombian culture. The gender binary is so prevalent in that culture and I think that translates so much in my paintings because it allowed me to express myself in ways that I was longing to be accepted.
In terms of community and the “industry”, what has your experience been in the industry as a woman of color?
When I think about that I think about an internship I did at a fashion company. At that time nobody took me seriously and they really treated me like I was invisible. The “where are you from?” is something I always get asked. People are so intrigued by me not looking one specific way and they always feel the need to question it.
Are there Colombian artists that inspire you- other than your uncle?
Absolutely. I went to Colombia a few years ago to my mom’s hometown and there were so many incredible murals done by people who grew up there. There was one artist, Pedro Nél Gomez, who did these huge murals that are all over Medellin. There’s also a Cuban artist, Ana Mendieta, who is an incredible performance artist who really influences my work.
Do you think growing up in New York influenced you as an artist?
Absolutely. I didn’t grow up in Colombia so I had a very Colombian-American influence, especially in Queens. I think the clothing that I put on the people I draw is very influenced by my environment. I also work really fast and that’s for sure a New York thing. My first painting took me 3-4 months and it drove me crazy…so now I work a lot faster.
Did you have to slow down due to the pandemic or were you able to keep up with the fast pace that you’re more comfortable with?
In the beginning it was really hard to do things slowly because there was no immediate need to get anything done but then as I started painting I was just popping them out. I did about seven paintings this past year because it got a lot easier to get through and give myself deadlines.
Do you think that social media/being on social media has changed the art world? How have you navigated that?
For me it’s been hard because I love making art and I hate that it has to be commodified and sold, but that happens without social media as well. I think with social media people forget that a lot of time goes into making something. And there’s a lot of pressure to produce stuff fast and have a presence online because that’s the best way to get exposure. It gets tiring because you have to have a certain image that works with the algorithm, but I try to not let that get the best of me. I do it for myself so that the weight of having to “be” somebody doesn’t get the best of me.
Do you feel like you have found a creative community in the city/in general?
For sure. I met someone through social media who really helped me navigate the creative field. I have met a lot of super talented people through social media even though I have a bit of a love hate relationship with it.
You mentioned wanting to be a fashion designer when you were younger and then doing a lot of textile work at school. Do you see yourself in the future ever returning to fashion? Where do you see yourself being drawn to the most in the arts?
After doing textiles for four years, I learned that there was only so much I could do with it. I would love to learn how to sew and make my own clothing. My textile work is really inspired by my paintings so I would love to have my own business and break away from the norms of the textile industry.
Who are some of your role models? My mom. She always tells me how it is and never lies to me. I’ve learned so much from her and so much of what I do is inspired by what she wanted to do in her life. I want to be able to do all the things she wasn’t able to.
Do you find that you’ve seen your personal growth reflected in your art over the years?
I feel like my earlier paintings were very sad, but now they’re a lot more positive because I’m a lot more comfortable with who I am. I had to learn that the best thing I can do for myself is to be true to who I am and the rest will come naturally.
What’s on the horizon now?
Right now I’m trying to upcycle my clothing and play around with different fabrics and textures that I have instead of buying new clothes. I’m trying to learn how to get really good at that so I can make more clothes in the future.
Connect with Cristina: @choladoz