Two sculptures have become synonymous with Paphos, being photographed hundreds of thousands of times and shared on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Little Fisher Boy and Sol Alter, a homage to Aphrodite, have taken on a life of their own.
“I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide I would make a sculpture, I have been doing this for many years as well as painting. But because these pieces are public art my name has become known,” says the artist behind them Yiota Ioannidou.
The sculptures were part of the town’s European Capital of Culture 2017 programme, “signs in time and space.”
Another of her sculptures is found in Argaka and honours rural mothers. It is a legacy of a local man, following the premature death of his wife in a car accident.
Yiota herself is modest, engaging and hugely likeable, but like most artists she has her insecurities. And she said she by agreeing to such public sculptures she took a chance with her career as she didn’t know what the outcome would be. “This is my way to communicate with people. Even if they don’t know who am, I or what I look like they know somebody did this. When I see people take pictures of my sculptures, this is my energy and my payment back.”
Although the two sculptures, that draw hundreds of visitors every day, have now been in place for two years, she still likes to see people looking at them.
Yiota is adamant that a sculpture can’t be put just anywhere, and that the place around it makes it important, especially in the case of public art. “I have to feel it. Public art is more important than the art we show in galleries and museums. With public art, you go close to the people and bring art to them, this is powerful.”
Born in Paphos, Yiota studied at the School of Fine Arts in Athens and returned to Paphos, which she loves. She loosely quotes Cavafy, an Egyptian Greek poet, ‘wherever you go, the place will follow you’. She believes going abroad is temporary and returning to the place that you were born, to your roots, is the only way for art to flourish.
“If you take inspiration from your roots it can’t be otherwise. You can see European art for example, but you are a Mediterranean person that lives in Cyprus, with the mentality of a Cypriot and the connections. This is where you have to start to search for yourself in your art.”
Yiota’s motivation is not money, but her legacy. Everyone wants to leave something, this is very important and maybe selfish, she said. “Do you want a small place in the history of art, or do you want to just sell art. I want the former,” she said.
At the age of five or six while work was being undertaken at her family home, Yiota became fascinated with the stone being used to make a wall and asked if she could have one of them and to borrow some tools. He mother allowed it, and Yiota sculpted a face onto the stone, which has been kept by her sister. “I saw them hitting the stone and it looked easy, before that I thought stone was stiff and strong but it wasn’t and I saw you could work on it.”
This was her first sculpture and by the age of ten Yiota was helping her father, a teacher, and painted sets for his school productions. “He was very conservative but, in this area, he was open minded, and he pushed and helped me to follow my dream.”
She said the work of an artist is to be able to create the moment they are experiencing but as people looking at it are experiencing their own feelings and emotions the important thing is to make them feel something. This is a big responsibility as artist has, she said.
Yiota takes inspiration from everything around her and observes the smallest of details that may pass the rest of us by. Most are in nature; tiny things from a seed up to something on a larger scale. She also relies on “feelings” she gets from people and uses them to create some of her work. Recently, she approached a woman she didn’t know as she liked her face and shape, and persuaded her to pose for her at her studio. “She posed very well, it was perfect”.
Art is always important and each work is a continuation of the previous one. Each artist does one thing in their life but accomplishes it in many ways and tries it many times, Yiota said, adding that her art hasn’t changed that much as she’s the same person. “Projects you have done 20 years apart are basically the same projects, only in a different way, it’s like a signature. The idea is about giving yourself time to get deeper, to learn. “
Artists should use experiences to create something, but she thinks that some young artists have lost their way, and are too influenced by European modern art.
They have to find themselves and accept themselves, she said.
She reflects that if an artist manages to produce a picture that nothing, no machine can make, they feel as if they are marking their moment in time. And then they are happy, it’s a difficult thing, she said.
“Art is my oxygen, it’s my life. I can’t live without art. To find a solution for small problems in the studio every day. This is my therapy. It is classic for artists, it is normal.”