Painter, printer and researcher, George Sfougaras was accepted on the Artists Access to Art Colleges (AA2A) scheme to develop his body of work in a residency at Loughborough University, drawing on technical, material and academic resources and equipment. This is his experience so far in 2023.
I applied to be part of the AA2A scheme at Loughborough University, primarily because I liked the thought of working with academics and art staff and students. Of course there was the additional value of a great print room and of new technologies, such as 3D printing and hopefully laser engraving.
Loughborough is highly rated in the league tables for Creative Arts, a fact which I found out after I had submitted my application. On arrival I could see why. The work ethic and the support for the students in the Creative arts is of very high calibre. There is an ethos of sensitivity and acceptance or supportive challenge and the studios are a dream to someone who trained in an 80’s environment. Presses and older equipment for making passionately felt work by hand are housed within the large metal structure. Across the road there is a brand new state of the art building housing 3D printers, engraving equipment and LIDAR scanners.
George Sfougaras working on a print
I had been using metal in my printed work in one form or another since 2016 when I created the first embossed relief prints in metal alloys but I wanted to explore ways to increase the ‘physicality’ of my printed surface.
My application was based on the need to access a variety of equipment with which to print, edition, emboss, engrave and metal dye cast, some of which were available at the university.
The residency coincided with my ‘Foreign Saints and the Hagiography of the Ordinary’, a body of work comprising printed, drawn and painted artworks incorporating silver and metallic finishes. Silver, and to a lesser extent gold, were the two materials that sparkled and reflected the flames of the thin candles inside the darkened interior of the Orthodox Churches of my childhood. They appeared to my young eyes as both holy and magical.
George Sfougaras, engraving into Aluminium
It occurred to me that much of that work is a way of referencing that feeling of the divine and of magic, the rich reflective quality of precious metals decorating the icons, or hanging over them, as thousands of mass-produced silver or cheaper silver-plated tin votive offerings hang around the interiors, a sign of people’s dialogue with a greater power.
George Sfougaras, reliquary book
These recent works more than any others made previously, reference my religious upbringing, but they are now a way of underscoring the importance, one might say the divine nature of ordinary things: 'a painful or a treasured memory, a newsworthy event, a beautiful poem, a feeling of spirituality, my parents’ lives, love. Hence the subtitle 'The Hagiography of the Ordinary’
The silver is a memory, a symbol and an aesthetic element, its reflective surface multiplying the light cast upon it. It still holds that sense of magic for me, the spark of something indefinable in an otherwise dark somber space. I decided to look at the ways that the tentacles of religion have woven themselves in my artworks and how childhood beliefs have re-emerged in my work over the years.
I have been working at home at my studio at Leicester Print Workshop for some of the time, but attending Loughborough University two or three days per week. I have been exploring how 3D printing can be used to create works on the theme of votive offerings, combining metal and paper in the print room and in my studio and simultaneously benefitting from immensely valuable academic dialogue and events such as the Jewellery Symposium, which brought me into contact with the wonderful staff in that department and subsequently PhD students whose work has been incredibly enriching, even in the short time I have been there. Meeting the other AA2As and the Fine Art students and staff have also added much value to my attendance at Loughborough as has the coordinator of the AA2A. I have joined the Drawing Research Group, another fantastic group of academics.
My practice continues in a number of settings, and it may come to pass that I will not be able to achieve all the technical targets I foresaw. I want to ensure that a lot of what I want to do is still achievable after the residency, and that the ideas that have sparked joy in me will continue in some form in other environments. I am however immensely grateful and enriched by the AA2A experience, , and I look forward to the next few months and to my end of residency show held with four amazing artists. The exhibition will take place between the 15th May – 9th June. Opening times: 12 – 2pm, weekdays.