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Interview with artist, Stephanie Tripolitaki (Part One)

In our latest interview, Britain Uncovered is speaking with contemporary and figurative artist, Stephanie Tripolitaki! In the first half of our conversation, we’re discussing why Steph paints the female form, the ways she’s inspired by her female ancestors, how and why her art is helping to redefine people’s perspectives of themselves, the importance of words in relation to her work, Steph’s own body confidence levels, and more!


Artist, Stephanie Tripolitaki, posing in front of her artwork at The Holy Art Fair in London
Stephanie posing with her work at The Holy Art Fair in Shoreditch last October

Britain Uncovered: Hi Steph! To kick things off, we’d like to start by asking about your initial impetus and incentive behind picking up a paint brush. What was your motivation when you first started, and did you have a specific message in mind that you were seeking to convey through this medium?

 

Steph: My earlier work was almost like a coping mechanism, because I was going through a separation and I was a single mother and all that stuff. So it was me just trying to escape for a bit. But it never was an escape – it was actually a place of peace.

 

BU: You created the Instagram account for your art back in 2020, and in one of your early captions you said, “I’ve always been creative, however never thought of myself as an artist – I paint what I want, how I want to”. Having now developed a fantastic portfolio and a really strong following in the years since, at what stage did you accept that you are in fact an artist, and was there a particular tipping point in this regard?

 

Steph: I can’t pinpoint a specific time, but I still have those moments where I feel like a bit of an imposter. We’re human, so we’re always going to have doubts in our mind that flare up, and moments where we feel like we’re not good enough. But I feel like, on reflection, we are all artists, and I am an artist. And you don’t need a certain income to be an artist, you’re an artist regardless. But that’s how I felt at that time.

 

As a human I’m very much into self-development, and looking inwardly and healing traumas – which I think comes through in some of my pieces, where I use it almost as a form of therapy. When things happen to you in life and you feel like you’re not good enough, remember that you are always enough, and you have always been enough. And you will always be enough no matter what happens. I think my work and my emotional well-being kind of tie-in to one.


Artist, Stephanie Tripolitaki, posing alongside nude artwork of the female form created in 2021
An 'in progress' painting Steph created in 2021

BU: At what point did you start focusing on the body so predominantly in your work, and was there something that particularly resonated with you when you first started drawing or painting bodies?

 

Steph: I started painting the female form from the very beginning. I feel very grateful I’m sitting here right now, and I’m here today because of my ancestors and the things that they did. So I want to carry this on for my daughter, her potential daughters someday, and for other women as well.

 

My female ancestors did some incredible things. They paved the path for me today, so I feel like I’m – not in debt – but in awe of them. I think in life, as a woman, we almost need to conform to be accepted in whatever space we’re in. And I feel like all it takes are these little acts of bravery that we do in life. It could be as little as standing up for yourself in front of a child, because then they know it’s okay to stand up for themselves.


I’m half Greek, and my great grandmother hid soldiers during the war in Crete to protect them. And I think that act of bravery sends a very clear message, but it also provides a ripple effect. I feel like that’s why I’m here today, because she’s so epic! And then on my British side, my great grandmother was one of the first women who bought her house in Tufnell Park outright by herself, in cash. And women were limited with working hours at that time, so I think it’s just these things are almost passed through us and why I’m here. I feel like that’s one part of why I paint the female form.

 

The other part is that actually, women are pinned against each other. There’s so much competition with “I’m not this, I’m not that”, and, “I’m not good enough, I don’t look right”, or “That’s the ideal physique”, and all that stuff. But actually, we are all the same. We are all one, and we’re all connected. And I paint women because of that reason. That’s also why I don’t paint the heads, and a lot of the time I don’t paint the hands or feet either. It’s not that they don’t matter, but you can identify someone by those elements. So if I strip that away, it’s almost like the women in the paintings could be anyone.

 

And I paint nudes because the female form is amazing. But also, you’ve taken away their clothing, and their clothes show their status in the world, and how much money they have – but none of that matters. So I like to strip all of that away.


Artist, Stephanie Tripolitaki, pictured in front of her painting, 'Athena Belongs To No One'
Steph painting 'Athena Belongs To No One'

BU: How does your creative process unfold when you undertake commissions, and do these pieces comprise a significant portion of the work you’re involved in at present?

 

Steph: I don’t tend to do a lot of commissions, because in order for me to paint a female, a photo is just not enough – because I want to pour my emotions into it, and also theirs. I want to know who these people truly are, the struggles they’ve been through in life, and where they’re at now.

 

One woman I painted felt like she was so unattractive, and she told me her story about her life and what made her feel that way. I was able to take that and give her that light and confidence through the work, so she could hang it up and it could have those little messages coming through, of ‘You’re insane’, and ‘You’re amazing’. And taking something that’s maybe pained her, and actually giving her some light back.

 

In terms of the process, the models are always in full control of photography and the images they send me, because it’s a very daunting experience having a photograph taken of you when maybe you’re not confident, or you don’t feel confident in a certain pose. I’d rather them do it in their safe environment and then send me a photo that they feel epic in. They then send it to me and I paint off that. I do ask if there any colours they’d like me to use, but mostly they’re happy to let me go with whatever I think works best.

 

BU: What kind of feedback have you had from the people who you’ve created commissions for, and have they found that seeing themselves ‘as art’ has changed their perceptions of the ways they view themselves and/or given them a boost in confidence?

 

Steph: I definitely think so. That’s why I love them to take a photo. Because they can get an angle that they feel comfortable with and that they like. And they can also take it of their body – it doesn’t have to be their whole body – but the parts that they love. Having said that, I’m a massive advocate of actually painting the parts of yourself that you don’t love. Because even if you don’t love them, everyone else probably thinks they’re amazing.


'Lick Me', a painting of a purple ice cream cone created by artist, Stephanie Tripolitaki
Words are a critically important part of Steph's creations

BU: I think the permanence of artwork like this can have a profound impact on people over the long term too. In the time you’ve been creating your art and working on these commissions, has it had a significant impact on you as the artist as well, in terms of your own self-perceptions? So many women have been brave enough to come to you and to send photos and put themselves out there, physically and emotionally, so has working with these individuals – and working in this space in general – had a big impact on how you view yourself, and your own confidence and body confidence?

 

Steph: Well I actually do paint myself as well, so some of the paintings in my Instagram feed are of me. I just don’t tell anyone which ones! I like painting myself because I feel so connected to what I’m doing, and it’s almost like I’m giving myself the love that I didn’t get, or that I need (or needed). But in the moment I’m painting, it almost doesn’t hit you that it’s actually you.

 

Over the course of my life, I feel like I have been a lot bigger and I’ve been smaller, and it wasn’t a yo-yo thing. For most of my life, I was a lot bigger, and then I lost lots of weight and then gained a little bit after having my daughter. The slimmest I’ve been was by no means when I was the most confident. I think the most confident I’ve been is now, after I’ve had a child. It took me a long time to get here, because after I had my daughter I did feel like my body is no longer the same as it was, and it never will be. I’ve lost shape and things like that, but it is actually an inside job, and making sure you surround yourself with people that see the value in you and love you, and who think you’re beautiful, amazing and brave.

 

I think my art has given me more confidence because not only am I painting other women, but I feel like I’m taking experiences or things that might be painful and turning them into something beautiful. At the moment I’m painting a disco ball, and my concept behind it is that we go through life and we feel like we’re broken, or that people have broken or destroyed us. But we were never broken, we never were. We were just shattered, so that had to happen so we could come together and shine brighter. And learn. And actually, the concept of glass shattering and actually making something amazing out of it, and it being more epic than it was before – I love those different parts of me that I portray in my art.

 

It’s made me more confident doing this, for sure – and also more sure of who I am. The experiences we have in life massively shape us, and they can bring us down. I had no body issues at all, even when I was at my biggest. None. Until I was pinned against other women by a man, or a relationship. When you’re in a relationship and you’re not as good or as beautiful as someone who’s got massive boobs and a round bum, you then start to have feelings of ‘I’m not good enough.’ And I feel like this is just life. You go through life and have these experiences and it takes a lot of inner work to realise that actually, they made you feel like that, and that doesn’t make you that. And I’m not that, and I’m not going to tell myself any longer that I am that, because I’m not. So everything I do is a lot of inner work, reflected in my art.


Artist, Stephanie Tripolitaki, working on a new painting featuring a disco ball
"We were never broken - we were just shattered"

BU: We often speak to people about the societal aspect of this in general, because obviously the media does often present just one ideal body type. How damaging do you think this is, and do you think we’re making enough progress via the body positivity movement? Artists such as yourself are fighting back against this notion, whether consciously or not, and the body positivity movement is doing an excellent job of celebrating people of all body shapes and sizes. But is the media still holding us back and not really getting on-board as much as they should be?

 

Steph: I would say yes and no. Yes, because you have people like Billie Eilish. She doesn’t put an emphasis on her body, and I think that’s an amazing thing. I think that basically there are people like that. It all filters down, right? So the famous people, the people that are in the public eye – everyone wants to be like that. And the media then includes people like this in their ad campaigns. So I think yes, there are good movements happening, and kind of a shift in what was deemed to be acceptable with a woman’s body, and what we should strive to.

 

But equally no, because everything is almost like a trend. So you had Twiggy, where the trend was to be stick thin. Then Marilyn Monroe, that was the trend. Today you’ve got the Kardashians, now that’s a trend. It’s all about what’s trending. When I was a teenager, the trend was to pluck your eyebrows super thin, but now the trend is to leave them super bushy. The thicker the better! All of it is trends. It was trendy to have big boobs and people would go out of their way to get implants to achieve that. And then it became ‘small boobs are better’. But who’s better than anyone else – it’s just a pile of shit! It actually means nothing. It doesn’t make you a better person, it doesn’t make you kinder, it doesn’t make you more giving, it doesn’t make you any more loved – you’re just trying to chase something, instead of being content with who you are now.

 

But I would say that I feel like there’s so much more diversity and room for different body shapes and sizes now. I’ll be honest with you – I don’t tend to look on Instagram or watch the news or look at people, or even look at other artists. I find it very off-putting because I don’t want to get swayed from what internally needs to come out.

 

BU: This approach must have its advantages though, because it ensures that what you’re doing is original and authentically you! If you’re constantly seeing other people’s work, it might influence you and your choice of colours and suchlike, so by keeping yourself zoned off you’re focusing entirely on you and your own output.

 

Steph: If it’s not coming from me, and it doesn’t feel right, I will not do it.

 

BU: Were there any artists at all you looked up to or were inspired by before you started?

 

Steph: There’s a couple of artists I follow who I love their work, because it sends a message, which is what I feel like I want to do with my work. It’s not just a piece of art that looks cool on a wall, it’s also got a message behind it. Other than that, no.


'Shall I Let Go', a painting by artist Stephanie Tripolitaki depicting the nude female form
'Shall I Let Go' shines differently under UV light

BU: The words and text around the art you create is a big part of what you do now. How did the idea for that come about, and how challenging is it to come up with that kind of combination? Are there times you paint the piece and struggle to find the right word? Or do you come up with the word first and then build around it? How does that process work?

 

Steph: It’s funny really, because I grew up not being very good with my words. Or my school experience was that I was basically made to feel like I was stupid, and not academic. So it’s funny now that I write a lot. I think words are hugely powerful.


Just like words can bring you down, words can also lift you up. With my daughter I tell her every day, “Do you know how incredible you are”? Even when she goes to school, I’ll say, “You know what, it doesn’t matter what you get in school, you’re amazing, so don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re not.” I didn’t get that feeling from my school, so I’m trying to compensate and make sure she feels that.

 

I feel like if I were unable to communicate with words, then I don’t know what would come out, because all we know is words. We communicate words, energetically, and so I pour a lot of that into my work. What I tend to do – and this isn’t every time – but for the glitter ball painting I have a concept, so I wrote down almost a poem. I don’t know what I’d call it – my poetry, my words – but I’ll write it down. Sometimes I write straight onto the canvas, other times I write down in a notebook first. And then I cover it with paint, and nine times out of ten you don’t actually see what’s underneath. But I think that’s quite beautiful in itself that actually, because there’s so much of ourselves that you can’t see. But it doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s embedded in there, and it will always be there – you might just not know exactly what it says, but that’s okay.

 

– Our conversation with Steph took place over a cup of coffee in the relaxing surrounds of The Press Room in Twickenham on February 8, 2024. In the second half of this special feature, we’ll be discussing even more about Steph’s work to date – whilst turning our attention to Steph’s very own ‘Drink and Paint’ events, the ways that her art can help desexualise the female form, her perspectives on self-love, the revelation that all of her work glows under UV light, and so much more!

 

Steph Tripolitaki is a contemporary and figurative artist based just outside of London. To see more of the artist’s work and to keep tabs on her latest projects, be sure to head to Steph’s official website, www.theartiststeph.com or follow her over on Instagram @theartiststeph.

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