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Interview with artist, Stephanie Tripolitaki (Part Two)

In part two of our interview with contemporary and figurative artist, Stephanie Tripolitaki, we’re exploring the ways her ancestors have influenced her career as an artist while also discussing the varied reactions to her art, the ways nudity is still considered a taboo, Steph’s own art events, the boundaries she’s looking to push via her work, and more!


Artist, Stephanie Tripolitaki, standing in front of her self-love artwork during an exhibition
Steph has developed a strong portfolio of self-love art

Britain Uncovered: Hi Steph! Following on from part one of our converation, we’d love to hear all about your very own Drink and Paint events that you launched last year! How did these first come about, and what can attendees expect from the experience?

 

Steph: There’s a bar local to me that wanted to do something a bit different, and they mentioned something to do with art. I proposed my idea of a ‘Drink and Paint’ event, had a look to see how many people I could fit in, and then it went from there.

 

I find that when you go to paint classes, you learn a skill, but it’s almost like the person running it is the master, and we all are learning ‘how to’. But I didn’t want to do something where I’m teaching people, because we’re all masters in my opinion – and we all create what we feel connected to and what we want.

 

And they’ve turned out to be almost like therapy. I recently hosted an event with the theme of self-love, and I asked the attendees to bring with them a picture or an idea – something they feel connected to, and whatever self-love means to them. I do have references that people can work from, but I find that people don’t connect to those as much. So people painted themselves, or what they thought self-love was, and used wording or whatever they felt suited them best. So for me it’s less me about teaching, and more about me allowing them to create what they connect to in a safe environment, with like-minded people.


BU: Do you ever feature life models at your events, or would you rather people bring along their own unique muses and inspiration specific to them?

 

Steph: I think it’s a great skill to have a life model or to have a live object there, but I find for me, I won’t connect to it, so I won’t be passionate about what I’m doing.

 

For my recent session, which was based around a ‘Valentine’s Galentine’s’ theme, I sent out an email saying that I was going to bring references of what I thought was a cool thing to paint, or what I think love is. But that might not be what you think you think, so first, go and find something depicting what love means to you. Even though it was Valentine’s, it didn’t have to be a partner. It could have been a child, or an idea, or actually self-love. It can even be, ‘This is the type of love that I want and I’m going to portray that in a piece’.

 

So I said to go away and think about it; to look on your phone at past pictures, and look at moments in your life you’ve loved, and then use those – as opposed to me bringing a reference of something that you don’t connect to.


Artwork created at one of Stephanie Tripolitaki's 'Drink and Paint' events
A glimpse into a recent Drink and Paint event

BU: And if people have already spent time engaging before the class, they’re already invested and one step ahead before they arrive on the day.

 

Steph: Yes. It might be quite cathartic for them. Someone could say, “I’ve been through three really traumatic relationships, and actually I’m here the day before Valentine’s Day and I’m going to paint something about love and what love what love means to me”, and what comes out could actually be cathartic. Which has actually happened.

 

I hosted one event with self-love as the theme, and I’ve got this epic friend who’s got breast cancer, and she painted herself with her top half – and obviously she’s had one breast removed. So that was a massive thing. She was so scared painting it, even though it was her image to keep, and she didn’t need to share it with anyone. At the end of the class, she said, “I’m so proud of myself, and actually that fear is squashed now”, which was amazing to hear. I could have brought in a live model, but that would not have done that.

 

BU: Our own website has discussed social nudity experiences with people in great depth, but what do you make of more traditional life modelling classes in that sense? Do you think being in an environment where people are painting naked models can help to normalise body image and perceptions of the body in general? Is just the experience of that valuable in its own right?

 

Steph: Oh my god, absolutely. And I think it also desexualises women. Obviously there are life drawing classes for men as well, but I think predominantly it’s a bigger space for women. And I feel like with males, there will always be this fear of, “Oh, is there going to be some guy there that’s sexualising me,” or whatever. But also, they are just a female form. It’s a bit like a personal trainer’s client is just a body to them, and they’re training that body. It’s a beautiful body, regardless of its size and shape, and I think having those life drawing classes are priceless for that.


Self-love artist, Stephanie Tripolitaki, posing alongside her 'Loyalty Is Hot' painting
Steph alongside her 'Loyalty Is Hot' painting

BU: I think the more you go to these types of events, the more it can help to normalise and desexualise bodies. I think if society had greater access to these tools, I think there is a way to ultimately make nudity less taboo. Is that one of the aims of your art in some ways, or is it merely a happy side effect?

 

Steph: Maybe a side effect, because I’m aware that some people do view my work more erotically, and I’ve had those comments. I’ve actually had people send me dick pics as well, which is crazy to me. It shows a lot about who they are, and that they perceive my art that way – but anyone can view it however they want to. It’s okay for a female to be erotic. It’s okay for us to be more sensual. It’s okay for us to want to wear what we want to wear, and just feel safe in it. I would get people that think my work is erotic, but I just don’t see it that way.

 

The one thing I would say though, regarding it being a taboo, is that when my work is hung in businesses – even if it’s just for a month – they don’t tend to want the female form ones; because they are worried about customers that come in. Which I completely understand, but at the same time, change doesn’t happen unless you push things. And I want to push that boundary. What would happen if you hung a painting of a nude woman up? That 75 year-old woman would probably be like, “Yeah”!

 

BU: Imagine the reactions if you hung it up in a coffee shop like this! But children probably wouldn’t be offended by it, because they’re not sexualising the work the same way adults might. And by pushing these paintings away, or rejecting them and essentially censoring them, it’s making it an issue when it doesn’t really have to be.

 

Steph: Exactly, and I feel like that with my daughter. She has seen me paint countless nudes, and to her, it’s not even a thing. The only thing she has said is, “Mumma, that’s yours! Those are your boobs”! And I’m like, “Yep”!


'I Adore You', an empowering painting of the nude female form created by artist, Stephanie Tripolitaki
'I Adore You', a piece created in 2023

BU: So what you’re really doing for her, albeit unintentionally, is normalising the sight of the body without clothing. And because of that, your daughter isn’t shocked by it. Other people she encounters will have different attitudes and values, and some will see the sight of a topless person (for example) as shocking; but because she’s witnessed it her whole life, to her that’s just normal and not a big deal.

 

Steph: I could imagine her in that scenario being like, “Why are you all looking at that weirdly? It’s just a body.”

 

My great grandmother is 102 now, so this probably happened when she was in her nineties – she lives in a village in Crete, which is on the side of a mountain. Less than 100 people live there and it’s very quiet and secluded. But it’s probably also quite gossipy, because it’s such a small community. And one day a woman from the village came with her phone and they showed her this picture on Facebook of an 18-19 year old girl in a bikini on the beach. And they were being judgemental and saying, “Look at that, look at what she’s doing.” And my grandmother looked at it as, “Well, when is she going to do it, when she’s my age”? And it shut them up! And I think that forward-thinking attitude she has, there are probably so many people that have that – and by not putting up a nude image in a coffee shop, you’re pleasing everyone else, but you’re not pushing boundaries that I think need to be pushed.

 

So where I host my paint parties, they’ve got my artwork on the wall, and I’m changing it and they want some nudes – and I’m very happy about that!

 

BU: If anyone would know what kind of view to have on these things, it would be someone who’s lived to 102 – because they can look back now and see the areas where they’d wished they had been more confident at a certain age. There are memes on social media that say you often look back at photos of yourself from five or ten years ago, and think, “You were really unhappy with yourself at that point”, but when you look at them now, you think “Wow, I wish I looked like that now.” So encouraging people into that mindset when they are living in the moment is so important.

 

Steph: I can’t remember the name of the movie, but at the end the lead female character was speaking in a courtroom and she said something and I’ve always thought it in my head: “How do you create change? You don’t create change by always doing the same thing that everyone’s always done. You have to do something different to create that wave, that path for others to follow.”

 

And I think the women behind us who have been brave, who have created that path – and men – they’ve created that path so that we can walk it. And now we have to hold the torch and create different paths to create that change. You don’t create radical change by doing the same thing everyone’s always done. You have to do something different.


Artist, Stephanie Tripolitaki, with her self-love art at The Holy Art Fair exhibition in London
Steph with her work at The Holy Art Fair in London

BU: We first met at The Holy Art Fair in Shoreditch back in October 2023, where – among others – you had your ‘I Adore You’ piece out on show. What feedback did you get back from attendees?

 

Steph: I got such good feedback! People said that they love the messaging behind my pieces, the way I portray these women, and even the wording around them too. I feel so grateful that people thought that. I got a lot of feedback about prints, which I am going to be doing in the next few weeks. Limited edition prints and limited edition t-shirts.

 

I’m planning on doing limited edition runs of two different prints at the moment, of t-shirts.  The artwork on one is called ‘Shall I Let Go Now’, which depicts a purple woman with a crown on her vagina [you can see an image of this at the end of part one of our interview- Ed]. Someone said that would look cool on a t-shirt, so I made that as a t-shirt just for me. And I gave one to my sister, and I said, “What about this”? And she said, “Oh my god, I want it”!

 

I find I love clothing. I feel like it’s in me because my grandmother who passed away used to work on Savile Row as a seamstress. It’s almost like we’ve been brought up around clothing, and my sister used to make and design clothing too. I just love clothing.

 

BU: I love the generational story that’s threaded throughout your work, and the overarching story and influence that you’ve derived from your ancestors. Not only is the influence visible across your paintings, but it’s present in the t-shirts and all your other creations too – and you’re no doubt passing this influence down to your daughter as well. Your story seems based on the evolution of generations of different family members, which is probably why you’re so passionate about what you do as well.

 

Steph: My grandmother was in newspapers across Greece because of what she did. And I think to myself, “I wonder if my name will be in newspapers.” Maybe not because of art, but who knows. I’m here because of my past – it’s a generational thing.

 

BU: You recently mentioned on Instagram that there’s a “UV surprise” coming! Can you share a little as to what this might involve?

 

Steph: Not many people realise that all of my work glows under UV light! I like the idea that even in the darkness there is light. And so that’s why. Sometimes you don’t see it, but it gives my artwork a different perspective under UV. The painting changes in the dark under UV light and I like that concept where you might look at that painting and see bits of it in the light, and when a UV light is shined on it, something different comes to you.

 

BU: Does it reveal some of the words that you’ve embedded sometimes?

 

Steph: Yes. Some of the work is lost and then you see different parts of it. One in particular is called ‘Falling in Love’. Some of the wording is completely lost. I just like that I’m surprised by the end sometimes, by what will glow. Sometimes I might slightly shade a boob area, and see what that looks like at the end.


'Falling In Love', a painting by self-love artist, Stephanie Tripolitaki
'Falling in Love', one of Steph's favourite creations

BU: Out of all of your work to date, which are your favourite creations or those you are proudest of?

 

Steph: It’s funny, because what I would have liked at the time, I feel differently about now. I still love it, but that moment in time, I’ve grown from that and done something new. I don’t know what it is, but I still feel like ‘Falling in Love’ is one of my favourites. It’s so many layers, it’s got writing all over it, poetry all over it, drips of paint all over it, and then more writing and then chunks of paint and I carve into it. And for me it’s so many layers, and when I finished it, I just thought, “I love this.” And then I realised that, actually, me falling in love was actually a message to myself that I’m falling in love with myself. From being in a place where I didn’t really love myself. And I love that.

 

I also like ‘I Adore You’. I would get mocked for it, but one of my friends said, “What’s your favourite word? I bet yours is love.” And it is! Because I think love saves people. I think love is an antidote for a lot of things. If only a child was loved more. If only a woman or man was loved more in their relationship. If only you’re loved in society. But loved for who you are, not for what you look like.

 

BU: Does the word ‘love’ feature a lot throughout your artwork?

 

Steph: Yes, because on so many different levels, I want to love myself more. I feel like I give so much love, and I want to give so much love – but it’s like a gift. I want people to feel loved around me, but also, I want someone to love me deeply, because I feel like I need that back.


BU: As we bring our conversation to a close, what advice would you say to someone who is struggling with body image issues at present, and is there anything that’s helped you in that regard in the past?

 

Steph: I think you have to dig deep into what caused it. I think I could flash forward to my 80 year-old self, and she would say, “Don’t worry about it, life’s too short.” But that doesn’t help me right now. It’s a lovely thought and I do think to myself sometimes, “What would my 80 year-old self think? Just do it.” Yes, so go and do it.

 

But with body image it is basically going back and reframing those moments that you have. I’m a massive advocate of the fact that it doesn’t just take you telling yourself every day that you’re beautiful to suddenly make that happen. Think instead, “Why do I not think I’m beautiful? What has happened in my life that formed that opinion?”


Artist, Stephanie Tripolitaki, pictured at a coffee shop in Twickenham during her interview with Britain Uncovered
Steph on the day of our conversation

If somebody says, “I don’t feel like I’m beautiful because I was bullied in school by girls who called me fat”. Okay, well I’m going to reframe that memory. “Oh, but they called me fat and that really hurt because I didn’t think I was.” Actually, they were unhappy with themselves, and that is why. And when you start reframing memories, you kind of let them go.


I feel like with my school experience, I told myself for so long I’m stupid and I can’t learn. That I can’t be a marine biologist (which is what I wanted to be when I was younger) because I’m not clever enough, so I can’t do that. And actually, those teachers made me feel that way, and I’ve been carrying this idea that I am this for so long, which has shaped my actions in life.


And going back and reframing it, and saying, “Actually, you know what, I’m not stupid and I never was – it’s just they couldn’t teach the way I needed to learn.” And that’s okay, but actually I’m glad all of that happened anyway, because I’m here right now. If any of that was different, maybe I wouldn’t be painting.

 

If I love myself now, it doesn’t mean I have to love myself every day, but on the whole, if I love myself now, then I have to love those experiences that shaped me – both good and bad. It’s not the good ones that shape you, it’s the bad ones. So I have to respect that. It doesn’t mean it was right, but I wouldn’t be here without that, so I’m happy that I’m here. So for anyone going through that, you are beautiful, no one has the right to tell you you’re not, and if they do, don’t carry that torch. Go back and maybe look at why they said that, because it is a reflection of them, not on you.

 

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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