Daphne Christoforou is a True Creative-Powerhouse
A true multipotentialite, Daphne Christoforou‘s work spans the mediums of illustration, weaving, graphic design (she’s won two Adobe Design Achievement Awards, no big deal), and more. She’s adept at interpreting symbols from the past, think Tibetan iconography or Hindu symbolism, by giving them unconventional twists. While she works primarily as an illustrator, she’s also worked on projects that utilize Greek, traditionally women’s, weaving techniques and drawings for stoneware. When I first discovered her on Instagram my initial impression was to ask “how is this artist good at SO MANY THINGS?” Fun fact: her mother is a weaver, and Daphne grew up surrounded by these creative traditions. She also does Olympic Weightlifting training. Yes, she is an all-around badass human.
Currently based in Nicosia, Cyprus, Daphne wrote to us from her studio in Kaimakli. Our conversation touches on everything from the elusive flow state, to the importance of physicality for a creative life, as well as how centuries of art have been unfairly labeled as “women’s work.”
Without further ado… enjoy Daphne’s art accompanied by this journey into her rich inner world.
How did you get started making art? Was there a moment of inspiration that sparked things? Did you study art at any point?
My mum is a textile designer, specialising in weaving, so growing up I was always exposed to art materials, books, exhibitions and documentaries. But from what I remember, I took art a bit more seriously when I was about eight years old, after I drew for my homework this Neolithic hut with people sitting inside (which I actually traced from a book) and the teacher thought I was extremely talented and put it on the board for everyone to see. So I guess perhaps it all started with a lie! After that I thought I should step up my art game as my class had high expectations of me! I received my BA in Illustration at Brighton University and a Masters degree in Visual Communication from the Royal College of Art in London.
Your work sometimes draws on techniques, such as weaving, that are part of Hellenic culture and in the past were typically considered women’s work. I love to see these “crafts” more accepted as art forms. what about them inspires you? Who taught you these? do you think it’s important to preserve them
Well since my mum is a weaver we always had a traditional Cypriot loom around. Growing up though, I was not interested in that, I thought it was the most un-cool thing ever! The loom is big and noisy (the beater makes a very particular noise) and the whole process is extremely time-consuming. When I had to choose which field of art to study, I went round all the studios at the University to see if that would help with my decision and I tried to like the textiles room but got most excited about a room full of people drawing in silence!
It is only now that I am getting more involved with weaving. You see I like making figurative art and this is particularly challenging with most types of looms, which are great for geometric pattern work. But since my studio is in my mum’s weaving workshop, I am around looms all the time, which intrigues me to learn new techniques and methods such as using digital looms. My perspective of weaving is gradually changing.
I love how ancient weaving (and ceramics) is. I do feel that some artists are quite snobbish towards crafts (particularly weaving, embroidery any types of women’s work) and that makes me want to work with them even more! The process of learning and practising the skills required is quite humbling. I can’t deal with thinking ideas and concepts all day, it makes me feel like I am too much in my head and doing physical craftwork brings me back down to earth.
I love that the subjects of your work are so wide-ranging. From existential humor to using ancient symbols, and sometimes a clever mixture of both. Where do you find the most inspiration?
I like looking at historical objects such as medieval tapestries, Buddhist wall hangings, Indian Chintz textiles etc. but I also get a lot inspiration from modern life, reading books, everyday situations and science documentaries. Sometimes drawing an upsetting event/occurrence from my life is a way of dealing with it.
Speaking of symbols, a lot of your work draws on themes from Buddhism and Hinduism. Do you meditate or have any sort of practice based on these philosophies?
I often listen to Buddhist teachings online if I am working on a manual repetitive task but I do not ‘sit’ especially to meditate. I do spend long hours drawing though, which is a bit like meditation: if you are thinking too much…you can not draw! I think the same applies with any activity, which requires concentration. Because most of my day is spent sitting at a desk (drawing, doing admin etc), for my free time I like to move and train my body (and brain) in a different way. So I do yoga and also go to Olympic Weightlifting training with the Cyprus (Olympic Weightlifting) Federation. Both of these activities require what Buddhist’s call an ‘empty mind’ especially Olympic Weightlifting (you can not perform any lifts while thinking). Some friends wonder why I do it since it is particularly challenging (physically and mentally) as well as scary. But while training, it often becomes very apparent how your mind is your worst enemy and is kind of sabotaging you (a very familiar theme in Buddhism training). So Olympic weightlifting is an amazing practice for clearing your mind, ignoring self-sabotaging thoughts, improving concentration, developing mental toughness and mind/body connection as well as strong body!
What was the last book you read (or film you saw) that inspired you and why?
It was a book by Will Storr called ‘‘Selfie, how we became so self-obsessed and what it’s doing to us’’. This book about the human idea of the self: its ancient Greek origins, the Asian counterpart and how it became a notion that can be worked on and improved. These days due to Social Media our ‘constructed self’ and how others perceive it, is greatly emphasized and often becomes an obsession. ‘ Selfie….’ is one of the most captivating books I have ever read and I highly recommend it! It is inspiring because these are current issues presented in a historical, analytical and creative way, which is particularly helpful for people –like myself- wondering how we have become self-oriented.
Do you think it’s important for Greeks and Cypriots to identify with their culture? Why or why not?
I think it is good for people to become familiar with their culture without becoming too preoccupied by it. Otherwise whatever they produce will just be a repeat of a traditional formula. I believe that the key lies in breaking the formulas and historical conventions while borrowing its skills and wisdom. If I was to speak in percentages I would say my ideal ratio -at this point- would be 35% tradition 65% innovation!
You work with several mediums. Which is your current favorite and why?
I always return back to drawing with pencils and pens because of the simplicity of the materials and immediacy of drawing. I enjoy working with different mediums and processes but each medium has its ‘secrets’, which need to be unlocked through practice and experimentation. I often get lost in this process and feel like I want to return back to the directness of drawing. So drawing is my basis and after that need is satisfied, then I continue with the rest of techniques and mediums.
What Greek or Cypriot artists, currently living, inspire you the most (if any?)
Since I lived in England for ten years before moving to Cyprus, I am not very familiar with many artists here. But from what I have seen, I love the atmospheric photographs of Stellios Kallinikou, Georgia Moditi’s fashion work (who is also my neighbour in Kaimakli) and Joanna Louca’s woven pieces. I don’t know about Greece but in Cyprus there seems to be a lot of negativity among young creatives about the lack of jobs and the almost inexistent market so it is quite encouraging to see that a few artists and designers are active and also trying to expand into the international market. It is a tiny island after all compared to the rest of the world, so in my opinion to make any sort of living from your art you need to actively seek out opportunities all over the world! That’s why I admire the people mentioned because they are creating their own ‘success.’
Lady Alchymia, Illustration based on the goddess of Alchemy standing among King Sulphur and a Philosopher.
Check out more of Daphne’s art on her personal site
And on Instagram @daphne_christoforou
If you loved this interview, check out our conversation with iconic Australian photographer Polixeni Papapetrou