Spaces in Between: Sondheim Prize finalist Christos Palios ’02 discusses his art

Christos Palios ’02, visual arts, a photographer whose work is displayed in public and private collections across the country, is a finalist for the 2016 Janet and Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize. Before the award is announced tomorrow, Palios talks about his approach to his art, and how his education and background inform his photography.
Give me a brief overview of your post-UMBC career trajectory. After a brief stint doing multimedia design for a firm in Baltimore, I quickly realized I preferred the liberty of navigating on my own schedule. Subsequent voyages abroad (France, Morocco, Greece, the latter being where my heritage resides) forged a deep interest in subjects and stories that transcend mere beauty. Since 2007 I’ve been practicing my art full-time and selling directly to individual collectors, corporations, and the government.
Markopoulo I
Markopoulo I, by Christos Palios. From the Unfinished series.

Your body of work focuses a lot on empty spaces and non-populated areas. What draws you to those spaces? What makes you want to document that type of isolation? There’s a compelling surrealism to unoccupied spaces usually peopled to the brim or at least with a constant flow; a sociological intrigue arises without their expected human counterparts. Think Miami Beach in the dead of night, or an abandoned new structure frozen in the construction phase — such spaces transmute and take on alternative meaning.

I’ve somehow always gravitated to forgotten, ambiguous environments for the potential to tell alternative stories in universal ways. Aside from serenity and thought-provoking aspects to such spaces, I seek irregularity, deviation, and discreet subtleties to make a connection. I ask “why?” a lot.

What in your background has influenced your art? Is there anything about your UMBC experience that has influenced your work? My parents’ openness and encouragement was paramount. Additionally, I recall my professors constantly encouraging honest discourse and unabashed personal expression. Depending on student personalities, it wasn’t always pretty, but nonetheless we expected honesty and a semblance of politeness among one another during critiques. In the beginning, this was very new to me; suffice it to say, I learned to appreciate that quickly.

During one of my first art history lectures, I well recall a classmate not understanding one of Jackson Pollock’s abstract drip paintings as art. In response to this sentiment, he politely interrupted, and as all heads rose in eager anticipation, he boldly asserted his opinion: “I’m sorry, but this is total s***!” The lecture that day veered toward a different and serendipitous course of personal expression in art.

Your bio says you started out in design and animation. What made you decide to move into photography? Demand for the kind of work I aspired to do (special effects) required a move out-of-state to NYC or Los Angeles, for example. Which is something I didn’t wish to pursue at the time, particularly since it entailed moving further away from my family. (Greeks stick together, it’s a thing.) Additionally, by then my dabbling in photography grew into a more serious interest. So looking back, it wasn’t a decisive moment where I just knew this was it; rather, it became something I transitioned into experientially beginning with my travels in Southern France and while visiting family in Greece.
Catharsis
Catharsis, by Christos Palios. From the Conversations series.

What advice do you have for young artists, particularly those in college? There is much truth to the overdrawn maxim of “get out and shoot.” To that I’d add: be open. The more commonplace images I’ve captured [and thought were awesome], the greater my desire grew to hone my craft, to look deeper into subjects. I’m a proponent of unyieldingly challenging oneself and to consider conceptual aspects of stories. Search for narratives untold, or familiar ones expressed uniquely and cohesively from one’s point of view. This is a good way to gradually foster a unique visual style. If one feels a project hasn’t matured, try putting it aside and look back in a short while, as hard as it may be; a lot of truth and clarity may rise to the surface as a result of that discipline.

I’ll echo one more piece of advice I was given by a photographer friend: visit galleries and museums frequently, it’s a tremendously invaluable source of education and inspiration.

— Julia Celtnieks ’13