Prominent London artist Andrea Tyrimos highlights the intersection of art, multimedia and mental illness. When ABILITY’s Chet Cooper and Lia Martirosyan traveled to Tyrimos’ neck of the woods, they nipped into her vibrant studio to explore her portraiture and interview her about her vision for healing the world through truth-telling art. Tyrimos welcomed ABILITY into her creative space and whole-heartedly illustrated in words her mission with this exhibition she’s titled Bipolar Picasso. As you read on and experience her art, you will hopefully feel her personal connection and dedication to this project as it shines through the eyes of each piece.
Lia Martirosyan: Thanks for having us here in your studio.
Andrea Tyrimos: It’s lovely to have you guys here.
Martirosyan: Hearing your name I thought, does she have Greek roots?
Andrea Tyrimos: Cypriot. Both my mum and dad are Greek; my mum was born in Cyprus, the little island near Greece. But I’m a born and bred Londoner.
Martirosyan: Have you’ve been to Cyprus or Greece?
Tyrimos: When I was young, we spent most summer holidays on Cyprus. I hadn’t been for about 10 years, and then I went last April; I had an exhibition there. That was cool. And then a few years ago, I visited a beautiful Greek island. Have you been?
Martirosyan: No but I would love to go to the islands.
Tyrimos: They’re really lovely.
Martirosyan: I can’t imagine the accessibility there. How does your mum get along physically?
Tyrimos: It’s only as she’s gotten older that she struggles a bit more. They said she might now have post-polio syndrome, where she gets tired very quickly. But she has a caliper to support her leg, and yet she still gets around.
Martirosyan: Let’s talk about your paintings. What really stands out in your portraits are the eyes. What’s the story behind that choice?
Tyrimos: I didn’t start off making a conscious effort to portray the eyes in any special way, but a lot of people comment on that. I think when I met the people who sat for the portraits, the one thing that came across strongly was the emotion in their eyes—a combination of vulnerability and strength. Also the lack of detail in the hair and clothing in the paintings draw the viewer in a bit more. So maybe self-consciously I try to get the painting to show the person’s inner self.
Initially, I thought they were going to be full portraits with the backgrounds filled and all the rest of the details. But as I painted, I had to trust the process, and I realized the figures looked stronger, and you were able to connect with them more emotionally when you didn’t have any of those distractions. You were confronted with just the face looking back at you. It forces you to connect with it.
Martirosyan: I get that.
Tyrimos: I paint portraits of members of the public and of celebs, so by stripping them bare of how their hair was styled or how they were dressed, it brings it back down to the fact that we’re all just people, united by our different experiences with mental-health vulnerabilities.
Martirosyan: As I sit here, they all look like they’re looking at me. Do you see it, too?
Martirosyan: You mentioned in your gallery that you had set up audio files with little narratives. How did you do that?
Tyrimos: For the purpose of this show, I wanted to meet every person who sat for me and to take a series of photographs and sketches of them. But then I quickly realized the story behind what they’d experienced was too important not to share. So the paintings have basically turned into art installations. Accompanying each painting is an audio recording. Formally or informally, I interviewed each person and then edited it down.
So as you’re looking at the paintings, you can put on a pair of headphones. There’s one for each of them, and you can listen to them talk openly about what they’ve been through. I was quite surprised by how revealing they were. I think it’s because I have a personal connection with the issue. I’m not a member of the press. I’m not a charity. They knew what I was trying to get across with this art.
Martirosyan: The audio adds another intriguing layer to the story.