Anthony Vrakotas

Breaking Bad
Print media student makes his point by playing with processes

Anthony Vrakotas l Photo: ARHphoto Anthony Vrakotas l Photo: ARHphoto

Enjoying success as a digital artist in the advertising and video game industries eventually wasn't enough for Anthony Vrakotas.

Being paid to create aesthetically appealing images with skills and techniques he either knew inside out or else was quick to master, his interests started to wander. He sought fulfillment by going to get himself a formal education in the fine arts.

"Six years ago I thought I'd become a master painter doing beautiful large canvas paintings," Vrakotas says of his expectations when he enrolled in Concordia's Studio Arts undergraduate program, majoring in Painting and Drawing.

His interests soon wandered again. "Now it's the last thing I could see myself doing."

The first major fork in the road that led Vrakotas away from painting came in the form of a print media course in lithography. "Lithography required a whole lot of skills I didn't have. For the first time, I was lost." And it was good.

For someone who had earned his bread and butter in perfecting the techniques of digital art and modern aesthetics, being confronted with 200-year-old technology not only demanded he learn completely new skills but also fundamentally changed the way he thought about making art.

"It was the first time I thought about the technology itself and how it doesn't necessarily relate to the image I was making with it," Vrakotas recalls. "I started thinking about how technology relates to communicating ideas, to the art we make, the things we say and see."

He soon had a chance to test that concept when he was talking about politics with a group of peers. He was taken aback when they were unwilling to even consider an idea he put forward. He found their ideology too entrenched for them to question; it was a bit like trying to explain green to a colour-blind person.

The experience spurred him to start examining how the structure of visual communication - how it is made, of what material it is made - creates the meaning, almost regardless of the image.

Taming the beast

For his pilot project, Vrakotas chose a simple yet powerful icon - a grenade - and spent an entire academic year re-interpreting it with different print media and methods.

He manipulated the technical processes to change the outcome of the image, and in a signature move one might even call anarchic, he also "broke systems" - as in, leaving out a step in the process. "I didn't change the icon: I changed the process. The technique becomes the message."

His approach worked, he says: by the end of the year, his audience was more willing to discuss the structures and less focused on the incendiary subject.

Don Quixote (ongoing). Image courtesy Anthony Vrakotas. Click to enlarge. Don Quixote (ongoing). Image courtesy Anthony Vrakotas. Click to enlarge.

To keep himself challenged, Vrakotas is purposely trying to not master any print media techniques. He also no longer drives himself to finish tasks perfectly. In his descriptively titled project Re-typing Don Quixote, for example, he set out to combine three things he wanted to accomplish: read de Cervantes' Don Quixote, teach himself to type better, and see how far he could push himself physically and mentally. He also recorded his efforts as part of the installation.

The result is a visual artifact of him transcribing Don Quixote (in English) on the typewriter he fondly recalls his grandfather using. He hasn't finished, but he's not feeling the pressure on which he used to thrive when he was an illustrator-for-hire.

Vrakotas may not have become a master painter, but he knows what the big picture is for him.

"I don't force it anymore; it will come. It's all about my relationship with technology and the content they embody."

Story by Liz Crompton. Portrait by ARHphoto.
Posted on Oct. 9, 2012

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