Creating spaces for dreaming with Emi Avora

Born on a small island in Greece, Emi Avora was lucky to be able to pursue her interest for painting from childhood days on: in the home studio of her father, an artist, she’d get in touch with tools & materials and decided to professionally pursue her passion at the young age of 17. Currently based in Singapore, Emi’s draws subject matter from her everyday life in Asia as well as her Greek ancestry. Her vibrant paintings feature interior & exterior spaces, still lives, plants & nature, animals, as well as statues & figures.

In our interview with Emi, we talked about exploring your identity through art, the delightful physicality of the painting process and the importance of focusing on the work itself, rather than the ups and lows of the world of art.

By Nina Seidel

The everyday business of enquiry, 2022
Acrylic on canvas, 140 x 120 cm


Hi Emi, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. To start with, I’d like to take you back in time. How did you get into art and how did you end up being a professional artist?

I was lucky to have a father who is a also an artist- Despite coming from a small island in Greece where Art was not normally very high on the educational agenda, we had a studio at home and I would sit there and ‘help’ my dad. I was exposed to materials and artists from a young age. At some point I wanted to develop my interest into a more serious pursuit and decided to prepare a portfolio in order to study art. It was an exciting period really immersing myself in drawing and painting.

By luck and through word of mouth I came across the School of Fine Art in Oxford and decided to give it a go. I was only 17 when I moved to the UK to study on my BA. I then continued my studies in London for an MA and directly after that I got a studio in London to continue working, whilst I was also teaching. So the idea of being an artist was always there from a very young age- I did question it at times and had some small ‘breaks’ from making art but I always got back to it- I missed it too much!

Boy and Monkey, 2022
Acrylic on canvas, 110 x 110 cm

You create vibrant, colourful paintings, full of bright colours, interior spaces, and plants. Could you please talk a bit more about your works?

Interior and exterior spaces, still lives, plants and nature, animals, statues as well as figures sometimes feature in my work. The subject matter stems from my surroundings but also from my own heritage. Observed and imagined things come together to create fictional compositions that create a space for dreaming in, a space of wonder and sometimes disorientation. Five years ago I relocated to Singapore and as I use my observations, one will find plants and objects that are familiar in South East Asia. At the same time my own heritage does come into the compositions as well. I am however also equally fascinated by the language of painting in an abstract form, colour, light and composition and how these formal elements create a highly emotive response.

Nighttime Frangipani, 2022
Acrylic on canvas, 110 x 110 cm
The lake between us, 2022
Acrylic on canvas, 150 x 150 cm

You wrote that your paintings “enter a dialog with modernist historical canons and ponder on our ambiguous relationship to exoticism, our environment, motherhood and the everyday.” Could you please explain that a little bit?

I am conscious that I am a European trained in a Western way of making art but I am  making work currently in Asia. I am keen to observe my own relationship to what we call exotic-what do we observe, how do we perceive things and what do they tell about our identity?

The same stands for the environment- are the plants what I observe for example in Singapore real ‘nature’ or an idealistic presentation of ‘nature’?  I am interested in how I could through the painting present a possibility of things interconnecting- finding meeting points between humans and nature, different cultures, abstraction and figuration.

My children do often feature in my compositions and although I don’t seek a naturalistic representation of them I am questioning the idea of the mother as an observer but also as an artist who is a mother and has to often balance between studio and motherhood. 

I am also a keen observer of everyday things, often overlooked and insignificant- I am fascinated by how painting can elevate these everyday moments into a different realm. Ultimately I am using my known tools and historical knowledge to explore my own identity through the painting but also try to create a parallel world for the viewer. And last but not least I try ask questions and expand my vocabulary.

Interior with guardians, 2023
Acrylic on canvas, 120 x 100 cm
Titan Haze, 2022
Acrylic on canvas, 120 x 100 cm
The everyday business of enquiry, 2022
Acrylic on canvas, 140 x 120 cm

I wanted to stick with the topic of painting. It’s such a hands-on process… could you put into words how painting makes you feel?

It is indeed a very physical process and for me, it is actually a physical need to make marks and form images. Painting gives me a whole range of feelings- often at once- joy and calmness but also frustration, feeling of achievement, intense focus but also anger sometimes. There are these moments of fluidity where I would say I feel the most happy when I paint, where the connection between brain, eyes and hand is seamless, then the making becomes automatic and feels like the painting is directing me rather than me directing the painting.

There are these moments of fluidity where I would say I feel the most happy when I paint, where the connection between brain, eyes and hand is seamless

Let the Light in, 2022
Acrylic on canvas, 140 x 160 cm

Could you please share some of your creative process with us, from a starting point to a finished piece?

I tend to start by staining the canvas before it is even stretched. These are abstract and accidental marks that might or might not be retained later. However they give a patina to the canvas, a sense of past. Once I stretch the canvas I ruminate on my composition-  however my process is quite organic. I might use some sketches as starting point or some images I have previously taken. Although I start with a loose idea, I don’t follow a plan or a specific sketch.  And I tend to use thin layers of paint in order to put down a skeleton of where things will be. This is a very creative part of the process and I usually enjoy it very much. I tend to keep things quite fluid and only build up slowly. These first layers also direct the colour palette which sometimes remains similar throughout the time I work on the painting but it could also change completely.

Then comes the stage I call battling with paint which can be the hardest part of making the painting. It is the part where everything needs to come together in order to give a singular feeling to the piece. It is a game of action and reaction, almost an intense conversation with the painting itself until I believe it is completed. I often take photographs of the painting at that stage that help me distance myself from it and sometimes I let the painting sit for a few days (or weeks) before working on it again. The fear is always overworking and losing the initial freshness. The whole process is organic but it has a structure as a core around which I allow myself to dance.

The constant presence of absence, 2022
Acrylic on canvas, 140 x 120 cm
Sunshine on a cloudy day, 2022
Acrylic on canvas, 140 x 120 cm

Your paintings seem to have a recognizable style. Was that something you purposefully aimed for, or did it rather come with practice? And, more generally speaking, do you find it important to have a distinctive, recognizable style as a visual artist?

I think my ‘style’ which is basically what I call my ‘writing’ has evolved through practicing.  My work has changed over time but my ‘writing’ has remained an integral part of the work. I have not done that deliberately, it is what has happened. I think it helps to have a ‘signature’ that is recognisable but I also believe it is important to be allowed to evolve with practice, otherwise it can end up being a trap.

Would you like to share what you’re currently working on or any upcoming project?

I am in a group show that opened on 5th May at JWprojects here in Singapore with artists from Singapore and China.  Over the summer I will also be doing a residency at ‘Reon Space’ in Corfu, Greece. ‘Reon Space’ is a ceramic studio so I am hoping to use some time there to use clay- it will be an exciting exploration that might bring a different dimension to my practice.

The trivial pursuit of immortality, 2023
Acrylic on canvas, 135 x 135 cm

What would be your advice for emerging artists, especially those at the very beginning of their career?

I guess the main advice would be to focus on the actual work. Evolve, enjoy it and don’t get distracted by the highs and lows of the art world. The idea is to be making art for the long run and if you imagine you’ll be making art until a very old age, small glitches don’t seem to be so important.

Any emerging artists you’d like to recommend?

I admire a lot of artists and I don’t know where to begin….I am not sure if they are considered ‘emerging’ artists as some of them have been working for a long time and it is exciting to see how their work has developed and changed. From the top of my head: Tom Woolner, Alvin Ong, Michele Fletcher, Genevieve Cohn, Rui Matsunaga, Yarno Munir, Sarah Dwyer to name a few I have been looking at lately.

There was flooding, 2023
Acrylic on canvas, 150 x 150 cm
Collapsed time, 2022
Acrylic on canvas, 160 x 160 cm

And last question, what are your hopes for the future?

My main hope is to be able to continue and evolve my practice with enthusiasm and energy. Secondary but important hope would be to firm and further ties with both Asia and Europe so that my work has visibility in both continents through shows and projects.

Thanks so much for taking your time to do the interview, Emi!

Thank you!!

Get in touch
with Emi:
Instagram: erasmiavora

All Photographs courtesy of
Emi Avora
Written & edited by

Emi Avora and Nina Seidel

© Copyright 2023 Suboart Magazine
All rights reserved

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