Selected works by Jannis Varelas

Jannis Varelas
Clair, Maid Costume, F/orange


Graphite pencil, ink, soy sauce, hood, photographs taken by the artist on paper

272 x 166 x 21 cm

Because we recognise Jannis Varelas’s large-scale collaged personages as such – because they occupy space in a similar way to us, and are constructed along figurative lines – it’s difficult not to draw parallels between their bodies and ours. Apparently facing us in a manner more confrontational than conversational, they’re nightmarish figures, cobbled together out of collaged images, scribbled pencil and scraps of clothing; one drips soy sauce from its groin, like unhealthy-looking urine. And yet the clarity of their compositions has a contradictory elegance that harks back to modernist design; their geometric heads and arms recall early twentieth- century theatrical costume.

Jannis Varelas
Jane, Maid Costume, C/pink


Graphite, pencil, ink, coal, part of jacket, pigment, photographs taken by the artist

272 x 166 x 11 cm

Varelas’s works stage collisions between the optimism of modernist avant-garde aesthetics with the discarded and degraded clutter of contemporary Europe in the fallout of the 2008 economic crash.
Their scale and structure makes them mirrors. In Clair, Maid Costume, F/orange, Varelas constructs a vaguely feminine character out of scraps that allude to the absence of sensual fulfillment: the head is an image of an orange, perpetually glowing and inedible; the hips and stomach an upturned hood in camouflage print, leading into the cone-shaped pubis with its sputtering soy leakage. In Varelas’s work, the human is something perpetually at the very edge of disintegration; in Jane, Maid Costume, C/pink, the collaged elements project off the surface of the paper, as if barely attached, and an image of a black candle seems to chart the figure’s demise. Despite everything, these figures seem to say, we are here.

Text by Ben Street


July 2011, by Darya Antonovna Papko, Dazed Digital

At first glance the art of Jannis Varelas appears reminiscent of the photomontages of the Dada artist Hannah Höch. Unlike Höch, whose expression is driven by a sense of irony, Varelas propels exaggeration and coarseness. Pertaining to the works by the French Renaissance writer François Rabelais, the monstrous appearances of Jannis’s figures elope the viewers in the beguiling world of fantasy, satire and the grotesque. In the current exhibition ‘Ντέρτι Humanism’, Jannis explores the reaction to the trauma of standardisation and conformity in society, providing a compelling insight into the social mores and their rituals.
Dazed Digital: What part of your profession do you enjoy the most?
Jannis Varelas: I always enjoy the beginning of a project, when I am starting to put together all kind of thoughts, ideas, references, materials, things that are totally scattered and - by putting them on a certain order - you start to get the sense of a form.
DD: Why is the title of your latest exhibition Ντέρτι Humanism?
Jannis Varelas: Ντέρτι is a Greek word (pronounced “dirty”) that combines meanings such as pain, affection, worry, passion. I think that Nadja’s (curator) idea was that in Greece there are artists that deal with the idea of individuals attempting to welcome modernity but modernity filtered through the national conception of Ντέρτι. So the title indicates this peculiarity.
DD: Your artworks explore masculinity and femininity, what fascinates you about these concepts?
Jannis Varelas: Masculinity and femininity in my work correspond and compress mainly the concept of sexuality. Sexuality, I think, forms and is central to the structural overview of our society. The forms we use to represent sexuality are very sophisticated but on the other hand often clichéd. In my work, I try to overcome these clichés via the symbolic nature of the erotic as seen through the eyes of authors such as Lautremont, Baitaille, Oscar Wilde, and Michel Houllebecq. I also think through sexuality we can create a discourse on the hegemonic power structures of our time and take a stand for or against it.

DD: What do you try to achieve with contrasts such as between shapes, techniques and materials?
Jannis Varelas: I think that the combination of shapes, materials and techniques strengthens the dynamic or the general plot of a project and eradicates the monotony.

DD: The faces of the creatures you depict appear strange and unsettling. What draws you to the uncanny?
Jannis Varelas: Perhaps the uncanny as experienced through occult symbols that surround us - whether we acknowledge them or not, or even attempt to understand them. The show Mike Kelly curated in 2004, the “Uncanny”, is a great reference for me. I see it as thus:- the trauma of the cultural signifiers that frayed modernity at the edges and turned it into a horror show or the appearance of one. This is because knowledge is still available but obfuscated in so many diverting ways.
DD: How does living in Athens and Vienna influence your work and identity?
Jannis Varelas: Living in between two cities I have many and rich experiences and of course their past and their preset influence me a lot.
DD: What artists do you like at the moment?
Jannis Varelas: At the moment I am interested in the works of John Baldessari, George Battaille and Jean Genne.

DD: What projects do you have coming up?
Jannis Varelas: In October I have a solo show in Kunsthalle in Athens, in March a solo show at the Krinzinger gallery in Vienna and in May a big solo show in the Contemporary Art center in Sinssinaty.