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'I'm working hard to be a great Greek Australian artist'

Troy Argyros has set up a crowdfunding campaign so that he can study painting in Florence, Italy. Sharing his backstory, he asks the broader community to help

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Troy Argyros, in front of the portrait of Maria Mercedes, which he submitted for the Archibald Prize, last year.

29 June 2017

Troy Argyros wants our help. A young artist devoted to realist painting, he takes inspiration from perennial 'Greek' themes and he is determined to pursue his dream - to attend a specialist course at The Florence Academy of Art, having been chosen in a worldwide selection process. He has set up an online fundraising campaign through gofundme.com, centred around a quirky short film written, directed, and produced by filmmaker and musician Sophie Kesoglidis. The result of their collaboration is a perfect example of what happens when people in the same community (be it the Greek Australian or the artistic one) look out for each other and create support networks. Speaking to Neos Kosmos, Troy Argyros expresses his gratitude and calls for the broader community to 'take him there'.

What has your journey in art been like, so far?
I completed a Bachelor of Fine Art in 2012 and a Graduate Diploma of Education in 2013, both at Monash University. In 2014 I was awarded a Summer Scholarship by The Florence Academy of Art to study a figure painting workshop over the month of July. Although the tuition was paid for, I had to fundraise for travel and living expenses, and did so by taking commissions up front for small paintings that would be inspired by my studies. We called this negotiation 'Fragments of Florence' and it culminated in my third solo exhibition in October 2015 at Sofitel Melbourne on Collins.

The training I received in Florence helped me to create my painting of Greek Australian actor and singer Maria Mercedes in 2015, which I entered into The Archibald Prize. Currently I'm working on a portrait of Greek Australian journalist Helen Kapalos - it won't be ready for this year's Archibald, but I will either enter it into another prize or apply next year. This year I also took on a new role as tutor of Atelier Studies at Melbourne Studio of Art in Elsternwick, where I teach beginner and intermediate adult art students the skills of classical drawing and painting, which I learnt in Florence.

How would you describe your work to someone not familiar with it?
I would describe it as fairly small scale realistic oil paintings of objects, people and places that focus on the beauty of light. Often there is a link to my Greek heritage in my subject matter; the mati, my late yiayia's plates and cups, olive branches, the lucky coin wrapped in foil, etc.

How did the Florence Academy of Art opportunity come up?
Ever since studying at Monash and struggling to teach myself the methods of the great master painters, I have been desperate to study classical painting in Italy. I got a taste of what that tuition is like in 2014, and I've been desperate to return ever since. I took that one month of training very far, but now is the time to return so I can study more intensely for a longer period of time.

What do you hope to get from this experience?
I hope to gain a deeper understanding of the craft of classical art, particularly drawing which is the focus of the first year curriculum.

Drawing ability is to painting what a solid foundation is to a house: everything is built on it, so it needs to be strong. These skills aren't taught to a high proficiency in Australia so it's very important that I go to The Florence Academy.

Why did you set up a crowdfunding campaign for this goal?
I set up a crowdfunding campaign because the fees are very high and I come from a low income family that isn't able to support me. I've worked in several jobs over the last year to make this dream a reality: substitute teaching at Glen Waverley Secondary College, selling art supplies at Senior Art Supplies on Degraves Street, painting names in calligraphy on Christmas baubles in Chadstone, and now teaching at Melbourne Studio of Art.

My extended family held a trivia night fundraiser which was very successful. But the crowdfunding will really help me reach the goal amount to live and study for a whole year.

I've applied for several grants but traditional art pursuits don't often receive funding in Australia sadly. So I need the public's help to reach this goal - every dollar helps, so there is no donation too small. I'm offering a variety of rewards on the GoFundMe campaign site for those interested in investing in my studies.

How has Sophie Kesoglidis helped you set it up?
Sophie and I met when she contacted me to tell me she was impressed by a small painting I entered into the 'Postcard Show' at Linden Gallery in St Kilda. Since then our friendship began and she has been an enormous help to me and a great supporter of my art. I respect her so much.
The film Take Me There is really fun and encapsulates my dream of studying in Florence. I hope people like it and can connect to that feeling of being one place in body and another in spirit.

What would you say to people, in order to persuade them to contribute to your campaign?
I would tell them that I'm working hard to be a great Greek Australian artist and am giving back to the community in the form of teaching and representing our country on the world stage of fine art. Australia doesn't have many great realist painters so I'd love to continue this tradition into the 21st century. This art form isn't pretentious and doesn't require an academic background from the viewer to engage with it. It is the art of the people.

What is your connection to your Greek background?
My Greek background is a big part of who I am as I grew up in the family home with my mum and her parents and brother. My pappou and yiayia migrated from Lefkada in the '50s.

Because I'm interested in still life I've looked to the objects of my environment for inspiration - things that belonged to my grandmother in particular. She passed away when I was five years old, but her presence stays alive through the remnants of her possessions. They symbolise our unity as a people living in a new land.

What is your greatest artistic aspiration?
After completing my studies I want to make art that moves people through beauty and significance. I'd love to live a humble life and work full time as an artist. I don't need much, just food on my table and some paints.

What is the role of art in modern society?
To help people see the beauty of the world. That's the role I hope to fulfill with my work.
About Sophie Kesoglidis: As a violist with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra ("I even got to play with Mihalis Hatzigiannis when he sang with MSO in 2014", she remembers, "I was the only one on stage who could understand the lyrics! All those years of going to Greek school paid off for that moment"), she also has a parallel career as a filmmaker after studies at the American Film Institute in LA.

* See the film 'Take me There' and contribute to Troy Argyros' fundraiser at gofundme.com/takemetoflorence

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