Art from the skies

Renowned artist Nike Savvas creates art installations that are larger than life. She talks to Neos Kosmos on her work 'Rally' that fills the entrance hall at Art Gallery of NSW.

Art for Nike Savvas started off as an escape from the traditions of being a girl in a migrant household.

“Basically I would come home from school drop my bags and go straight to the kitchen and help with the cooking and cleaning,” she tells Neos Kosmos.
“I came from a very strict family and I didn’t have much freedom to engage in life that other kids in my age group had.”

Her favourite time was lunchtime, where she would rush to the confines of the art room and let her imagination take hold. Her school mates would follow her wide-eyed, watching in awe as she created familiar shapes, played with colour and manipulated perspective.
She found her first fans and avid collectors in the art rooms of her school in Canberra.

“At lunchtime at school I was able to forfeit my lunch and spend all of my time during that hour making art,” she says.

“I used to have groupies back then, at the age of 14. It was bizarre; I’d have a bunch of kids in awe of me. They would sit at the end of the table and watch me draw and whenever I’d make a mistake and throw the piece of paper in the bin they’d dive in after it and get me to sign it.”

Nike Savvas stands as one of Australia’s best loved and admired artists, known for her enormous art installations that leave you standing gobsmacked.
One of her biggest works consisted of over 67,000 polystyrene balls suspended from the ceiling that eventually filled out to be eight metres tall, 14 metres wide and 44 metres deep.

Her newest work ‘Rally’ can’t be missed. Set up in the entrance hall of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, more than 60,000 strips of colour cascade from the ceiling and dance in the wind.

The installation took Nike three months to complete and had to be installed by eight people after months of planning and re-thinking.
The strips are made out of specialised bunting materials (think of your basic party supply flags) that she sourced and cut to her liking.
The inspiration came from her travels to Brazil, where she would see towns decorated with colourful flags for Saints days. Her inspiration also came after sad circumstances.

“The work was dedicated to my sister Christina who recently passed away,” she reveals.

“When I was asked to present a work for the entrance hall, I thought immediately of making a work that would honour her memory and immortalise her somehow, “She was my hero.”

The bright colours and movement in the piece mimic her sister’s bright and bubbly personality.

The museum commissioned the work and will have it on display till June 22, when it will be brought down and catalogued to wait for another showing.
With the promise of future exhibits for ‘Rally’, Nike says her sister’s memory will live on through her artwork.

The bond between Nike and her siblings is always apparent when you speak to her. Being one of five, it was easier to be a part of the group than try and stand out in the crowd. Luckily for her, all her siblings were creatively inclined, so her interests were nurtured.
Studying at university and finishing with a masters degree in fine arts at the UNSW College of Fine Arts, Nike actually trained in painting, not installations.
She merges the two in what she calls “paintings outside of canvas”.
“I do these installations that reference paintings and I do paintings that represent installations,” she says.
“So they’re on canvas but they sort of jump out of the canvas, they sort of occupy space in front of you.
“It’s an optical effect which allows the picture to pop out towards the viewer.”
Her latest exhibition at Arc One Gallery in Melbourne perfectly shows her optical illusions on canvas.
The exhibition includes prints, wall vinyls and structures and it has already received a great reception here and overseas.
Interest in her work outside of Australia has really defined her as an acclaimed artist. She shares her time between her Australian studio and her exhibition spaces in New Zealand, England, Cyprus and the USA.
Most recently and coincidentally, sports apparel brand NIKE commissioned her to create an installation in their flagship San Francisco store.
The work includes thousands of glass coloured balls hanging from the ceiling making the store’s industrial structure come to life in a gradual rainbow.
You’ll have to question whether the company initially found her by googling itself, but no, Nike says she was approached by the company after they spotted her book.

The book or ‘monograph’ was in fact something that came out of the Australia Council Fellowship Grant for Fine Art that she won in 2010.

The $120,000 prize helped her release ‘Nike Savvas Full of Love Full of Wonder’, amazingly her first monograph. Most established artists like Nike would have about 10 editions by now.

Nike’s flexibility and versatility is showcased in the book and in every exhibition she creates. She’s used over 14 different mediums and is always looking for a challenge.

Apart from the artistic elite that pack her shows, you’ll find some unlikely people in the crowd.
In her exhibition ‘Liberty and Anarchy’ at the Leeds Art Gallery in England attracted three mathematicians that came to admire the use of geometry in her work.
They were entranced by the Sliding Ladder pieces, 3D geometrical constructions that included brightly coloured woollen thread making tessellated patterns.
She never creates work to appeal to a certain demographic, and hates the elitist trademark many put on artists unfairly.

The fact that her work is liked by so many is why many big companies keep commissioning her.

You’ll see a Nike Savvas piece in the lobbies of the Westin Hotel in New Delhi, the Deutsche Bank in Sydney and Selfridges in London.

Despite her artwork’s appeal, there is a group that Nike feels is underrepresented. She’d like to see more Greek Australians taking an interest in art.
“Obviously in Greece I get collected all the time, but here in Australia I’ve only had one Greek collector buy my work,” she says.

“All the other communities seem to support their artists, but the Greek community doesn’t seem to do that in Australia.”

Nike Savvas’ work is currently on show in the Arc One Gallery, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne until April 5, while her work ‘Rally’ will be on show at the Art Gallery of NSW until June 22.

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