'My drawings are moments in time with no purpose'
Photograph credit: Britta Gut.
Healing the mind, body and soul
The life and works of
Interview by Hazel Clarke
Artist, art-therapist and gallerist Cyril Kazis, has the curious knack of creating through his modernistic drawings, a sense of wellbeing for the viewer. Born on 17 August 1951 in Paris, Kazis was raised in France in a multicultural Swiss-Greek environment. He worked as a graphic designer for many years and after a burn-out, switched to study Art-therapy at the l'Ecole d'Art de Berne et Bienne (SfGBB).
Kazis's introduction to art-therapy was a life-changing revelation, enabling him to swap the computer for charcoal, colour and paper and close a chapter of many decades. As he started a new life rooted in his early learnings of graphic design in the 70’s when there was barely a computer in sight, he rediscovered his love of pencils and brushes.
Kazis lives and works in Basel and in 2021 took over the lease of the historic Bäumleingasse 9, situated across the Rhine in the city's quaint central district. The site holds as much magic for art lovers as the artworks on display, since it was once the base of legendary collector Ernst Beyeler from where the latter cultivated contacts with artists such as Picasso and Giacometti and traded their valuable works.
Praxis Art Gallery, Kazis’s experimental reincarnation of the premises, aims at creating a novel meeting place for art lovers, where pictures are sometimes combined with music, dance or literature.
I meet up with Kazis in the gallery amidst hectic preparations for his solo show entitled 'Without Intention'. This showcase offers a rare opportunity to encounter his unseen body of work realised over the past decade. It seems appropriate that this landmark exhibition celebrating his return to his passion for drawing, is his most extensive to date.
Kazis's familiar style is present throughout this four-part show with each section claiming its own character, tone and personality. And as we slip curiously through each section with friend and show co-curator Thessy Schoenholzer Nichols, the conversation flows, discussion points spontaneously emerge, and I’m fully hooked.
Point of view. Short stories, collages, portraits and icons
There is a simplicity to the first room of small portraits mounted in relief to the wall. Images contain delicate brush strokes, colours are sparingly applied and backgrounds breathe air in to each composition.
Point of view 2. Moments in Time
In the second room, the viewer is treated to a celebration of pastel coloured, larger-scaled works arranged mischievously on the floor and mounted on the wall. This incredible set of drawings are captured from live models with each piece executed in a matter of moments with the artist seated and turning the paper as he works. It’s a haphazard process that embodies the show’s title to perfection.
‘My drawings are moments in time with no purpose, Kazis explains, 'no thoughts, no intention. I sit on the floor close to the model, using charcoal and pastel on large pieces of paper that I often rotate between poses. When the session ends, I roll the papers together. It is only when I look back at the drawings much later that I discover them,’ comments Kazis.
Point of view 3. Daughters of Eve
The third room of the exhibition entitled Daughters of Eve is a space where the female form takes centre stage. The series depicts woman from her yesterday to her tomorrow. It’s a homage to her innate essence, to her femininity and to her diversity. Each ’Eve’ has her own presence. She is dreamlike, erotic, poised, curious, intellectual, intuitive and also heroic. Stupendous variations of colours integrate with diverse body shapes. It’s a magnificent series that reminds us all of the glory of being a ‘daughter of Eve’.
Point of view 4. Lyrical cheerfulness
The fourth series is entitled Lyrical cheerfulness and showcases scores of librettos and sketches from the many hundreds that exist in Kazis’s archive. Regimentally hung in relief on the wall, the small sketches capture intimate moments in time and closely aligned, they pack a lot of punch. Many of the original drawings, including a magnificent series on the study of hands, also start to appear in hand-made librettos that use various traditional binding techniques.
Questions on further influences
What and who has influenced your artistic style ?
It is more the state of mind I put myself in while drawing. I sense the presence of the model, the movements the architecture of the body. My 30 years experience in Akido and knowledge of the movement start to flow. I learnt Japanese calligraphy too and this experience captures that moment in time, no erasing, no retouching is possible.
When I see my drawings, they seem to me as if originated from someone else. It is a strange feeling. Maybe I will have to encounter this someone else and realise he is me or part of me I don't really know.
Some people say my drawings are close to Picasso, Matisse and some expressionists. I am aware of this but it is not conscious or done on purpose. I have the feeling I have to go through this like a trip through history of art and it will lead to something else.
Importantly, I realise in putting up this exhibition, it will lead to a new era.'
In your opinion, what is the importance of art therapy in today’s world? Would you say that its perceived value is growing?
For me the base of art therapy is that it is not possible to lie while letting the unconscious do the painting or drawing. In a traditional therapeutic setting, language is a very easy medium in with to lie to yourself and to the therapist.
How did art therapy help you?
As I entered an art therapy workshop for the first time, it was an "apocalypse" which in greek means ‘lifting a cover,’ a discovery moment in which a whole world opened for me. The smell of glue, colours, wood, paper
took me back to what has always been present in me but was neglected for many years. It had to come out. It was a rebirth.
Can you describe how you have integrated art therapy into your works What does it entail?
I let the unconscious or an unknown force guide my hand, it happens through me, I always have the model as a support like a jazz or oriental musician has patterns on which to develop and improvise. The therapy is more in the sense of learning and experience than healing something specific.
'Without Intention' gives the onlooker an insight into your view on the world, is there any other message in your art that you feel is important to explain?
Yes, there should be no bullshit.
What are your future artistic projects? You mentioned learning Byzantine art for example. What interests you in this art format?
I made my first attempt to paint a byzantine icon at the age of 18. It did not work and my father, a greek,
told me you need to have the faith to be able to paint an icon. I abandoned the idea until a few years ago when
I met a wonderful woman, Nina Gamsachurdia, a master in iconography from Georgia who by chance lives in Basel. My feeling is now that perhaps it is necessary to exercise and paint icons and the faith will come through naturally.
Reflecting on these words, I’m converted. Art truly has super powers that can help cleanse the mind, heal body and soothe the soul!
'Without Intention' is a must-see show that runs until mid January 2023. But if you miss it, don’t worry, Kazis has many more artistic treats to share from his eclectic store. As a sneak preview, his next show entitled 'Art that Heals' starting 21 January 2023 and running until 18 February, will look at the therapeutic effect of symbols and icons from antiquity to the present day. Interactive workshops will also be part of the mix. A tempting offer for sure and maybe just the panacea we need to soothe the winter blues.
Recent shows by Cyril Kazis include:
19 May - 25 June
Galerie de la fondation mh
84000 Avignon France
Ausstellung TonArt – TonWerk – DieZweite,
Lausen 9. September to 1. October 2017
60 Kunstschaffende stellen im Tonwerk Lausen aus.