Memoir VIII: Faith

“I have come that they may have life and have it to the full”, John 10:10. The bible verse you see is the mission statement of my secondary school, and I’ll be honest, this along with my confirmation name have followed me throughout my life.

When it comes to John 10:10, it has almost become my mantra, something to hold me accountable whenever I enter new space or an establishment. It is a reminder to me that whatever I do in this given time, in this given place, I do it to my fullest potential.

As a child, I have always wrestled with the concept of religion. When I was growing up, I attended an array of different churches; from Church of England to Pentecostal to Methodist and many more.

I think my issues with religion stemmed from the idea of rules. With each denomination having different beliefs and as a child who had so many questions about the world and those beliefs, I felt as if none of those denominations could answer them. Even to this day I still have those questions and more.

I remember starting my first day of secondary school, it was a catholic secondary school and the transition was so surreal. I was the only person from my primary school, and I came from a multi-faith primary school. So the idea of praying every lesson was strange to me. As I continued through secondary school, I decided to receive one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, Confirmation. For all the Non-Catholics, when you are confirmed you must pick a name, it’s your “catholic” name and the name I chose was Maximus, Latin for “greatest”. Maybe I subconsciously chose the name due to my ego, I mean I was 15 at the time But I chose the name because of the Saint and what he stood for.

Saint Maximus of Rome was a merchant and he decided to die believing in Christianity than convert. Take what you want from that but regardless of your religion, I think his actions speak for everyone. In life, once we find the right cause to die for it doesn’t matter what anybody says; this unwavering resolve we have can never be changed, where we stand is where we fall.

As of the release of this memoir, the planet is facing unprecedented times. Humanity is at war with COVID-19 and all we have right now is faith. Psalm 9:18 states, “For the needy shall not always be forgotten: the expectation of the poor shall not perish forever.”.

My mother has a saying and probably all West African parents, “only God can save us” and I don’t have a rebuttal for this. Proverbs 17:22 states, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”.

Ultimately what I am trying to say is this crisis shall pass, coronavirus will end. As cliché as it sounds, it is important to remember that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone needs to play their role in this crisis for us to win.

I think my experience with different Christian denominations has taught me that people have their individual way of appreciating God. Even beyond Christianity, the same can be said for all religions, whether monotheistic or polytheistic, we all appreciate that higher being or beings as a form of comfort and as something that gives us purpose in our daily lives. The effect that religion has on you, is something you use to do some good in the world.

Alexia is prime an example of an artist who does that. Half Greek and half Italian, Alexia Valentina Serghiou is a triple threat; she is a freelance makeup artist, a freelance hair artist and an artist. Alexia is a Greek Orthodox Christian whose work delves into women who have inspired her, religious icons and religious architecture.

In terms of what made her get into art, Alexia states that from a young age she was always into art. It was her favourite subject, as a child she was tactile with her hands and was proud of the things she produced.

This creativity was something her family saw and encouraged. By GCSE, Alexia was given that channel through Art GCSE. She would continue to study art at A-Level. Alexia said, if it was not for her experience during A-Levels she would have gone on to study Fine Arts at University.

In terms of that bad experience, during her first year of Art A-Level, her art teacher taught the entire class the wrong curriculum and as a result, everyone received poor grades. Her entire class had to redo AS Art while doing A2 Art.

All of this along with her other A2s had to be done in one academic year, and this was too much for the artist. Alexia made a promise to herself, that she would never experience such a thing ever again; it was this promise that made her steer clear of fine arts at University.

With the decision to not study fine arts, Alexia explored her other avenues within the creative space. Since her mother was involved in the fashion industry, Alexia was able to discover other areas within the creative industry. It was through her discovery and her mother’s help, she became fascinated in areas such as film, makeup and fashion design.

Alexia would go on to study Makeup and Hair Design at Southampton Solent University. Alexia enjoyed her time at university, especially the prosthetics aspect of her course. But even in university, Alexia could not hide her passion for art, at every chance she would incorporate those artistic skills into her projects. She also had sketchbooks.

After leaving university in 2015, Alexia still felt the urge to paint. She could not shake this desire. In fact, during our interview, Alexia stated that after she finished university, she had completely forgotten her ordeal at sixth form.

It was through her mother that she started to paint again. Her mother wanted her to paint pieces of her relatives. So, she bought some canvases and started painting, and she enjoyed it. “I wanted to, because I always use to go to art galleries and exhibitions, and I enjoyed doing those things.”.

When it comes to her work, Alexia states that her pieces are about the women who have inspired her and elderly people such as Nonna Nina (painted 2019) and Nonna Maria (painted 2019).

Nonna Nina is a piece which is based on her grandmother’s sister, Alexia recalls the stories that her mother told her. She stated in our interview that her great aunt was an interesting character, a woman who was different for her time. Alexia’s great aunt was someone who found men irritating, she even hated her sisters’ boyfriends and would punch them at times. But that fire was always balanced with a powerful love, she always gravitated to the women she was surrounded by. It was this that piqued Alexia’s interest, “I liked the sound of who she was. If anyone would dare bother her, especially a man, she would give them the boot.”. Alexia truly loved the stories she heard. For Alexia, her great aunt was a big character and she wanted to show that, “I want to show those characters through my work, not necessarily to the world but for me.”.

Nonna Nina was also a chain smoker and Alexia wanted to use this piece to show that. She wanted the plumes of smoke to blend in with the background, to show she was in her own world.

In terms of the development of the piece, no brushes were used. Nonna Nina was entirely formed from spatulas. Alexia used a variety of spatulas which varied in shape and size. Moreover, the piece began with the colour blue, and we see this as various hints of the colour are seen across the top.

Overall, the piece is lighter at the top but becomes darker at the bottom, Alexia states that these various tones are symbolic of Nonna Nina’s nature. She had a side you would not dare cross, but she was a loving woman who adored Alexia’s mother.

Nonna Nina (painted 2019) [Oil on Canvas 80x60cm]20190807_145540

With regards to Nonna Maria, the piece is based on her grandmother. In this piece, Alexia uses a brush, unlike Nonna Nina. Just like her grandmother’s sister, her grandmother was also an interesting character and had that same fiery personality.

This is a portrait piece and Alexia states that it was deliberately drawn unsmooth, as it is symbolic of her grandmother’s nature. Alexia states that she was a woman who was tough and had this powerful stare. If we further analyse her grandmother’s face, it is stern but exudes such power and elegance.

Nonna Maria (painted 2019) [Oil on Canvas 80x60cm]20190807_151007

One of Alexia’s first pieces was her Cupcake series from Art A-Level. In this series, we see the fusion of her two passions baking and art. Each cupcake explores a different texture and technique.

Moreover, in terms of her favourite art movement, the artist states it is Impressionism. “I like my detail but not too in depth, and I like to be a bit loose with my technique and my brush strokes.”. Within Alexia’s catalogue of work, we see this impressionistic technique in pieces such as Nonna Nina and Salt Lake (painted 2018).

Salt Lake was Alexia’s first landscape painting, and as of the release of this memoir her only one. While growing up, she lived in Cyprus for 6 years, and she formed a special bond with the island.

Salt Lake is based on the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque. The building is a famous Mosque located on the west bank of the Larnaca Salt Lake in Cyprus. Referred to as the Mosque of Umm Haram, Umm Haram was the wife of Ubadah ibn al-Samit, who was a famous companion to the Prophet Muhammed. Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque is a sacred place for Turkish Cypriot Muslims. During the summer, flamingos migrate to the Mosque. It was the flamingoes and religious architecture that drew Alexia’s attention and compelled her to paint this piece. As well as that, the piece was a gift to her sister who is a wildlife biologist and loves flamingoes.

Alexia stated that Cyprus is an island that has been influenced by both Muslims and Greek Orthodox Christians; it is through Salt Lake that Alexia wanted to explore the island’s Islamic history, “I appreciate it and respect it”.

Like Nonna Nina, Salt Lake was painted with a spatula, “I really do enjoy working with a spatula. I use really tiny spatulas to go into much finer details with the flamingos and I like the textures it creates as well.”. The piece was originally made with just one large spatula but as the piece evolved different-sized spatulas were used, and we see this fine detail in the trees too. However, the detail does not stop there, as she creates a reflection of the mosque in the salt lake.

Salt Lake (painted 2018) [Oil on Canvas 80x60cm]20190807_151258

Nonna Nina and Salt Lake are pieces that have given Alexia the chance to experiment, and I truly believe she is onto something. In Salt Lake, the colours work well together and complement each other, coupled with the technique used, Alexia creates an air of tranquillity for the viewer.

In terms of when she considered herself as an artist, Alexia states she has always been an artist. The question she is asking herself now is what kind of artist, “I think it is deciding on what type of artist I want to be. (…) I can be any kind of artist. (…) Painting came first and then makeup.”.

When it comes to how she describes her art, Alexia states, “I guess it is very me, focusing on subjects I care about.”. Besides women and religious architecture, religious icons play a massive role in Alexia’s work, especially The Virgin Mary, in pieces such as Our Lady of Guadalupe (painted 2016) and Our Lady (painted 2019).

Our Lady of Guadalupe is Alexia’s attempt on the iconic piece Our Lady of Guadalupe/Virgin of Guadalupe. It is said that Mary appeared in Mexico four times to Juan Diego and once to his uncle. The piece takes further inspiration from religious Mexican art. Before this piece, Alexia did some research into Mexican catholic art and investigated the various colours and textures used.

The piece uses a variety of bright colours; light blue, light green and pink. The colours work together to create a warm atmosphere. Looking at Mary, she is surrounded by an array of flowers. As well as that gems are embedded into the piece which symbolizes Mary’s light and radiance as a holy figure. Alexia states that she felt at peace when creating Our Lady of Guadalupe and it was a therapeutic experience.

Our Lady of Guadalupe (painted 2016) [Oil on Canvas 80x60cm]20190807_150726

In comparison to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady is a more sombre piece. Alexia believes that even though the two pieces have the same figure, she can do something different to keep the art fresh and new.

In this piece, Alexia takes a more simplistic approach. The three main colours are gold, silver and light blue. The colours were used because she did not want to overpower the piece, “What I paint depends on how I feel and what colours I want to use at the time.”.

If we look at the piece, Mary appears to be in a solemn state, this is further emphasised with the halo. In terms of the creation of the piece, Alexia states that Mary’s hands were her favourite part.

Our Lady (painted 2019) [Oil on Wood 28x19cm]20200203_134332

Throughout her catalogue of work, Alexia states that all her pieces end differently compared to how they start, and she attributes this to being fickle, “It takes me a long time as I am always changing my mind.”.

Both pieces offer an interesting insight into Alexia’s faith. Alexia states she has always been religious, and her religion is something that has made her happy, strong and positive. Prayer is her form of meditation.

In our interview, Alexia stated that one of her favourite artists was Lucian Freud, “His work is quite dark and almost grotesque in a way, but I think he really captures the inside of a person. Their emotional feeling, through the colours he uses and the textures.”.

Alexia is also influenced by art from the Victorian era, she is fascinated by the lives of women as they had fewer rights compared to men. The Victoria period is a stark contrast to our time, and this intrigues Alexia.

Another important artist is the late English artist, John William Waterhouse. Waterhouse is an important artist to Alexia due to him painting the piece, Ophelia (painted 1894).

Ophelia is a character from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, she became insane after Hamlet killed her father and deserted her. What is so powerful about this piece is it symbolises female fragility and missed opportunities during that period. Waterhouse painted three versions of Ophelia, and they all portray the various stages before her death. Death and beauty are such oxymorons, but Waterhouse brings beauty to the topic of death and presents Ophelia’s last moments with dignity and elegance.

In terms of Alexia’s overarching message, she states that her work does not have a message, “I don’t think I paint with the intention of sending out a message, but I guess it is what people want to take from that.”. For Alexia, she paints things intrinsic to her identity; her relatives, her religion and her culture. “I think I just paint things that are really meaningful to me and that I care about a lot, which is my religion. So, I don’t know what sort of message it would send out, but it is how you want to take it.”.

In terms of what to expect from the artist this year and in the future, Alexia wants to delve more into the art world and find her creative feet. She wants to continue creating pieces that are based on religious icons and produce more paintings that focus on elderly people. As well as that, she wants to expand her focus and paint animals. One of Alexia’s most recent pieces was her dog peter, who was wearing a cross, “I just woke up one morning and thought, “I really want to paint my dog peter”.”. All in all, Alexia states that once the time is there, she will “paint away”.

In this memoir, I wanted to explore the concept of religion along with its impact and give some faith during such unprecedented times. Alexia is someone who paints what is dear to her and I think in such times, using the things we cherish as a creative portal is necessary. We must turn to the things that give us peace and comfort; such as our religion, family or friends. It is crunch time for humanity, and we need to band together to defeat COVID-19. We cannot let this virus win. With that being said, I leave you with the following: stay at home, keep yourself busy and keep the faith. Also, for those who are fasting during this period, Ramadan Mubarak.

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