Aris Kalaizis

There is nothing better and at the same time nothing more difficult, than to make paintings.

Kalaizis in his studio (2014)
Kalaizis in his studio (2014)

Volly Tan­ner, Leipzig city icon, asked in 2014 the Leipzig paint­er Aris Kala­izis in a short con­ver­sa­tion about Leipzig and his feel­ing of liv­ing in this city, his love of paint­ing and his aver­sion to leis­ure activities

Tan­ner: What is your per­son­al favor­ite place in Leipzig – and espe­cially why?

Kala­izis: I don't actu­ally have a real favor­ite place. It would cer­tainly be cor­rect and not big­oted to name my stu­dio for this – espe­cially since it is in fact the place that, after the work is done, leads me to a wide vari­ety of people over a glass of wine.

But if there is a place bey­ond that, it's prob­ably a res­taur­ant, because once a week my wife and I def­in­itely go out to eat togeth­er. We usu­ally go to the Greek res­taur­ant Mytro­pol­is in the Gohlis dis­trict. (Not to be con­fused with Met­ro­pol­is, though, where you can admire the del­ic­ate curves and but­tocks of dan­cing girls!)

Well, first of all, the Mytro­pol­is offers authen­t­ic food in a pleas­ant atmo­sphere. It is a very well struc­tured res­taur­ant where you can dine at excel­lent value for money. And of course: We find the ser­vice to be pleas­ant, and chat­ting with the cus­tom­ers is a good way to cul­tiv­ate rela­tion­ships. And that's a good thing, because that way we can speak a little Greek.

T: If you were to explain exactly what you do to an out-of-town­er – someone who has really and truly nev­er been involved in your pro­fes­sion, what would you tell them?

K: Then I would explain to him that being a paint­er kept me a bit of my child­hood, along with the won­der­ing, hes­it­at­ing and paus­ing. Basic­ally, these are things, like paint­ing, that are inher­ent in every human being – more or less. It can­not be denied that these beings then dry up at school age and not infre­quently at school, espe­cially when the interest in tech­no­logy and sport is primar­ily among the boys. It was sim­il­ar in my case: for the first 16 years of my life, I didn't know that I had a music­al ele­ment, that I had an inclin­a­tion towards pictures.

Until then, I only knew that I was dif­fer­ent, that I was dif­fer­ent from my class­mates and that my dif­fer­ence was just a per­ceived dif­fer­ence, since I didn't yet have the appro­pri­ate lan­guage, the appro­pri­ate trans­la­tion tool, to express it. There is no ques­tion that this state of affairs was unsat­is­fact­ory. So it took me a while to real­ize that I am basic­ally a visu­al per­son, one who trusts his eyes more than his ears. My trans­la­tion tool was and is paint­ing. She took me into her lap when I was in late puberty.

The best way to explain what is cre­ated is a love affair that – and that's the beauty of it – has con­tin­ued to this day. In her womb I learned the tech­nique of world-exper­i­en­cing, and with exper­i­ence I learned the tech­nique of world-remov­al. Because paint­ing is not only able to depict the world, it can go bey­ond it and thus also exag­ger­ate one's own life. There is noth­ing more beau­ti­ful and at the same time more dif­fi­cult. There­fore it is both a pleas­ure and a bur­den. How­ever: If I had the choice again, I would choose paint­ing again.

T: What keeps you in Leipzig? What makes Leipzig spe­cial for you? Why Leipzig and not any­where else on this planet?

K: First of all, I have to say that I didn't choose Leipzig as the city of my birth. Nobody asked me. Nev­er­the­less, I still live in this city today, even quite fondly now. I'll prob­ably die in this town too. – But only if it con­tin­ues to seem worth liv­ing to me. In this respect, it is always import­ant that we do not turn fatal from the situ­ation for which we are not respons­ible, but affirm it out of an inner need. Yes, I like liv­ing in Leipzig.

This means that my exist­ence as a paint­er is not impaired by my envir­on­ment, but is encour­aged. Now you will think that favored means you need a good envir­on­ment where the pic­tures will ulti­mately be bought. No, the first thing to say is that a paint­er has to find a pro­duc­tion-friendly envir­on­ment in which he can get any­thing done at all. Everything else, wheth­er a pic­ture is bought, is sec­ond­ary. But if the product is good enough, the so-called mar­kets, which are very cre­at­ive in the tech­nique of mul­tiply­ing money, will approach you.

But if this is not the case, then he has bet­ter do his home­work before he sets out to go to even big­ger mar­kets and even want to teach them a bet­ter les­son. I there­fore mean what I say less in an eco­nom­ic sense. I mean it more in an ideal­ist­ic sense, that the envir­on­ment of the paint­er has to be an inspir­ing envir­on­ment in every respect, that is char­ac­ter­ized by mod­er­ate, delib­er­ately not beguil­ing deal­ings with oth­ers and oth­ers. There­fore, medi­um-sized cit­ies are ideal! A paint­er should not live in the coun­try, since the prac­tice of his pro­fes­sion is accom­pan­ied by no small amount of loneli­ness anyway.

He should neither live in a small town, since small minds are often at home there, nor should he live in the con­stantly pulsat­ing met­ro­pol­is. The met­ro­pol­ises from New York to Ber­lin have not formed a humus from which one can draw cul­ture for a long time. Only the mediocre among the art lov­ers are still driv­en to the met­ro­pol­ises. The cre­at­ive stuff comes from the peri­pher­ies. The met­ro­pol­ises have cer­tainly remained cul­tur­al exploiters of the first rank.

There is no motto, no guideline, no ideo­logy that I live by

Leipzig is neither a met­ro­pol­is nor a small town. It's not too big, not too small. In it one can dis­perse but also find one­self. There are academies. It is also inter­na­tion­al and there is a good range of dif­fer­ent life forms.
When I was study­ing paint­ing in Leipzig after the fall of the Wall, many con­sidered my choice of study absurd, as if one had fallen prey to idiocy. At that time it was: medi­cine, archi­tec­ture or busi­ness admin­is­tra­tion. The opin­ion at the time was that paint­ing was not a source of income. I still remem­ber well that before and after the reuni­fic­a­tion, Leipzig was only con­sidered a city of music. After almost 25 years, it is won­der­ful to exper­i­ence that paint­ing has also been able to con­trib­ute a little to mak­ing Leipzig more attractive.

How­ever, the suc­cess of the so-called Leipzig School has always been cyc­lic­al and is mainly due to the fact that there are times when interest in paint­ing almost comes to a stand­still. When the pic­ture eco­nomy and the mar­ket value of the canvases calm down, the artist's hour comes – as if out of nowhere – who car­ries the new with­in him­self. There­fore we need noth­ing more than the ebb and noth­ing less the tide!

T: Please give me a few soft facts about you. Mar­it­al status? And since when? Chil­dren? And what kind if so?

K: I was born in Leipzig in 1966 as a product of a love affair between two Greek polit­ic­al emig­rants who came to Ger­many because of the Greek civil war (1946−1949). I have been mar­ried to my Annett for a quarter of a cen­tury now. She is the hap­pi­ness of my life. My fath­er died in Feb­ru­ary 1994 at the age of only 58 and far too early. His loss, which I couldn't digest for a very long time, was a shock because not only a fath­er went with him, but a friend.

Family Kalaizis, Annett, Nike und Aris, 2015 in Budapest
Family Kalaizis, Annett, Nike und Aris, 2015 in Budapest

A week after his passing, my wife told me she was preg­nant. Months of sad­ness and, to a less­er extent, optim­ism fol­lowed. We didn't know the name or gender of the child until the birth of our child, because we wanted to take a look at the child and then decide. As is so often the case, how­ever, things turned out dif­fer­ently than you might think: after the birth of our daugh­ter, the doc­tors treat­ing her decided to send the new­born to a children's hos­pit­al for fur­ther treatment.

Sev­er­al weeks passed. We were told that our daugh­ter could have a con­gen­it­al heart defect. Oth­er doc­tors later sug­ges­ted that our child's short­ness of breath could be related to con­gen­it­al lung dam­age. It was a ter­rible time. In between the calls from the mid­wife. Nat­ur­ally, she finally wanted to know the name of our daugh­ter, which I couldn't give her yet, so that the birth cer­ti­fic­ate could finally be issued. Since we still didn't have a name ready after a good two weeks and my wife was still in the hos­pit­al bed, my wife gave me the sole right to name it.

It seemed like a bur­den to me. I can remem­ber that I was only able to do this with tears, because after the death of my own fath­er and the proph­ecies of our doc­tors, I now also had to fear for the life of our little new­comer. So I leafed through the myth­o­logy a bit and came across the Greek god­dess of vic­tory: NIKE. Later, after about four weeks, the time had come: Our daugh­ter Nike was released from the children's hos­pit­al. She was then only found to have a more developed thymus gland, which pressed on the dia­phragm and there­fore caused her breath­ing to become shal­low in the first three years of her life. In the com­ing year, the lively and per­fectly healthy Nike will be twenty years old and would like to study law.

T: Interests out­side of your job?

K: No, I don't have any hob­bies. Work­ing as a paint­er fills my life. I don't have the time to do a par­al­lel job. The fact that I read – like prob­ably most people – is not a hobby, but part of my job. But assum­ing I could have more time, I would cer­tainly sac­ri­fice it to the paint­ing universe.

T: Do you have per­son­al goals? And if so, which ones?

K: The exper­i­ence of my life so far has shown me that the key to a suc­cess­ful life – not to say a sat­is­fied life – is essen­tially determ­ined by con­tinu­ous work. I can under­take the most amaz­ing jour­neys to the most dis­tant coun­tries, but I only feel some­thing like hap­pi­ness when I have spent sev­er­al hours in the stu­dio and acted at the height of my pos­sib­il­it­ies – which, admit­tedly, could hap­pen more often. But that is a more sub­ject­ive feel­ing happiness.

Wheth­er this will res­ult in the desired recog­ni­tion will be decided later and is anoth­er mat­ter. How­ever, since I reject the prin­ciple of hope as a form of exist­ence that has been shif­ted into the future, I try to get a little fur­ther with each new pic­ture. So the motto is: Make more mis­takes through work, recog­nize them and, if pos­sible, don't make them a second time. – How­ever, the way to get there is often dis­cour­aging and rarely encour­aging. From the few moments, how­ever, I draw the strength for everything else.

And yes, I'm try­ing to stay healthy! As long as you can. I used to think to myself, when I was a young boy, how dowdy and bor­ing life must be to wish for health. Today I see that it is also a sign of aging.

T: What story from your life have you always wanted to be told – and thus saved for posterity?

K: No, basic­ally I have noth­ing to say, to share or any­thing like that. In any case, I believe that we humans can­not con­vey any­thing sig­ni­fic­ant, any­thing sub­lime on our own. Noth­ing! How­ever, we can gain insights from an increased interest in oth­ers, in great­er things, which are per­son­al­ity-form­ing for us. For this we need role mod­els against which we can rub, build and design. And if we can ever pro­ject ourselves into a real human being, we should not be afraid to name our role mod­els, our teach­ers and life masters.

T: Is there a motto you live by? Guidelines, val­ues, wis­dom? Then let's go – we are curious.

K: No, there is no motto, no guideline, no ideo­logy that I live by. All I know today is that things can change too quickly to meet and go through life with a life max­im, a philo­sophy or a belief of whatever kind. On the oth­er hand, I'm in favor of deal­ing with them – but you shouldn't adhere to them out of con­vic­tion, as long as you don't approach them ideologically.

(Source: Leipzig Por­traits, pub­lished at Gmeiner-Ed.)

©2014 Volly Tan­ner | Aris Kalaizis

© Aris Kalaizis 2024