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