Ariana Papademetropoulos knows that LA's sunsets are gorgeous because of the smog.
In the late 19th century, Southern California attracted misfits, idealists, and entrepreneurs with few ties to anyone or anything. Swamis, spiritualists, and other self-proclaimed religious authorities quickly made their way out West to forge new faiths. Independent book publishers, motivational speakers, and metaphysical-minded artists and writers then became part of the Los Angeles landscape. City of the Seekers examines how creative freedom enables SoCal artists to make spiritual work as part of their practices.
On a quest to explore dimension and illusion in art, Ariana Papademetropoulos' work goes so far off the canvas that she's begun making installations as extensions of her paintings. Sure, she may have a long Greek name, but it doesn't change the fact that the self-described realist painter is 100% native Angeleno.
Raised between Pasadena and Venice, the CalArts alum currently spends her time living in a charming house in Echo Park while also making art in the garage of a historic Pasadena home—originally built for the writer Gertrude Potter Daniels and transformed into a Tudor-style mansion in 1922 by heiress Susan Holmes, a.k.a., the Silver Queen. Perhaps Papademetropoulos gets her inspiration from her environment, which was built from the innovation and creativity of pioneering women. But, regardless of her surroundings, she's always been pushing boundaries in painting, and those boundaries are the limits of the frame itself.
In her recent Wonderland Avenue show at MAMA Gallery, Papademetropoulos installed an actual room as a walk-in painting. In her actual paintings, then, she implemented multiple techniques to unveil layers of meaning, blurring and merging genres for a style that's equal parts realism, fantasy, and collage-inspired deconstructivism. Slices of stories are hidden inside visual lacerations that serve as a unique type of trompe l'oeil. Viewers may think they're looking at one thing, but they're mentally processing multiple images they're not consciously aware of.
"I was interested in creating multidimensional landscapes where the viewer could question what’s real and what isn’t, what has value and what doesn’t; what’s light and what’s dark; what’s good and what’s evil," Papademetropoulos tells The Creators Project. "A painting is more successful to me if it can grow, shift in meaning, and remain in motion. Mystery can enhance this, and makes it possible for a painting to be alive in some sense."
Though she admits that it's been said a lot, Papademetropoulos claims she’s inspired by "everything," including the caves on the Greek island of Cephalonia from where she emails us via a dodgy internet connection. "I could sit in a cave all day and stare at stalagmites and come up with ideas totally unrelated to the aesthetic of a cave, but inspired by the experience of being in one," she explains. "I visited a 1,200-year-old monastery on a cliff the other day and found out the doors are three-and-a-half feet tall not because the people were small, but because it’s a sign of humility, and that makes me want to create a room with different-sized doors. I never know what’s going to trigger an idea, so I like knowing as much as I can and having a wide variety of experiences. The more I know, the more I want to learn, and the more I want to make."
As an LA native, Papademetropoulos says it's hard finding a place that satisfies like her hometown. "I have the beach, mountains, desert, culture, and freaks. I can navigate different worlds, different scenes, and different aspects of myself all while staying in one place," she says. "Los Angeles has always been a place that people come to invent their own version of reality, and I think that notion is still present today. While that can be a bad thing, it can also be a wonderful thing. LA is full of dualities. It’s like the sunset we have: LA has one of most vivid and wild sunsets like nowhere else, but that’s because of the way the light filters through the smog. Even the ugly is disguised as magical."
But it's LA's spiritual history and its legacy that particularly appeals to Papademetropoulos, who says she's always been drawn to the city's mystical side. "My first realization that there was a whole spiritual scene here was probably when I first started attending Maja D'Aoust's talks at the Philosophical Research Society years ago. And from there I became fascinated with all the religions/cults/sects that surfaced here in the past century such as Unarius, the Aetherius Society, the Source Family, Theosophy, Children of God, the Great Eleven, and so on. The spiritual environment directly affects my work, because sometimes the work I create is literally about the subject [...] All in all, I'm fascinated by everything about LA history: the new age, the bizarre, and the dark side."
Creatively, Papademetropoulos says her mission changes with each series of paintings, but throughout her practice, she always strives to provide an experience through the act of discovery. "Most of the things I am interested in are hidden, unknown, overlooked or simply unappreciated," she says. "I think my paintings highlight those interests in a way that gives me an opportunity where I can communicate that the subjects might be meaningful or worthwhile."