The Artist Behind The Establishment’s Official Love T-Shirt Believes In The Power Of Every Body
‘I’m an amputee and this image is one of the first I’ve created that addresses what being disabled is, sans able-bodied expectations.’
Here at The Establishment, we spend a lot of time talking and writing and thinking and scream-crying about the elaborate ways in which homosapiens wrong one another. (In addition to the planet, non-human animals, and maybe even extraterrestrials—there’s a LOT of space-junk out there people.)
We thought that this Valentine’s Day, we should talk about love, but Establishment-style, because the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy doesn’t take a day off.
So we partnered with the Creative Action Network — which “crowdsources campaigns around causes, inviting anyone and everyone to contribute their own designs” — to help us host an art project to talk about love in 2018…
…and turn one chosen design into our official Est. Love T-Shirt.
Out of 14 amazing submissions we chose the work of Artemis Xenakis, which you can buy below!
Here’s what Artemis had to say about her work, her life, and the beautiful aberration we call love.
“Our bodies are the vessel for how we experience the world, and the world has an ever growing fracture from the absence of love. Where love has recessed, systems of oppression take hold, diminishing humanity down to the bodies that carry us through this existence. Living under these measures, we are all at odds within our very selves, with our fellow people, and with our home planet. This is because Love needs a space to manifest, a vessel to carry its truth in the forms of empathy and true equality. Love needs to grow from the decay of hatred. Love needs to heal fear. Loves needs the full participation of people to be felt, given, and known. Love needs all bodies to be.”
We talked to Artemis to find out more about her brilliant design, her artistic process, and her thoughts on love and existentialism.
(Check out the other holy-shit, hell-yes submissions throughout this interview as well — all of which are on sale too!)
KATIE: Tell me a bit about yourself! Where did you grow up, when did you realize you wanted to create art and anything else wonderful or strange you’d like to include…
It’s hard for me to trace back to a moment of realization with art because I can’t remember a time I didn’t draw on something, anything; a coloring book; a napkin; my bedroom door (the latter was much to my parents’ chagrin, yet they understood my drive).
My mom especially is very supportive of the Arts and Artists; she was an art docent for my classes all throughout elementary school, so I just grew up with a strong yet subconscious understanding of its importance in education and societal roles. I say subconscious because as an adult I see in retrospect how that form of expression influenced each of my interests and drives. Drawing was certainly art’s first manifestation in my creative pursuits, and it only ever spiraled from there.
Mythology was presented to me early on—in part because of my name and Greek heritage—but also because of my psychological response to these stories. When I wasn’t actively pursuing a creative work I was taking in myth and symbol from all corners of storytelling and filtering them through my passive thoughts and feelings.
And in the nature of peculiar things children do when left to their own devices, I would make art in ritualistic ways that I understood later in my early adulthood to be akin to Witchcraft practices. For instance, I loved to climb trees and carve made-up symbols in the branches that were meant for only the tree and me to understand; I would write poems that were meant to conduct any negative feelings I had and then I would take my frustration out on tearing up the paper and throwing it away. Communing with nature, directing your energy in sigil writing, banning negativity and enacting for what you want, all take creative thought and process.
KATIE: How did you develop the idea for your submission? Where did you find the heart and body and rose to collage together?
I’m an amputee, and I’ve been trying to craft a dialogue about disability in my art for a few years now. It’s a subject that’s still otherwise in progress because I feel like it deserves an exchange of voices outside of my perspective of disability, too. This image used for “Love Needs…” is one of the first I created pertaining to the concept of just addressing what being disabled is, sans able-bodied expectations. I’ve participated in live figure drawing both as an artist and a model, and I was surprised to experience the latter with the response of people expressing that they saw me as beautiful despite being disabled.
I was so distraught over the idea that there must be a lack of self ownership over all parts of me to function; as if I adorn my aesthetic in spite of one thing that’s perceived to be unlike the rest of me.
I knew it was time to take control of this misconception and demonstrate my self-love and autonomy. It came from having to live in a culture that wants me to live in spite of myself, and learning through my process of resistance to this that there’s a multitude of reasons other people are expected to do the same.
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Ultimately, it expanded my empathy for understanding all kinds of systemic oppression. So this image roots in disability, but for this particular project I wanted to express the sentiment that we intersect at our bodies, especially for those of us that are minorities to the default and who have a common goal of having to declare our truth and demonstrate our importance. By embodying empathy for one another we can create a larger voice in response to what is considered normalcy.
For the image itself, I used illustration combined with photography that I took during my personal nature walks while living in San Diego. I love the synchronicity of nature’s cycles, and observing the intricacies of how these processes express themselves in color and form. I love getting up close to plants and using micro-focus to display them as greatly as the role they play in our Earth.
These walks I took by myself were the beginning practices of learning to enjoy my own company and make time for myself. This rose and these leaves in particular, I remember from a whimsical stroll through San Diego’s Rose Gardens. Nothing extraordinary happened during that walk, but when looking at those photos I remember it as if it were yesterday. And those leaves are naturally those colors; that vibrant red and green kissing is nature’s complimentary contrast, not mine. I just played with their tone.
As my most formal discipline is Graphic Design, I was able to combine all these elements together digitally. I feel like Graphic Design is the “Math” of the Arts, and I definitely apply a calculated approach when trying to balance the organic forms and enigmatic symbols I love, with the articulation that proper expression calls for.
KATIE: What is the role of art in actualizing social change? Do you believe that the Artist needs to play a role in undermining systems of power?
Art definitely serves as a conduit among major movements, I think largely in part because artists are usually individuals oppressed by these systems of power. Rather than focus on the trope of the “tortured creative,” I think we need to begin considering the ways our society (at least in America) diminishes the arts as a viable skill and career that sustain both the artists and the cultures we contribute to.
Authentic art can’t function under capitalism, censorship, or other forms of oppression and exploitation without becoming propaganda, and I believe authentic artists are among the first to call that out. And I do mean “Artists” as more broad of a term than I think we’re used to attributing to it; I think the upswing in progressive activism we’re seeing is a perfect example of demonstration as art.
KATIE: How do you describe your work as an artist? What mediums or themes are you drawn to?
Drawing is more like a sense to me that I rely on for executing spatial intelligence, and the mediums I use are the moods I shift them in. I love graphite when I’m being open to interpretation; it’s something I use when I’m open to letting a piece stand alone without needing a background or any sort of detail framing it.
I love ink when I’m feeling precise and have an organized subject in my mind; even my pieces where I get messy with ink are more illustrative and balanced than most of my graphite drawings. I do very amateur photography, but I developed an inclination to use this medium when I feel like any way I attempt to hand-render a subject wouldn’t do its beauty complete justice.
I can’t draw roses worth a damn, but look how richly nature produces these all on her own. I find inspiration in the storytelling of female archetypes in ancient mythology, the lens into the old ways our fore-mothers across the world have contributed to society that often gets overlooked.
Most of my subjects involve deconstructing the traditional forms and adorning them in natural elements that have been attributed as feminine symbols. These elements also reflect the same impermanence found in all forms; the phases of the moon; the crystallization and disintegration of earth.
KATIE: What role does Love play in your life? How does it manifest?
I’m fortunate that I have a lot of love in my life now, and have come from a supportive family. But it took a lot of discipline for me to manifest the romantic love that I have now.
I experienced a string of abusive, tumultuous, and otherwise toxic relationships from my teens to young adulthood, so I decided to take a break from commitment in my early twenties. At the same time I began cutting ties with friends that I felt were mirroring the same behavior as my exes — or, in some cases, remaining complicit to the toxic cycles those people were conducting as I was actively trying to remove myself from all that. My views on relationships were pretty jaded coming out of that initially.
But it forced me to examine how my giving qualities were being displaced to people that didn’t deserve that much of me, and give it back to my craft so that my art could benefit from my need to nurture. In doing that, I learned to give love and strength to parts of myself that I previously mistook as weaknesses. It was another process of reclaiming parts of me that got swept up in external energies.
Once I was able to give that much to my creative drive, it became a force that worked its way into every facet of my life once more. I met the love of my life in art school; we were friends for years before we began dating, and that trek to our current relationship helped serve as additional lessons I needed in understanding unconditional love.
By embodying empathy for one another we can create a larger voice in response to what is considered normalcy.
There were time-appropriate barriers that stalled the beginnings of our relationship, and I reached a point where I knew I was going to be an awful friend to him and others if I kept harboring unhealthy feelings about my attraction to him. I had to deconstruct those feelings that stemmed from ego and fear, and embrace the idea that in order to give love to someone from a genuine place, I had to let go of any expectations for how love should be received.
I learned that to love someone with pure intent is to accept them in every moment as it comes, and that I was fortunate to even have a friendship with someone as genuine as he is. I realized that if I was only able to love him platonically, I would focus all that excess desire for closeness into healthy boundaries for our friendship. I let go of all those ugly feelings, and about two months later our romantic relationship culminated.
Love only wants you to participate if you’re honest, and it’ll open up its channels when it can trust that you are.
KATIE: If you had an intergalactic megaphone and could tell the universe one thing, what would it be?
Assuming that “intergalactic” is affirming reference to my future hope for sky-rocketing off the planet and finding respite in space, my announcement would be: “Message from the Cosmos: Nothing can see you from here!”
Hubris is humanity’s biggest downfall; we regard our human perspective as the pinnacle of existence. I appreciate Carl Sagan’s interpretation of the Universe’s timeline in his Cosmic Calendar method. It linearly maps out the Big Bang to show how minuscule human history actually is among the grand scheme of events that made it possible for us to ever exist.
We’re literally blasting through space at a rate unable to be comprehended by our limited-dimension-perceiving minds; and here we are perpetually berating each other over whose indoctrinated-book is the best, who has the most currency, power, etc.
Humanity could benefit from a healthy dose of existentialism.