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Elevating and celebrating the art community in Guelph (4 photos)

For the first feature of our new Arts and Culture series we visit the recently opened Gritt Gallery on Wyndham Street and chat with resident artist Eleni Bakopoulos
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Award winning photographer and painter Eleni Bakopoulos has no problem expressing the flow of ideas that flood her imagination she just needed a welcoming and conducive space to do it.

“Being an artist can be incredibly isolating,” she said. “I believe artists do best when they have a sense of community and connection with one another and I don’t think I will do my best work without that.”

Art and the creative process have driven Bakopoulos since she was a child and her long journey home to the Gritt Gallery has all the elements of a Homeric epic.

“I saw the gallery as soon as I walked in,” she said. “I thought, it landed at my feet and I have to do something with it now. To not would mean I am not following fate.”

Bakopoulos has drawn from more than 25 years of experience to create a space where she can indulge her creative passion, exhibit her work and provide opportunities for other artists to do the same.

“This is where I make my art but the atelier part, is a space where I run an oil painting class if you want to learn the foundations of oil painting and I have an instructor who runs drawing classes,” she said. “It’s a space I want used by artists. It is open for people if you have a workshop idea and need a space for it.”

She has information sessions planned for Friday, September 13 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday, September 14 from noon to 2 p.m.

Bakopoulos was born in Toronto in 1973 to Greek immigrants George and Tina Bakopoulos. She is the middle of three sisters and spent much of her childhood in a form of cultural isolation

“I grew up in Greek town right in the heart of the Danforth,” she said. “It was just a cute little community. The butchers, the fishmonger, they were all Greek. I didn’t speak English until I started school.”

The world as she knew it changed when she was 11 years old and the family moved to Guelph.

“It was a culture shock for me and everyone in my family,” she said. “My parents came here, like so many Greek people, to start a restaurant with one of our cousins but that didn’t work out. We had already made the move so my dad started his own maintenance company and did really well for himself.”

Art became a source of comfort and continuity in her life.

“I was in the arts even as a kid,” she said. “I got the Guelph Arts Council special youth award when I was in high school. It is something I have done always.”

She earned her BA at the University of Guelph.

“It was an amazing program,” she said. “I had really great professors there at the time. I started off with painting.”

That changed when she developed an interest in photography.

“Photography was just immediate and I had a lot of ideas so it could happen quick.” she said. “I used myself as the model. It was an immediate thing I could do and I would set things up almost cinematic because I still thought as a painter.”

She returned to painting in the final year of the program.

“I took a painting class with a really amazing professor Margaret Priest and I realised how much I missed painting and drawing," she said. "So, I decided I can’t give that up completely.”

She went on to York University and graduated in 1999 with a masters degree in fine arts.

“Some people ask what do you study to get a masters in fine art,” said Bakopoulos. “It’s a combination of ethics and philosophy and critical thinking, You learn history and for me that was my minor – all the ancient history and up to today. It’s pretty interesting stuff.”

It was during her time at York that her sister set her up on a blind date with her future husband Sean Carscadden.

“He is actually a helicopter pilot – an ex-military boy,” she said. “I met him at the Art Gallery of Ottawa where they had Pablo Picasso’s Minotaur prints on display. It’s funny because he has been in the Minotaur body of work I have done. So, we met at that exhibit and he ended up being in that body of work for the next 20 years.”

Her experiences in Fredericton, New Brunswick helped inform her ideas for the Gritt Gallery

“I was the director of an artist run centre there called Gallery Connexion and it was such an exciting three years because it was all volunteer artists and we were always together brainstorming. That’s what I am hoping will happen here in time – to build that sense of connection between artists.”

Both her painting and photography have received critical acclaim.

“I had a painting exhibition at the Beaverbrook Gallery,” she said. “My photography I have shown at a lot of different places. Probably the most notable thing is it was nominated for a Discovery Award in France. As soon as my career started to take off and I was having shows booked in Berlin and Italy and places like that I got pregnant.”

She took 12 years off to raise their two sons George, 13, and Liam, 10, and made a return to art when she collaborated with her sisters Samantha and Betty on a series of cook books under the name Three Greek Sisters.

“I feel like it saved me because it was a solid creative outlet that was easier than my own art but still creative,” she said “You want me to take pictures of food I can do that. You want me to come up with a cover for the book, I can do that.”

Retracing their Greek heritage for the cook books eventually led them all back home to Guelph.

“We all spread our wings and went away for a long time.,” she said. “I lived away from Guelph for 10 years. We are all here now. We wrote the cook book and decided we needed to come back together.”

Establishing the Gritt Gallery was the final chapter in her artistic odyssey.

“I found this space about a year ago and I said okay I am back into working on my art full time and the whole atelier part of it and introducing people to come in here was just to get a sense of community happening,” she said. “It was like, ‘build it and they will come’.”

To learn more about Bakopoulos and Gritt Gallery visit – www.grittgallery.com.



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