Ted Zourntos: ‘Spolia Opima’

Ted Zourntos is a practicing artist working in Toronto and has exhibited his works internationally. He is a graduate of the Ontario College of art and Design and received a Masters of Fine Art degree from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. He has published articles on drawing education in the peer reviewed journal of the National Art Education Association in the US.

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Spolia Opima #1, (2015)

Q: Spolia Opima literally translated from the Latin is “rich spoils”, meaning the spoils of war. It referred to the armour, weapons, and other items belonging to a general who was defeated in single combat, which would then become the possessions of the victor. What does this term mean in the context of your body of work?

A: The title “Spolia Opima” in reference to my painting is meant as a satirical comment. Replacing the “War Trophy” and all the historical meaning behind it with plastic throwaways, cap guns, water pistols, synthetic gold and bronze fabric. This felt very appropriate when making paintings within an era of perpetual and seemingly endless conflict over fossil fuel resources.

The objects of the “Spolia Opima” have not only been forcefully taken but also stripped of their original purpose and meaning. This transformative space between functionality and symbolic representation is essentially the main area of exploration within my recent paintings.

Q: Can you speak a bit about the process involved in creating your works, including how you create and compose the still lifes you eventually paint?

A: There are primarily two stages within my process: sculpture and painting. Individually neither seems to fully satisfy my creative inquisition although a collaborative contribution provides the necessary framework for my artistic practice. Sculpture initiates my process functioning as a point of departure.

It provides me with a tactile and physical comprehension of both objects and their spatial presence. Painting the sculptures provides me with an opportunity to express personal, psychological and emotional narratives.

Q: You seem to be conscious of an imminence or urgency in our society for a change to ignite, or a shift to occur – your works comment on consumer culture, oil-economy, and the elevation of kitschy throw-away objects. This can also be seen within your two previous shows and bodies of work at Project Gallery. Can you speak a bit about this theme within your artwork and how it has evolved?

A: Ecological and economic subjects have informed my work for several years. My 2008 solo exhibition of abstract paintings “Outward is Inward” in New York City commented on the state of the contemporary subconscious in a time of economic and environmental crisis.

Soon after I began to look outward rather than inward (sorry, couldn’t resist) and my work focussed on the objective world rather than the subjectivity of abstraction that made up the majority of my work to that point.

My current kitschy dollar store work marks a significant shift in thinking for me as an artist. Specifically, it appropriates humor and satire as an entry point in confronting very serious and pressing issues.

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Spolia Opima #3 (2016)

Q: In this series you have created sumptuous spreads reminiscent of the Dutch painters. The still life feasts of the Baroque era featured exotic fruits and vegetables from foreign lands, whereas Spolia Opima entices the viewer with ‘exotic’ plastic items, manufactured in foreign lands. What is the bigger message you are hoping to impart by shifting the the viewer’s understanding of the signified meaning behind these mundane objects?

A: Mirroring the 17th century merchant class to contemporary consumer culture is essentially my objective. My hope is that this juxtaposition will provide a space for the viewer to self-reflect.

If there is a bigger message from shifting the signified meaning of the plastic objects it must come from the conscious of the viewer and speak directly to their individual social and political agenda.

Q: There is an element of humour and playfulness to your works in Spolia Opima – viewing one of your pieces is exhilarating, exciting and perhaps most overwhelmingly: fun. What brought you to this style of painting, and why do you believe it works?

A: Who doesn’t like to have fun?

I find contemporary environmental, social concerns at times to be overwhelming. I think it is more effective to take them on with more positive and enthusiastic means. Satire or cynicism may be perceived as embodying characteristics suggesting hopelessness but I see them as effective access points to very serious concerns.

Q: Who are a few of your favourite artists?

A: I have way too many favorite artists.

It might be best to talk about the David Altmejd exhibition I saw at the Musée d’art Contemporain in Montreal, my favorite show of last year. The show was simply breathtaking. Of course being a painter I could not avoid seeing the fractured glass containers of mythological oddities as 3-dimensional versions of early 20th Century futurist or cubist paintings. Primarily what struck me is how the presentation of his work reminded me of a post apocalyptic display window at a futuristic jewelry store or museum. Regardless if I missed the point, I found myself hypnotized by how looking through glass, albeit cracked, effected my perception of the objects. It was as though the objects were both familiar everyday recognizable things and simultaneously a thousand year old relics.

The opening reception for Ted Zourntos’ solo exhibition ‘Spolia Opima’ will be held from 6-10pm on Thursday April 7th, 2016 at Project Gallery (1109 Queen St. E). The exhibition will be on display Wed-Sun, 12-5pm until April 24th.
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