2020 Snapshot: Nick Stathopoulos

A self-taught artist, Nick Stathopoulos has become known for his hyper-realistic style, particularly his paintings of his childhood toy collection, and large-scale portraits. In the past he has worked in the publishing, animation, and computer game industries. Nick is a five-time Archibald finalist – winning People’s Choice in 2016 with a portrait of Sudanese refugee lawyer Deng Adut. He won the People’s Choice Award at the 2017 Black Swan Portrait Prize in Perth, the People’s Choice Award in the 2014 Salon des Refusés, and in 2015 he was a top finalist in the BP Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery in London. He has also been a four-time finalist in the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize. In 2017 Nick was one of eight artists featured in the Foxtel Arts documentary “THE ARCHIBALD” by Mint Pictures. He currently shares a studio space, “Project 504”, with 3 other artists in North Sydney.

1. Tell us about your recent projects?

I’m currently finishing on a portrait, I need to get cracking with some works promised to a gallery later in the year, and I’ve just finished art directing and production designing a short with my film-maker buddy Ryan Cauchi.

As for genre related work….

I swore I would never do another book cover, ever. That’s it. I’ve drawn a line under my career as an illustrator. A lot has changed over the last three decades. The whole nature of publishing had changed along with illustration, and work had dried up, with only the occasional low-paid small-press jobs on offer.

Now, I can’t emphasise how much I loved creating book covers, but the whole process became so agonising that I’d sooner crawl over broken glass than do another one.

They no longer bring me joy. I can’t control how they print because no one sends me proof sheets. They keep me poor and anonymous. Even when I did the odd freebie for the fun of it, it would result in some drama and I would think why did I even bother? But worst of all…they steal my time.

Everything takes me so much time. It’s insane to spend a month or more on something that pays $500.

After a quadruple bi-pass operation in 2015, I seriously began to re-evaluate what I wanted to do with what little time I have. I had to re-invent myself. I clearly still needed to paint, but I have become a very different artist.

Becoming a ‘fine-artist’ has opened up a whole new world for me, and in retrospect I think should have made the shift a long time ago.

Anyway…you know what they say; never say never.

There are two projects that dragged me out of illustration retirement, both by authors I know and respect.

The first (and this answers the second question: What has been the best publishing experience of my career so far?) was Robert Hood’s mammoth Peripheral Visions: The Collected Ghost Stories from IFWG Publishing Australia in 2015.

I came up with a very specific ‘look’ for the cover, interior illustrations, and the signing page.

It received the 2015 Australian Shadows Award for Best Collected Work. He’s such a fine writer. A lot of authors, especially with small-press projects where they brandish more clout, bloat their covers multiple with testimonials from their buddies, extended synopses, and bios listing every fart they’ve ever passed.

They become messy, ugly, and really hard to graphically design. Ugh. I said to Rob I wanted to keep this one clean and elegant. He was completely receptive to the idea, and I was really pleased and satisfied with the result. It really captures the feel and mood of the contents.

And then along comes The Complete Rynosseros. When PS Publishing proposed a three volume omnibus career-spanning collection of Terry Dowling’s sprawling adventures of Captain Tom and his kite-drawn sandship Rynosseros, I thought to myself “Oh no!”

My association with Terry goes back to literally my first genre artwork while I was still in high school, and the art I created for the first Rynosseros back in 1990 (and what would ultimately become a four volume series) stretches back to my earliest book covers.

Over the years, concepts that I would roughly sketch out or discuss with Terry would find themselves fleshing out and influencing his exotic antique future, so in many ways I am intricately connected with the look of this world. How could I possibly let anyone else re-interpret it?

For the new project I began creating three wrap-around covers, initially based on the iconic ‘wide-screen’ look I created for the original series (the first three published by Aphelion and the fourth by Coeur de Lion).

This was a way of keeping the new books sympathetic and connected to the original series, and also keeping the project do-able in terms of time and budget. It also meant that I didn’t need to illustrate the whole image, just a slice of it.

I also created endpapers, textured backgrounds, signing sheets, logos, and various curlicues, some of which are used, some not.

However, the publisher requested full-page images, and suddenly almost completed works had to be substantially revised and expanded. What to do? I had quoted based on simpler, smaller works that I could squeeze into my schedule. Suddenly it’s a much bigger prospect.

I tried to scale the project back by integrating painted elements with photography and digital painting to create a quasi-realistic graphic. Silly me, they ended up taking me forever! In fact, the work had to be suspended as it began to seriously impact on a solo gallery show that I was slotted for November 2019.

That doesn’t endear you to a publisher, or an author itching to get the project out into the world. (Along the way, I often wondered whether I should have done them as complete paintings, but I doubt I would have saved myself any more time or effort.) Anyway, the project is completed, with only the slipcases awaiting delivery.

I’ve not seen what the final covers look like in the flesh. The graphic design has been created by PS’s in-house graphic designer Michael Smith, so the overall look is not mine, but that’s a concession you often have to make when working with a particular publisher.

Still, it’s looking very handsome from the publicity images PS have released. I would have loved to have fully illustrated all three volumes, but I doubt PS or Terry would have waited another year.

3. Which recent Australian/NZ work would you recommend to international fans interested in expanding their Antipodean spec fic knowledge?

Obviously The Complete Rynosseros! LOL. I do think Dowling is a superlative horror writer. I have a great admiration for Anna Tambour’s idiosyncratic fantasy. Her work is redolent with such exquisite, playful writing. I find myself reading and re-reading passages just for the joy it.


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