Daniel Egneus made a colorful splash on the Athens art scene last summer with his exhibition of 100 drawings of Athens streets at the Zoumboulakis Gallery, titled ‘As I Walked Out One Morning’.
His juxtaposition of vivid, fantastical and beatific elements with gritty, harsh or eerie characteristics is a common thread in his work, displaying a complex and profound perspective about people and the urban or natural worlds they inhabit, both materially and figuratively.
In only four years of living in Athens, following decades in a string of other European cities, Egneus has created hundreds of paintings, sketches andillustrations that, critically, attest to an impressively illustrated and highly original perspective of the city.
I interviewed the artist on a rainy day in his apartment at the border between Syntagma and Plaka, sitting at his desk to take a privileged look through a lot of his work on giant screens and sipping tea that took him several attempts to make, because of a temperamental kettle it seems.
Let’s start at the very beginning…
I quit school really early. All I was focused on was drawing, which I’ve been doing since I was five. I remember having images in my head, imagining things and wondering, “how can I draw that?”
What appeals to you about Greece as a place to live?
It’s a bit like a hidden pearl. People don’t know much about Athens, apart from going to Piraeus and taking a boat to the islands. I find it fascinating – the white light, and a black light almost, from all the shadows…
What is the most surreal thing that you’ve seen or experienced in Athens?
Probably something to do with having a small business in Greece…I really have difficulties with the bureaucracy here, because you can’t just do things online.
What’s your average day like?
I just work actually; it’s a part of me. I continue to draw, and it keeps developing. I even worked on New Years’ Eve. I think I was the only sober person in Athens on January 1st – it was as if a neutron bomb had hit the city!
If you were asked to do a single painting to best describe Athens, what would it be?
Omonia (square) and the meat market on Athinas (street). I think they are iconic places.
Name three works of art in Athenian museums or galleries that you most admire.
What’s your attitude to creating art?
I think if you’re very concrete, it’s easier to dream away; and if you have everything under control, you can allow yourself to be more melancholic, because it’s a kind of luxury to be melancholic, a kind of poetic state! Otherwise you are just depressed, and there’s no luxury in being depressed.
How inspired are you by this city’s locations?
Obviously Athens is really fun because it’s such a…mess! There’s all this brutalist architecture, and concrete everywhere and all these neoclassical buildings with common features like the balcony railings, as if one guy came up with an idea and was selling it to everyone.
If a day in Athens day had a color, what would it be?
Cityscapes apart, I’ve noticed nature features strongly in your work.
Oh yeah, I love nature! I grew up in nature in a small town in Sweden. I love trees especially, and landscapes, and European and North American nature.
How come you don’t draw the sea at all?
The city is more inspiring, it’s more like my brain – all the narrow streets in your head; in the city there are a lot of things going on. I didn’t grow up near the sea, so for me it’s more about mysterious things in forests and that kind of darker poetry; Greek mythology is always in daylight, under the blue sky – lucky them.
What are you working on lately?
I’ve written two children’s books, and as for the rest of my projects (that I can’t talk about), all will be revealed by Christmas 2016, when seven books I’ve been working on will come out. Some are by famous British and American authors – one of whom is an author I have really admired since I was a child.
Have you ever thought of creating a graphic novel about Athens?
Yeah it would be really fun to do something like that, something that’s set in Athens but not necessarily ‘Greek’ – although it could include characters like Kostas the Souvlaki Billionaire in his big fur coat! Humor for me is a really important way to communicate; you can be serious, you don’t need to be superficial, but it’s so much more fun for a conversation to keep going up and down. And it’s the same with pictures; you can include humor, tenderness, scary things and stupid things all at once, and comics can really express that.
First Published in Greece Is
Egneus on the above Marasli image: “This is a self portrait (the artist is illustrated, center looking into the eyes of the viewer) that I used for the Marasli / Evangelismos sketch – me and all these strange people and stray dogs, and the kiosk and even shark girl! I lived on Marasli and in the summer when everyone else was away, in August, it was just me and a lot of people hanging around the hospital, like addicts and weird people