Humankind is obsessed with itself. Since the dawn of recorded time we have, as it were, recorded time. We insist on painting, drawing, singing and writing about the strange highs and lows of the human experience. As such, art has the ability to draw us in close. A good song or book or painting can dust off the cobwebs of your very soul. It’s almost like it’s reassuring us that there is meaning, we are understood.
Such is the way I experienced Tony Philippou’s Sthenos the Gorgon. When I turned into Pho Hoa Noodle Soup to start poking around at the local public art, I was immediately drawn to it. At the time, I didn’t understand what I was looking at 100%. She was, to be candid, a pretty snake lady on a bright purple background. Her face held a certain tension: yes, she drew me in but she also scared me. There was something foreboding behind her beautiful eyes.
Which makes sense because she is, as I later found out, a gorgon. Sthenos is the more lethal sister of Medusa; she is said to have killed more men than Medusa and Euryale combined (yeah, totally not worrisome at all that I was drawn to this image).
I wondered: why would anyone want to paint Sthenos, the lesser-known sister of Medusa? The creator of this work, Orlando-based artist Tony Philippou was kind enough to offer his insight on Sthenos in particular and public art in general (note: the following is an email Q&A edited for brevity and clarity).
Q: Did the city of Orlando or the state of Florida inform or influence Sthenos the Gorgon in any way?
A: No…The mural is on the side of PHO HOA, a Vietnamese restaurant, that curates the walls every year. So every year different people will do new murals on those walls. I was contacted to see if I would contribute something this year and Sthenos The Gorgon was my contribution. My inspiration for Sthenos is partially based around my heritage as I’m part Greek. I’ve always enjoyed using Greek Mythological characters and creatures in my work. They are some of the earliest examples of extremely imaginative and fantastical design.
Q: It might be said that historically, public or “street” art has been viewed as more counter cultural or democratic (its only more recently that you see arts districts with big murals becoming more and more popular; for example Rino in Denver or Wynwood in Miami). It has its pros (public exposure to and engagement with art) and cons (very generally speaking, critics might say it often accompanies gentrification). Do you have any comment on the rise of popularity in public / street art?
A: Public art from my own experience and knowledge has a tremendous ability to connect with the masses. The message of the artist or the effects of the design decisions they make are the important factors that allow for the viewer to enjoy or interpret what they are seeing in an impactful way. With that being said, I’d say that it’s as much the viewers responsibility to be educated in the aspects of visual communications if they want to enjoy or connect with it beyond face value. I believe a large part of the acceptance of art is how well the viewer connects with the final execution of the artists idea or concept for the piece they have created. I think the more public art the better. As long as it is successful and is in good taste. The best form of public art is one where the community is considered and possibly has some input in to the inspiration and concept of the work. This helps form an impactful and long lasting connection between the art and the community.
Q: What are some of the challenges and benefits as an artist when you’re asked to create a mural like this (whether it’s technically, artistically, etc.)?
A: My major challenge which I’m sure most outdoor muralists can relate to is working around the weather. A lot of outdoor murals are executed in spray paint which I use as well, but I also do a good portion of the murals work with brushes by hand. So when it rains it makes getting any forward progress really difficult.
Q: Finally, Sthenos—the violent sister of Medusa. She’s a very interesting subject. What inspired you to paint her? Why not her more popular sister?
A: I had wanted to do a piece based around a gorgon for a while now and this seemed like a great opportunity for it. Gorgons are fascinating and I was not really looking to do another version of Medusa but something a bit more abstract and design oriented. I do lots of digging in my research process and this usually leads me to things that can help influence or motivate my original idea.
I think the more public art the better.Tony Philippou
& how fortuitous for folks in Orlando: If you’re ready for even more creativity and art, head over to Immerse (because you’re going to be immersed in art, see what they did there?), featuring over 1000 artists, performances, and experiences this weekend, October 18th and 19th. I always manage to miss it, but I finally got a ticket this year.