The Studio Project | Costa Vavagiakis

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Over the past thirty-five years, I have had five studios in New Jersey, Brooklyn, and Queens. For the past seven years, I’ve maintained a studio in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

I draw from life—from direct observation and from experience. I do countless drawings and oil sketches as I set out the concept for a painting. I place the sitter against a white wall and illuminate him or her with a light from above, to accentuate the volumetric dimensionality of the form. My oil painting technique is labor-intensive. I build up wet-on-wet layers. I also build up “dry” layers—applying layer upon layer, scraping and sanding in between layers.

I work on toned or white grounds. On the white grounds, I usually do a grisaille. I work with quick-drying pigments (i.e., iron oxides) on the underlying layers, working up to slower-drying pigments (i.e., cadmiums) on the superficial layers. I apply many layers of paint, sanding between the layers and “oiling out” to start the sessions.

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Long Island City Studio, 2000. Photo: James Prochnick

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Long Island City Studio, 2006. Photo: Ephraim Rubenstein

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Long Island City Studio, 2006. Photo: Ephraim Rubenstein

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Sunset Park Studio, 2008. Photo: Costa Vavagiakis

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Sunset Park Studio, 2008. Photo: Costa Vavagiakis

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Sunset Park Studio, 2008. Photo: Costa Vavagiakis

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Sunset Park Studio, 2009. Photo: Lawrence Gumpel

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Sunset Park Studio, 2012. Photo: Matt Flynn

The sessions usually last eight to twenty hours. I tend to begin working before the model arrives. I work from my drawing and painting studies, and from memory. The model arrives when I’m warmed up. I work with the model for three to six hours. During this time, the paint starts “closing” (i.e., becoming more tacky.) This allows me to continue working after the model has left, creating a more dense, sculptural modeling of the form.

My medium for the early layers is linseed oil, with small amounts of a siccative (lead, cobalt or alkyd). I use walnut oil as a medium when I’m working on the final layers. Linseed oil dries best, while walnut oil yellows less. My painting process is slow and painstaking: a painting could take several years to complete.

Long Island City Studio, 2000. Photo: James Prochnick
Long Island City Studio, 2006. Photo: Ephraim Rubenstein
Sunset Park Studio, 2008. Photo: Costa Vavagiakis
Sunset Park Studio, 2009. Photo: Lawrence Gumpel
Sunset Park Studio, 2012. Photo: Matt Flynn

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