Varvara, tell us about yourself and your journey so far?
I was born in Thessaloniki, Macedonia, in 1979 and grew up in Florina, Greece. Since the age of 16, I have worked in my family’s coal mining business Lignitoryhia Achladas Ltd., established in 1936 by my grandfather. I worked my way up the business and have been industrial marketing director and shareholder since 2003. The company currently supplies 40% of the electricity across mainland Greece and operates globally – I’m based in our London headquarters most of the time.
As well as currently studying for a Bachelor of Law degree at King’s College London, I have also previously completed two degrees at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki including a BA (Hons) in Politics (2001). This led to my role as a politician, elected to the Thessaloniki municipal council as a representative for the mayor.
However, art has been my greatest passion since I was a child, both recreationally and now professionally with the launch of my first series of London exhibitions.
How did you find the transition from a family business into the art sector?
For me, it was very natural. Art has always been my passion and so I always find time for it and know the industry well.
I owe my passion for art to my father mostly, who I worked with at the family business and who was also a painter himself. He often took me to art galleries from a young age. I was inspired to take up painting too, from the age of six until I was sixteen.
Throughout my childhood, I have always been surrounded by artists and art dealers. They would visit my family home constantly, and my aunt studied art in Florence, and my godfather was a well-known artist in North Greece.
The move into the art sector was also helped by previous experiences of transitioning between various careers and sectors including in politics, fashion and jewellery.
To what extent has your involvement in politics informed your art investment and curation?
Politics and art is inextricably linked, and the reasons why may be more obvious than you might think.
A politician has one main objective: to fight crucial issues that society is facing and to try to help or resolve them. An artist is doing exactly the same, but through a totally different medium. They are expressing their concerns through art and reflecting wider social issues in their work. But an artist needs to be able to promote this in society, in the same way a politician has a podium, and that’s where I like to help.
When I was in politics, I had to promote myself in order to be elected, which was quite challenging.
I can now take that experience and channel it into promoting the artists I represent and on an international stage which I love and feel altogether more comfortable with!
How much artwork do you have in your own personal collection?
I have 145 paintings in my private collection, most of which I inherited from my father who was a great collector. I bought my first when I was just 16.
I have never sold a single painting from this private collection. However, now in my first year as an art curator and manager, the exhibitions have got off to a fantastic start.
Tell us about your upcoming art exhibitions?
My new project is designed to introduce contemporary Greek art to the London art scene and beyond, and is an ongoing series of exhibitions and events showcasing 56 pieces of artwork from four different artists. Featuring both emerging and established Greek talent, the series will be a two-month celebration of Greek art in the UK capital.
The exhibitions are being held at the J/M Gallery, 236 Portobello Road until 20th December. The gallery is open Monday to Friday 11am-6pm and Saturday 11am-8pm (or by appointment) and will be attended each night by myself and the artists so should be a fantastic opportunity for London’s collectors to meet some of the rising stars of the Greek art scene.
The series began with Maria Chazilampou’s Tree – Symbol of Fertility and Growth exhibition, a display of 20 pieces of artwork, followed by Stavros Ditsios’ exhibition Natura, which runs until 20 November. It showcases 16 paintings with social activism at its core, and with a particular focus on the beauty of nature in the era of climate change. The final exhibition runs between the 2-20 December, featuring works from mother and daughter artists, Charoula Nikolaidou and Christina Papaioannou. The collection is titled Anorioton and will include a collection of 20 paintings with an abstract theme, including surrealist portraiture.
Tell us why you’ve chosen to work with these particular artists?
Greece was the birthplace of wondrous works of art. Greece is the country that gave birth to Kallikratis and Iktinos who built the Acropolis. It’s the country where Phidias was born and created the Elgin Marbles. It’s the country of artists Nikolaos Gyzis, Loustas, Mitaras, and so many more. Greek art is still hugely significant and of course has a famous history for both the Greek people and rest of the world.
Modern Greece has a thriving artistic community. This generation’s art must be promoted and become internationally known. Through my extensive experience working in the cultural sector, I am delighted to introduce some of its brightest protagonists to London.
The artists I have chosen for my first three international exhibitions represent modern Greek art well. Their works are enriched with a lot of emotion, incredible symbolism taken out of our everyday life and are full of political and social stimuli.
What are your tips for art investment and collection?
Go with what you’re passionate about. Reading into an artist’s background, including their achievements, studies, and technique, is also essential. It helps to build a more in-depth connection with the artwork for the collector.
I would also advise steering clear of any painters whose work replicates that of world-famous, successful artists of the past. For me, art collecting and investing is about finding a piece or collection that is unique and different. That is why I love the modern generation of artists, their artwork is refreshing and makes you think differently to anything that’s already out there.
What do you predict for the future of art collection and investment?
I believe the industry will remain stable. Investment commodities such as fine art remain fairly resilient even in times of economic hardship. Regardless of the economy, demand for fine art will continue to thrive in London, and globally.
Why have you chosen the JM Gallery in London as your first location to exhibit?
London retains a strong infrastructure and reputation as a global hub for fine art. It is a multi-national city with artists and art dealers from all over the world visiting to experience and share in its rich cultural heritage. On Portobello Road, J/M Gallery offers a prime location to give the contemporary Greek art the platform it deserves. The gallery is a versatile space, perfect for promoting a variety of different artists and for hosting the different sizes of artwork in my series of exhibitions. At J/M Gallery, the heart of Greek art can beat loudly in London.