In the studio: John Aslanidis

“I’ve probably got a bigger masking tape
collection than most hardware shops.”

The artistic practice of Melbourne-based artist John Aslanidis has a strong correlation with emergence theory, where complex patterns emerge out of simple interactions; from the artist asking a passer-by for directions to the Guggenheim and learning that they collect abstraction to a chance encounter on the A Train to Brooklyn with a man who so happens to be Basquiat’s former housemate.

Aslanidis’ canvases are composed using a set of mathematical intervals, not unlike a musical score, in a contradictory process of order and chaos.

John Aslanidis, Sonic no.80, 2022, oil and acrylic on canvas, 92 × 133cm. Courtesy the artist and Metro Gallery, Melbourne

You have quite a complex studio setup. Can you tell me more about that?
I use a rotating bean compass which is no longer manufactured. It has these extenders which allow me to draw huge circles and make large-scale works. I bought up as many as I could – if I don’t have them, there’s no way I can create the outlines for my paintings. If I do a studio residency, I have to bring my bean compass with me. I also use airbrushing, which I can’t do on the road, but I can recreate the effect by blending acrylic paints by hand. It works quite well, but it doesn’t have the subtlety or the same physicality as the airbrush.

Another thing I use is masking tape, which is cut to certain widths. I’ve probably got a bigger masking tape collection than most hardware shops. I was cutting it by hand on a sheet of glass, using an aluminium ruler to make the fine width curve around the drawn circles to create each masking tape layer. I stopped doing that after a project in Tokyo. It was an eighty-four square metre mural commission for Longchamp’s Omotesando flagship store in Harajuku. I couldn’t use a table and glass on this scale, so we ordered pre-cut vinyl in different widths to create the stencil on the wall. That job essentially changed my process.

John Aslanidis with work. Courtesy the artist and Metro Gallery, Melbourne

Music is hugely influential to your practice. Do you play music in the studio?
I don’t draw, but I’ve set up multiple synthesisers in my studio, and I play around with them and produce different sounds, a bit like drawing in a sense. I studied music theory, which informed my artistic practice. I started to implement mathematical intervals, which are similar to an algorithm or a musical score, working systematically with composition intervals, moving them around in different ways. This is similar to jazz, where you take conventional chords and swap them and invert them, and those inversions create dissonant and atonal sounds. When I started working with colour, I thought of it in a similar way – of colours being more melodic. In the early 2000s, I did some performances with artist and musician Phil Edwards, where I played saxophone and he played keyboard. I started to visualise a painting. In playing this instrument, I was composing a painting.

John Aslanidis, Sonic Network no.20, 2022, oil and acrylic on canvas, 182 × 243cm. Courtesy the artist and Metro Gallery, Melbourne

There’s a perception that a work of art is made in the studio, but really, your process starts much earlier than that before progressing into a very precise system of production in your studio.
My work is all preconceived, in terms of understanding how it’s going to work. Yet when I actually go to paint, I don’t know what it’s going to look like. Each layer is masked, so for me, it’s really random. I know through approximation how the tonality and chromatic areas are going to work, through trial, error, and experience. What happens in my work is extreme contradiction – it’s totally preconceived and spontaneous at the same time.

John Aslanidis: Sonic Network #20, an exhibition of recent paintings and installation-based works is showing at Metro Gallery, Melbourne, until 21 May 2022.

John Aslanidis is represented by Metro Gallery, Melbourne and Gallery9, Sydney.



Sophia Halloway is a writer and critic based in Sydney.

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