“Art is nothing more than the importance given to it by each viewer according to their background” says Helias Doulis, while nobody can argue that he is the epitome of queer art.
Helias is a gay artist based in London, UK and working as a freelance photographer and filmmaker since 2015. Split between London and Athens, Helias has experimented and specialised on the ‘male form’ and its representation worldwide through its axis of nostalgia. He had no intention of becoming what most people see his as today, which is a ‘photographer’; he just wanted to explore homosexuality and build up on the representation of the LGBTQ+ community. He is a collector of vintage homoerotic art and photography and, in case you don’t know he has collaborated with Colby Keller too.
His exhibition ‘Queer Greco Romance’ in collaboration with Athens Pride 2021 will open in July, with proceeds going to an LBTQT+ NPO. For him, ‘male form’ is not just a way of looking at a body, yet a way of looking at life itself through the spectrum of art and life altogether.
How do you identify and how would you describe yourself?
I’m a gay artist based in London, UK. I’ve studied Writing and Film and have worked as a freelance photographer and filmmaker since 2015. I’ve experimented and specialised on the ‘male form’ and its representation worldwide through its axis of nostalgia. I’m a collector of vintage homoerotic art and photography.
When did you decide that you wanted to be an artist? And how does it feel to have won so many awards and distinctions about your work?
I did not feel like it till I was probably an adult. All I wanted to do when I was a teenager was to write poems, which I also did during my university days. Convincing my parents that I’d like to become a writer was not easy. Convincing the world that I’m an artist, has not been easy either. Poetry is a significant source of inspiration and form of expression for me, so I thought I’d visualise my words to showcase it to a bigger audience. When I was first shooting boys at Limanakia, I had no intention of becoming what most people see me as today, which is a ‘photographer’. I’ve only wanted to experiment in a playground I could call mine, which was my homosexuality. Building up on the representation of the LGBTQ+ community is my biggest joy. I have for years admired artists that were and still are pioneers in what they’ve offered to the world and the community, which is pretty much what I’d refer to as ‘distinction’. If there would ever be a little boy thinking of me and my work as freeing and liberating when in trouble in ways to handle himself when feeling ‘sick’ or ‘blue’, I would have then become the artist I’ve always dreamt of being.
What is the role of cinema and photography in your life?
They’ve both become part of my life accidentally. I had just finished studying Writing and Film a few years back, when I had almost completed writing my first script, which was a long poetic monologue. Thought I’d make it into a movie, which was later on named as ‘The Nest’. A very small group of people supported me in every possible role, known or unknown to us at the time. ‘The Nest’ took 3 days to shoot and 3 years to fully produce. It felt like a journey I had assigned myself to and could not leave undone. Similarly, photography became part of my life during the summer of 2015, when I had gathered a few boys in a gay nudist beach in Athens to create shapes with their bodies among nature. I’ve been renting film and photography equipment for the first three years till I actually realised this was going to be a permanent habit of mine.
Is your life split between Athens and London at the moment? How does the art scene differ in these two cities?
I’ve been based in the UK for the past 9 years, while I’ve always been visiting Greece from time to time. I’ve spent my teenage years in Athens dreaming of an escape that’d most probably be beneficial to my profession, when I realised I could not really escape the roots of my inspiration when it comes to nature. Even though I’ve created more than one homes, Greece has always been a haven where I can explore and dig into the fear of past experiences I’ve had growing up as a gay man and contributing to whom I feel closest or in need. I’ve recently been part of a panel discussion on Greek Queer Art today powered by the Onassis Foundation in Athens, where I’ve had the opportunity converse on the differences I’ve faced in both countries when it comes art and life. They both have emerging artists who are dying to contribute to the scene yet their audience traditionally feels more open and inclusive in London. I enjoy producing work where I feel the need to, no matter if that’d be in a sex cinema in Europe or a private estate in the Middle East.
How do you define queer art and who are the people you admire?
Art is nothing more than the importance given to it by each viewer according to their background. Queer Greek poetry, for example, is mainly represented by Cavafy and Lapathiotis, Christianopoulos and Aslanoglou. But for me, Polydouri is also queer to an extent, since I had felt that her manuscripts were very close to my heart, translated from a male-to-male perspective. Queer Greek painting, respectively, is widely represented by Tsarouchis and Stavrinos, but taking into consideration my own background and influences upon queer views, Moralis’ nudes feel equally queer. I think it is easier to dwell on Greek queerness, since most of my life was shaped there ‘till I’ve become and adult and left for the UK. You see works by Herbert List, John Craxton or Thanos Mourrais Velloudios, in which Greek beauty dominates the imagination brought to the viewer’s gaze when looking at their chests. George Platt Lynes’ tender black and white portrait photography and Bob Mizer’s hyper masculine representation have provided me with a fair mix of inclusive intimacy of what I call an eternal legacy to be remembered.
How does the male body influence your work?
I must have been around 12 years old at the time, during a holiday with my parents in Poros, Greece. I vividly remember those two teenage boys who used to play at the pool after lunch time. I would casually stare at them from the hotel balcony of our room, observing the way their muscles would move when throwing a ball at each other. I would remain unnoticed in a corner while they’d enjoy themselves under the heat delivering a show, I did not know I needed at the time. Almodóvar would have shot this as part of his swimming pool scene in ‘Bad Education’ beautifully and so did my eyes. I got caught that afternoon and never dared looking at them again. I’ve unconsciously explored such experiences in my own work while I’ve shot bodies as a casual pair of eyes would do, even when not holding a camera. I have for years tried to pair them, to match their equal or uneven energy when in nature trying to build a nest for those judged by the society or in porn booths, documented and free under the surveillance of a torch. What we today call ‘male form’ is not just a way of looking at a body, yet a way of looking at life itself through the spectrum of art and life altogether.
Talk to me about “Queer Greco Romance” and “A Faggot’s Destiny”?
I’ve had this urge to experience what it’d be like to be a client of a porn cinema since I was a little boy. I had accidentally watched ‘The Pianist’ by Haneke when I was in primary school. My grandfather used to bring all sort of films on the way home from collecting the Sunday’s newspaper, with my mom gathering all of them in a drawer. I’ve watched dozens of films that I should have probably not watched at the time. I’ve pictured Isabelle Huppert smelling that used tissue at a porn booth several times as I’d walk by Omonoia, Soho and Pigalle. ‘A Faggot’s Destiny’ occurred when I was shooting for the anniversary republication of Kraximo Magazine. I had written a poem a few years back titled as that, which I thought it’d be a perfect fit for this great rush and sudden melancholy I get whenever I visit such places. It’s an homage to those who have and still spend their secreted eroticism behind closed doors. ‘Queer Greco Romance‘, on the other hand, is my queer angle on the ‘male physique’ magazines of the 1950’s, fully lighted and very much opposite from what we’d consider as ‘hidden’. It features a wide cast of people who communicate their own nostalgia through an era that has heavily inspired me as an artist. The series will premiere in an exhibition for Athens Pride 2021 in July, with whom I am delighted to collaborate for the first time this summer.
How was the collaboration with Colby Keller?
It was the early summer of 2018, when Colby premiered his latest film at the Outview Film Festival in Greece and I happened to be there on a holiday. We got in touch and spent a few days together, strolling around town. I had built a three-part shoot based on his deconstructed from the media then persona, that outlined our collaboration in both film and photography. ‘Colby Digital’, which was later on followed by ‘The Beauty of Stigma’, is the kind of film you’d rent from your neighbourhood’s DVD club but never tell your mom about it. A fair mix of a stereotypically read identity in porn that meets the American boy next door fantasy in the suburbs of Greece was growing in me for a while till it got real. There has been backlash and a lot of loving out of this collaboration, for which I am happy to have experienced and created no matter how magazines can at times pretend to care for their audience’s political views or ethics, setting someone’s work aside when it comes to ‘viral news’. The film will premier at a film festival near you this year!
What shall we expect to find in KAVLA zine?
I’ve had the honour of being appointed as the first guest editor of The Queer Archive Festival’s Kavla Zine, curating a great selection of emerging and established international artists of all backgrounds, from manuscripts to paintings. From Slava Mogutin to Jonathan Kemp, a queer selection on the representation of fluidity in regards to gender and eroticism, will be found among the issue’s glossy pages, while Neige Sanchez covers the issue with what we have all missed the most during 2020, a hug of compassion. We are very proud to have Onassis Foundation powering the festival’s zine along great exhibitions and activities.
What shall we expect from you in the future?
My exhibition ‘Queer Greco Romance’ in collaboration with Athens Pride 2021 will open in July, with proceeds going to an LBTQT+ NPO. I am happy to contribute to the community every way possible and would like to dedicate these new photographs to the memory of those we’ve lost in the fights of becoming visible and accepted. Pale Blue Nostalgia, my curation of vintage homoerotic literature and photography is a continuous collection that I’d love to put together in an anthology of manuscripts and artworks to showcase emerging and established talent worldwide. ‘A Faggot’s Destiny’ will be a continuous documentation on how I view the community’s roots when oppressed or at risk, in times where people still suffer. I feel a lot more intimate than ever before and I would like to showcase that through my work.