Obsessed With Beauty // Michael Zavros talks to Yatzer

published in: Fashion, Interviews By Tina Komninou, 15 March 2010

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DEBASER / YSL 122x86cm, charcoal on paper // © Michael Zavros

On September 2008, we first published a story about an exhibition called "trophy hunter" by a truly talented artist that opened at Philip Bacon Galleries in Australia. Eight months later in May 2009, celebrating the launch of Balenciaga clothing in Australia, he collaborated exclusively with Jean Brown on a series of charcoal and spray paint works celebrating Balenciaga iconic handbags for the Australian launch on the 23d of April 2009.

Plot, 109x157cm, Charcoal on paper // © Michael Zavros 2002

In March 2010 we at Yatzer are sure that Michael Zavros is a name that one can not and will not forget, an award winning, talented artist whose works never fail to surprise and move his growing audiences. When looking at Zavros paintings you experience feelings of dynamism, upper class aristocracy, calm and beauty that derive from within.  His name is talked about with great aspiration and admiration and he is the epitome and true meaning of the Up and Coming Artist.

MAN 210x167cm, oil on canvas // © Michael Zavros 2009

Michael Zavros is the artist to follow and we had the privilege of sharing an intimate interview, which seeks to delve further into his works.  Here is a doorway into a mind that interprets art in a league of its own.

Your early works are inspired by fashion which has remained a strong theme in your work. When did your passion for fashion commence?
I am actually less interested in fashion per se, but rather what fashion imagery offers, which is usually a flight of fancy, a perfection of an idea, and highly aestheticised imagery. I work often from found imagery and I buy a large number of magazines and I find the imagery transporting, very creative, and highly artful. I am particularly interested in contemporary fashion’s articulation of the male form, the dandy and the fiction of the contemporary male.

DEBASER / YSL 122x86cm, charcoal on paper // © Michael Zavros 2007


UNTITLED (SHOE BAGS) 67x77cm, charcoal on paper // © Michael Zavros 2006

From high fashion themes suddenly in 2002 you started to introduce animal paintings such as the deer and the horse what inspired this new chapter?
I grew up with horses and competed in equestrian sports such as dressage and show jumping. I am drawn to the beauty of horses, and I love the obsessive fastidiousness of equestrian competition, the details of dressage. I like to make reference to this great tradition. It is often associated with aristocracy and wealth when actually equestrian sports have their roots in military strategies when horses were used in combat. In my paintings of horses I remove all the riding accoutrement: the horses are depicted plummeting, falling. I also am interested in this idea of expensive horse-flesh, the way horses are valued and are a symbol of a kind of luxury.

Hanoverian 190 x 250 cm, oil on canvas // © Michael Zavros 2008

An Oryx, 51x37cm, charcoal on paper // © Michael Zavros 2008

The trophy works are an extension of this – I have a large collection of taxidermy to which I am always adding. I don’t collect them because I am interested in hunting – rather, I think they are beautiful: they are trophies of beauty. I love the stillness of them, their beauty in death as it were.  That sounds macabre but they are a beauty suspended or captured for eternity. I started painting the trophies in the context of how art is collected by collectors as sort of status trophies. You look at the homes of fashionable people and they all have artworks by famous artists, a roll call of names, collected like art trophies.

WINNING IS EASY 33,5x50x22cm, bronze, ED18 // © Michael Zavros 2009

V12 NARCISSUS, 20x29,5cm oil on board // © Michael Zavros 2007

If we were to exhibit some of your works we could have ‘Killing Me Softly’ (interior of Mercedes M Class) next to the Daliesque ‘Black Breasted Silver Onagadori on a tree’, two completely different ideologies yet created in the same year. What are the process and your sentiments you go through when creating a collection?
On the face of it, the works seem very disparate in subject matter and yet for me they are very connected. The Mercedes Benz work is all about a kind of luxury or decadence. The image, like my other paintings of baroque or rococo palaces, is bereft of people. The human figure is suggested yet absent. The image is taken from a MB catalogue and depicts the interior with the airbags inflated – I am fascinated in this idea that one can ‘buy’ protection. For me, that work is like a little love song, like the title: it’s about caring and loving something so much you might wrap it in cotton wool. Similarly, the onagadori is from a series of paintings of these famous Japanese birds.

FOREVER 18x28cm, oil on board // © Michael Zavros 2005

They are a kind of fowl bred for their extraordinarily long tail feathers which is the result of a genetic mutation. Living ornaments, they are literally loved and coveted – kept in boxes, protected and displayed. Both works are about a kind of over the top love – a kind of suffocating care, as much as they are about manipulated forms of perfection.

Alexander McQueen/Bay, 190 x 250 cm, oil on canvas // © Michael Zavros 2008

From your works one of my favorite paintings is Alexander McQueen/Bay. What made you dress the Centuars with such clothes and how did the Centaurs concept commence?
I am Greek Cypriot so with this series I referenced my own heritage but also sought to describe a contemporary mythology surrounding beauty and youth. My work has been described as narcissistic and I don’t shy away from this. I am quite interested in a male vanity because I think it represents a curious taboo in contemporary culture. It is anathema to stereotypical notions of masculinity, which I ultimately find boring. The centaurs are beautiful, incongruous and ridiculous and reflect contemporary fashion’s reinterpretation of the male dandy, its extremes and high artifice.

BURBERRY PRORSUM / BAY 195x250cm, oil on canvas // © Michael Zavros 2006

In 2007 you amazed the public with yet another theme turn around ‘Le Fontaine de Sange in red’, ‘Atrial Fibrillation in red’, what is the sentiment behind this passionate shade?
Again, these works build on a series of works of baroque and rococo palaces, places I am constantly attracted to when I travel. These works are less about architecture and more about the faded romance and glamour of these places that were once filled with people but are now empty, aside from tourists. I am interested in capturing something of an absence. These are empty spaces where people once lived and engaged. These images never include the human figure, although their historical presence is alluded to in the empty chairs, for example.

LA FONTAINE DE SANG, 23x23cm, oil on board // © Michael Zavros 2007

Both the fountain and the maze depict European gardens that were elaborately planned and realised. They are follies in themselves. I have increasingly sought to manipulate my imagery to make it less ‘straight’. I wanted to create a sense of a kind of creeping, all consuming flush of love, an irrational love. Atrial fibrillation depicts a maze and the term refers to a cardio vascular surgery technique exlapined to me by a very prominent Australian heart surgeon that involves creating a maze in the heart to – it is a technique that literally mends a broken heart as it were. I thought this was very poetic. The fountain takes its title from a Baudelaire poem from the Le Fleur des Mals suite. Again, I like this idea that the fountain is bleeding or haemorrhaging. I don’t want these to be Gothic in sensibility but I am drawn to darkness beneath the light.

I love Versailles, 93x150cm, charcoal on paper // © Michael Zavros 2007

For pieces such as this does your inspiration come through from your personal life and the emotions you experience at that time or through another process?
Inspiration can be both profound and prosaic. It’s hard to isolate its source but I try to be open to it.

ECHO 210x320cm, oil on canvas // © Michael Zavros 2009

One of your recent works Echo encompasses the combination of narcissi and aristocracy can you please explain what this work symbolises to you and the reference to today’s society?

Everything that was realized at Versailles was part of its undoing. The ceiling of the hall of mirrors features allegorical paintings that celebrate the exploits of the Sun King, and the mirrors themselves are a sign of the conspicuous wealth of the King, mirror being an expensive and covetable possession in the 17th Century. The hall is a testament to the hubris of the King.

This work depicts the great Hall of Mirrors in Versailles bereft of people, still and silent occupied by mirror shiny chrome gym equipment. The hall of mirrors sets up infinite reflections; the mythical Narcissus may see himself reflected infinitely in the mirrors that line the walls and in the chrome of the gym equipment, the tools of his perfection and folly. In the ancient Roman myth of Narcissus the young Greek man is doomed to stare at his own reflection for spurning the advances of Echo. He is overcome by his own beauty and perishes. Narcissus’s reflection is an endless echo of his own perfection across centuries; he is the lover and the loved. For Narcissus, though it is an unrequited love. Similarly, the empty hall of mirrors stands silent; vainly the viewer seeks a reflection, our own perhaps, in the mirrors.

ECHO (making of) 210x320cm, oil on canvas // © Michael Zavros 2009

UNTITLED (BENCH PRESS) 23,5x26cm, oil on board // © Michael Zavros 2009

Through Centaurs and the goddess of Echo’s we see mythology interpreted in modern terms through your works. How important are these influences?
I think I am just responding to very enduring ideas about beauty and youth and love.

Potsdam interior/ San Souci/ Sometimes I just want to be by myself, 23.5 X 23.5cm, Oil on board // © Michael Zavros 2003

In your future works will we see more elements from the past interpreted with your unique approach?
I think so. Jeff Koons says to “Embrace your past” and I think these are words to live by. But I’m also interested in looking back, mining the past more generally in order to look forward. It astonishes me how often something apparently new or provocative in pop culture for example is completely reminiscent of something which has come before. I often return to images or ideas that I’ve found several years previously and often my work feels like it’s coming full circle even when it seems vastly different to its genesis.

DIOR Silhouette  55x49cm, charcoal on paper // © Michael Zavros 2008

What are you working on at the moment?
I am a bit all over the place at the moment. I am working towards a few different exhibitions. I just finished a collaborative project with a Sydney jeweller for a festival called Art Month Sydney. I made intricate play-doh and oven baked clay sculptures. They’re crazy coloured interpretations of traditional still life painting!

Play - doh roses, dimensions variable, various oven bake clays, wire  // © Michael Zavros 2010

6 QUESTIONS  (to be answered with one word)
Favorite word : Arcane
Favorite Place : Paris
Favorite Object : Lion skull
Who makes you Inspired? :
Phoebe and Olympia
What makes you smile? : Apples
What makes you aggravated? : Stupidity


An oblique video portrait of Michael Zavros which was commissioned by Gold Coast City Art Gallery to accompany "THE GOOD SON" exhibition  (11 july-23rd August 2009). Zavros take us for a drive to The Gold Coast, his home town.



Michael Zavros

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About Michael Zavros

Michael Zavros was born in 1974 and graduated from Queensland College of Art with a Bachelor of Visual Arts in 1996.

Zavros’s international exhibitions include New Nature at Govett Brewster Gallery, New Zealand in 2007, Human, Housprojects, New York, 2007, Uncanny (the unnaturally strange), Artspace, Auckland, New Zealand and Quiet Collision: Current Practice/Australian Style, Associazione ViaFarini, Milan, Italy 2003. In 2009 he showed with GRANTPIRRIE as part of the Hong Kong International Art Fair and in 2004 he showed at FIAC, Paris and Artissima, Turin with Galleria Nicola Fornello. In 2010 he will exhibit with GRANTPIRRIE as part of ARTHK10.

Group exhibitions include Wilderness at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2010, Scott Redford Vs Michael Zavros at the Institute of Modern Art, 2010, Contemporary Australia: Optimism at the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, 2008, There goes a Narwhal, 2008 at Gertrude Street Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne and the University of Queensland Art Museum and Primavera at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney 2000.

Solo exhibitions include Calling in the fox, GRANTPIRRIE, 2009, The Good Son: Works on Paper, a survey exhibition in 2009 at Gold Coast City Art Gallery Everything I wanted at the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane in 2003/2004 and Egoiste at Wollongong Regional Gallery, 2007.

International residencies include a 2001 Milan Residency and 2005 Barcelona Residency awarded through the Australia Council Visual Arts/Craft Fund. In 2003 he was awarded a Cite International des Arts Residency in Paris through the Power Institute, University of Sydney. In 2004 he was the recipient of a residency at the Gunnery Studios, Sydney, from the NSW Ministry for the Arts.

Zavros is the recipient of several awards and grants, and has been awarded three of the four prestigious prizes awarded for drawing in Australia: the 2002 Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award, the 2005 Robert Jacks Drawing Prize and the 2007 Kedumba Drawing Award. He was the recipient of the 2004 MCA Primavera Collex Art Award. In 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2009 he was a finalist in The Archibald Prize. In 2010 he was awarded the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize, the world’s richest prize for portraiture. In 2009 he was named GQ Artist of the Year. In 2007 he was appointed to the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council for the Arts.

His work is held in numerous private and public collections, including Queensland Art Gallery, University of Queensland Art Museum, Artbank, National Portrait Gallery, Collex, ABN AMRO, Gold Coast City Art Gallery, Grafton Regional Art Gallery and TMAG (Tasmanian Museum and Gallery).

Michael Zavros is represented by Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane, Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne and GRANTPIRRIE, Sydney.

[official website]
  • friend
    georgios mathioudakis | 2010-03-15 13:54:56

    thank you yatzer...amazing!

  • friend
    Apanee Wongsakon | 2010-03-15 15:16:43

    this guy's awesome! thank you yatzer :D

  • friend
    Panagiotis Kostouros | 2010-03-15 20:08:34

    amazing work..great talent...gorgeous look..undoubtedly blessed

  • friend
    maya | 2010-03-16 10:42:54


  • friend
    Danny | 2010-03-16 11:49:36

    I will be following Michael's work with interest. Not an artist that I have come across before but one who shows promise. A great insight in to his work, thanks Danny.

  • friend
    Aphrodite | 2010-03-16 13:10:43

    Absolutely inspiring!

  • friend
    karpetho eleytherioy | 2010-03-16 19:26:37

    love his work :)

  • friend
    arsonizta | 2010-03-17 19:02:29

    awesome! absolutely stunning artworks. i though, at first, he's a photographer until i saw the medium..

  • friend
    Vasilis | 2010-03-18 08:28:41

    so amazed with his work, thanks for introducing him to us :-)

  • friend
    Valentino | 2010-03-18 18:30:18

    Mr Zavros is brillant and appears to be quite humble with his talents - growing up and living down under must be quite an inspiring experience.

  • friend
    yordan | 2010-03-18 19:57:30


  • friend
    presentation folder | 2010-04-09 04:15:08

    well that is something which i have never seen before, stunning artwirk |

  • friend
    Konstantinos Andreadis | 2010-04-30 09:37:50

    The thin line between expressionism, surrealism and impressionism!! This type of art reflects a fantastic world through reality, using ordinary forms and shapes!! Great artist great inspiration, great spectacle!!

  • friend
    Jeremy | 2010-08-17 13:02:46

    This is great. Absolutely great!

  • friend
    Term | 2010-08-17 13:04:00

    This is my first time i visit here. I found so many interesting stuff in your blog especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! keep up the good work.

  • friend
    Chris | 2010-08-19 15:01:28

    As they say, the more things change, the more they remain the same. This is certainly true from the Zavros interview.

  • friend
    Martijn | 2010-08-21 03:04:46

    I have to say: BRIILIANT PICS, THX YATZER !!

  • friend
    Ryan Mc Elhinney | 2011-01-05 15:01:08

    Absolutely amazing. L O V E I T

  • friend
    David lynton | 2011-09-06 01:34:39

    Zavros is a technically gifted artist , and his approach and development of his career has seen him become a sought after artist .however his work can be empty and vacuous at times and when viewing his work enmasse can leave the viewer feeling strangely depressed .perhaps it's the subject matter , of design , fashion and beautiful people ? One can only applaud him as an artist , and wait to see the progress and depth develop in his practice .

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