Artist Spotlight: Victor Bokas July 18 2020
When did you first realize you had an interest in art?
At age eleven, I rode my bike to an outdoor art festival held in the parking lot of Gulf Breeze High School. This was the first art show I had ever attended. I spent all day at the festival and was happy to be talking to the artists and learning about painting, drawing, and ceramics. The festival raffled off a collaborative painting created by several local artists. The tickets were only a dollar. Unwittingly, I purchased the winning ticket. Call it luck or destiny, but if it had not been for that winning ticket, I’m sure my career path would have been different. That night, I asked my parents to sign me up for art lessons. They were so supportive, and I started painting the following week.
How would you describe your work to someone who hasn't seen it?
I would say my work is joyful, vibrant, colorful, and energetic with a dash of whimsy for good measure. My subject matter is inspired by Florida’s tropical imagery and my Greek heritage. I work with oils, acrylic, drawing, and mixed media on canvas and paper.
How has growing up in Florida influenced your style?
My work is iconic of my surroundings. I grew up against a backdrop of palm trees, sunbathers, and the beautiful beaches of Pensacola. Growing up in Gulf Breeze, my favorite shop was Allen Davis Seashell Souvenirs. My fascination with Florida “kitsch” souvenirs has always been a source of inspiration and these items are often incorporated into my work. During high school, I painted beach scenes on sand dollars and sold them at my father’s drug store and local venues. Tropical landscapes, bright colors, sunsets, summer breezes, fish and the beach have become my signature trademark.
Who are some artists that have had a strong influence on you and why?
I was influenced by my instructors at the University of Florida -- Jack Nichelson, Marcia Isaacson and Ken Kerslake, who encouraged me to study both design and fine arts.
Other influences include Joseph Cornell, Wassily Kandinsky, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jennifer Bartlett.
I admire Cornell’s surreal boxed assemblages created from found objects. I, too, have a fascination with discarded fragments of once beautiful and precious objects that I find while thrifting. I have always been a collector and am forever looking for treasures that I can incorporate into my work. Collage making allows me to create my own surreal environments.
I am moved by Kandinsky’s powerful brush strokes, abstract images, and use of positive and negative shapes to create a beautiful harmony. This is something I strive to achieve in my own work.
I saw Robert Rauschenberg’s retrospective at the National Gallery of Art in 1991. I’ve always admired his beautiful compositions and powerful subject matter. His work incorporates so many techniques yet appears spontaneous. I am inspired by how he merged elements of kitsch and fine art by using both traditional media and found objects within his paintings.
I met Jennifer Bartlett in 1993 at the Orlando Museum of Art. I love her use of geometric shapes, repeating patterns, installations, and grids within her work.
How has your style, process, and/or subject matter changed over time?
My process, subject matter, and techniques are always changing. In my early years, I painted in watercolor. In college, I worked in acrylic, printmaking, and drawing.
Many of my earlier paintings were much looser, keeping the drips and splatters while incorporating more primitive mark-making. In the early 90s, I painted “Biff” the dog, an alter ego. These were narrative, captioned paintings. During this period I would also set up a photo using models, make a black and white print, grid the photo, and use the grid method to paint from. These were more realistic, large format pieces.
I enjoy working on a series. It allows me to complete a large body of work. For example, in 1994, I painted 100 abstract paintings on paper. Joined together, they made one consecutive piece 62 yards long. In 1999, I did a drawing-a-day to document the millennium, totaling 365 pen and ink drawings the size of a CD case. I did not use color but instead focused on the beauty of line drawings. In 2011, I painted 50 images to celebrate turning 50 that depicted my life’s journey up to that point. Soon, I’ll start my next series of 60 paintings to celebrate my birthday in January 2021.
50 Images at 50
In 2018, I created a new series titled Greetings from Florida, Journey to Paradise for a solo exhibit at Arts on Douglas. This work explored my quest to separate myself from 35 years in the corporate world as a designer and follow my dream to be a full-time painter. This series included paintings of highways and collages of Florida’s fun and sun that explored the theme of starting a new journey and following one’s dreams.
Arts on Douglas Installation, 2018
Where do you find inspiration when you are beginning a new piece?
Everywhere! Inspiration is all around us. Much of my inspiration comes from nature: going on walks, enjoying the shadows, noticing cracks in the concrete, and just taking in the tropical beauty that Florida has to offer. Travel is the greatest inspiration— I enjoy seeing new surroundings and visiting museums. Every time I visit an art exhibit, which I do often, I am inspired and influenced by the artists’ works.
Do you have an idea in mind when you begin a new piece, or do you work more intuitively?
Both. I like to attack the canvas and watch the image appear. Most of my abstract works are spontaneous, but the “mark” making and color placement are very controlled. Most of the time, the work takes on a completely new direction from what I had in mind. At times, there’s a struggle as I work to get the composition, colors, shapes, and brush strokes to play well together. Each time I make a mark, it can change the whole direction. That’s the joy of painting.
How have your experiences as an art director and graphic designer informed your painting career?
I have always said, painting is my therapy to graphic design. As much as I love graphic design, there is always a client and they always make changes. Fine art is more personal. I have the freedom to paint whatever I want, in any palette, size, shape, etc.
With that being said, graphic design has been a great platform for me. I understand deadlines, presentations, budgets, technology, so many of these tools helped play a role in my art career and have been beneficial for getting into galleries and helping me get several large public art projects. In 1999, my art was selected to be part of a mosaic walkway at the Orlando International Airport—15 ft x 88 ft. My background in design was instrumental in the presentation and portfolio I presented.
I also use my design background to create collages using the computer. A lot of my work is based on a strong grid, something I use when designing catalogs. Typography often appears in my works as well as digital transfers.
Orlando International Airport Mosaic
What are you working on now?
Recently, I have been working on palm trees and colorful abstract paintings. This is a difficult and uncertain time in history and in order to stay focused and upbeat, I need to paint joyful images.
Victor Bokas, Day at the Beach, acrylic on canvas, 34 x 34 x 1.5 inches
Victor Bokas, Happy Blooms, acrylic on canvas, 22 x 22 x 1.5 inches