Referencing figures from ancient Greek and Egyptian histories, Japanese animation, and pornography, Sofia Mitsola creates her own mythological characters, staging them in grand and theatrical compositions. Opening on 5 June 2024, Pilar Corrias presents Villa Venus: The Garden, an exhibition of new works by the London-based artist. The show marks the latest chapter in her ongoing series depicting a utopian island helmed by female characters.

Mitsola, in her paintings, constructs opulent fantasy realms resembling seraglios and boudoirs for her siren-like figures. Utilising a saturated palette and bold brushstrokes, her sprawling protagonists are at ease, at home in their grand settings, prompting the viewer to reflect on their own gaze. To learn more about the artist, her influences, and the upcoming show, Something Curated’s Keshav Anand spoke with Mitsola.

Sofia Mitsola, Russet Venus, 2024. Courtesy the artist and Pilar Corrias, London

Keshav Anand: How was Villa Venus: The Garden born — and what was the role of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Ada or Ardor in the show’s conception?

Sofia Mitsola: It started when I was reading Ada. In the novel, the protagonist visits Villa Venus, an opulent, palatial brothel that soon falls apart. Villa Venus was modelled after a teenage boy’s manuscript detailing his fantasy brothel. It made me think about my own fantasies, sexual energy and what it would be like to live in a free body. Whether it would be a paradise or a failed utopia, or both, I wanted to make a cosmos for my characters.

I had already made watercolour studies of Cycladic landscapes, native flora, and ancient ruins when I was in Greece. Just for fun. And when I got back in the studio, I started making maps of a fantasy island centring a palatial garden with pencils and watercolours. That’s how the landscape and atmosphere started to emerge. 

Sofia Mitsola, Piaffe, 2024. Courtesy the artist and Pilar Corrias, London

KA: Who are some of your biggest artistic influences? 

SM: It’s a mix of writers, musicians, performers, painters, and filmmakers. Vladimir Nabokov, Nicholas Georgiades, Alex Katz, Rudolf Nureyev, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Maria Callas, Freddie Mercury, Gustav Klimt, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Stanley Kubrick, Hayao Miyazaki, Nina Simone, Quentin Tarantino. 

KA: Themes of autonomy and freedom are entwined with fetishism in your work — how do you approach this relationship?

SM: To fantasise is to exercise your own freedom – fantasies are liberating because they never have to exist in the physical world. They may show what you like or what turns you on, but not necessarily what you want to see happen. They are contradictory and confusing and completely unreliable. Like paintings. Or how I like paintings to be.

Sofia Mitsola, La Grande Coquette, 2024. Courtesy the artist and Pilar Corrias, London

KA: Could you elaborate on the architectural influences in your paintings?

SM: I have been looking a lot at art deco and Art Nouveau architecture; for example, Josef Hoffmann’s designs. And places that only exist in paintings that I consider utopian, like Jean-August-Dominic Ingres’ The Turkish Bath (1863), or movie sets from the 60’s and 70’s like The Tales of Hoffmann (1951), Cleopatra (1963), and The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972). Also mythical palaces like the Palace of Knossos (which did exist but was restored almost completely based on imagination). 

KA: The rose appears as a recurring motif in your work — what does it symbolise for you?

SM: It started off as a rose but now it’s more of a fantasy flora. I like that a rose is so cliché and then, when you actually see one, you’re like, “Oh I get it, you are beautiful.” It tricks you. And at the same time I am quite disturbed to see them everywhere now, so many fashion brands do them. It’s cynical. Roses in this day and age? 

Sofia Mitsola, Afterglow, 2024. Courtesy the artist and Pilar Corrias, London

KA: Could you share more about your upcoming solo exhibition at the Longlati Foundation in Shanghai?

SM: I am excited – it will be my first institutional show in China. It will revolve around a new painting I have been working on for 6 months now. It’s almost 7 metres wide – my largest to date. It’s a hunting scene. Lots of tangled bodies, jewels, and action. 

KA: How do you handle creative blocks or periods of low inspiration?

SM: It’s different each time. Sometimes I need time to concentrate in the studio, make a lot of work, and get in the zone – wake up at the same time, eat healthy and stretch the hours in the studio. That’s usually when I start seeing new things happen and get the excitement back. And sometimes I just need a good break, to meet with people, travel. 

KA: And what are you currently reading? 

SM: Nabokov’s Pale Fire, Marquis de Sade’s Justine, and Olivia Laing’s The Garden Against Time.

Feature image: Sofia Mitsola, Flaming July, 2024. Courtesy the artist and Pilar Corrias, London

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