We sat down with multi-disciplined Berlin artist Joanna Bacas for an in-depth interview on everything from how she got started to the crazy miniature models she makes and the wild places she puts them in the name of creativity. Her work isn’t new to NAKID and she has been on our radar for quite some time. We first stumbled across their creative prowess when she started collaborating with artist and photographer Marius Sperlich, whom we first featured years ago before he blew up across social media with our infamous issue feature that Madonna re-tweeted and posted on Instagram for the Women’s March. But you could argue that it was her collaborative work and aesthetic that caught our eye first as she is the make-up and conceptual artist for many of the projects she does. Her keen eye for creativity has launched more talents into existence than we can keep up with. From Jewelry to sculptures, conceptual make-up to prop design, and now fashion, it seems she can think of anything and do no wrong with her creations. Her hustle is genuinely inspiring and disciplined.
Originally born in Athens, Greece, she is the daughter of a German anthropologist and a Greek painter (we see where she gets it from) – a bicultural upbringing that fostered her love for humanity and the arts. In 2012 she moved to Berlin, where she studied Fine Art & Sculpture at the School of Fine Arts Berlin Weissensee. Here is where she discovered her passion for artwork that centers on the human body, both as a subject and as a medium. She explored artistic possibilities between Athens and Berlin, working with the National Theatre of Greece as a key makeup artist, while growing her career in the beauty and fashion industries in Berlin, gaining recognition for unconventional, creative looks. Her work later expanded to include miniature installations on the human body which we get into below,That;s where she started collaborating with Berlin-based artist, Marius Sperlich. Most recently she did the 65th anniversary cover for Playboy!
Her most recent ventures have focused on her new jewelry that has a hint of youthful eroticism and chic style. She dropped her newest lookbook on us to share with all of you along with her thoughts today. So let’s get into it..
INTERVIEW by DUSTIN HOLLYWOOD
Thank you for sitting down to talk to us Joanna, your work is so inspiring..
I grew up in close proximity to art, with a father who was a painter and graphic designer, and I’ve always been a creative kid. I could never imagine myself being something other than an artist. Being drawn to many different things, I chose to study Fine Art. I figured the creative freedom of such a broad field, and the time spent at Uni would eventually lead me where I need to go. While I was at uni, I got into a relationship with someone who was just starting out in photography and I offered him help to do makeup for his shoots. Through this I discovered both my passion for making up faces and how much I love being part of a creative team, all working towards the same goal. I was motivated to find more people to work with, growing my passion, my kit, and my skills as I went along. When I was 21, I cold emailed the National Theatre of Greece applying for an internship as a stage makeup artist and was thrilled when it worked out. I had the honor of quickly being trusted with the responsibilities of Makeup Designer and Key Artist on several productions. Throughout this time, I was mentored by one of Greece’s greatest film and theatre makeup artists, Evi Zafeiropoulou, who has worked on movies like “Before Midnight”. Being thrown into deep waters, taking on this level of responsibility, and working full time in makeup for the first time in my life, on people of all ages and genders – that was a real boot camp. I started out feeling like a trainee, and when I left, I was a makeup artist. Some collaborations with directors I worked with at the National Theatre extended well beyond the end of my internship, as I was based between Athens and Berlin. It was after my time at National that my collaboration with Marius Sperlich started, opening a new chapter in my career and creative development.
Who did you want to emulate as an artist growing up?
My first real art crush was Jeff Koons. It happened when I saw his work in an exhibition of his, that we visited with my art class back in high school. His kitschy, cheeky, joyful, polished aesthetic attracted me like a magnet. I remember thinking “I want to make things like that”. It was the first time I felt this way.
How would you best describe your style, your aesthetic?
That depends on the medium I’m working with, I feel like my aesthetic is very fluid and my influences shift in significance depending on what I’m working on. In my sculptural practice, I’m drawn to pop art, to kitsch (I LOVE kitsch!), in my jewelry work I draw inspiration from ancient and traditional Greek jewelry, Baroque, Rococo – figurative, ornate maximalism. In my makeup and prep work, I’m drawn to clean perfectionism: fresh glossy skin paired with bold, graphic makeup looks or unconventional elements and materials. Balanced contrasting compositions. I usually aim for one bold element in all my work – that could mean anything from sculpturally depicting a taboo topic, to leaving a model’s skin unexpectedly bare of makeup in a beauty shoot.I also don’t take myself too seriously, so my work often comes with a humorous spin. I love it when something I created surprises people and makes them chuckle.
You are so multi-talented and multi-disciplined in so many mediums. From Jewelry to miniature models for shoots and of course your makeup aesthetics and more. First, how did you grow into and start doing all these different things, and, two, how important do you think it is to find that piece of yourself in your work overall or direction that sets you apart from everyone else and why?
Thank you! To be honest, I’m just really drawn to many different things. And when I’m fascinated by a medium, or by a type of art, I just have to work with it. My brain just starts spewing out ideas of “what I would do if I did that”, and it won’t let me rest until I try them out. That’s how I got into jewelry – I was feeling particularly inspired by jewelry work during that time and was constantly coming up with ideas for jewelry pieces. What I was missing was the skill – so I found an amazing teacher in Berlin, jeweler Nathan Thomas, who introduced me to the techniques I would go on to use to turn my ideas into reality. I used to pressure myself to “settle” on an art form, but the list of mediums that inspire me seemed to never stop expanding. I consider it my most important artistic growth to date, that I have accepted that I will never do just one thing, be just one thing. I’m a multidisciplinary artist. It’s who I am. I work in many different mediums, and I am the common denominator in all of them. That’s not an obstacle – it’s an asset. It is what sets me apart.
Tell us a little bit about the progression of your work and how it has changed from when you started until now?
The biggest progression in my work has to do with personal growth, figuring out my priorities, with learning to trust myself. Understand that I’m not just allowed to want to work in different fields and mediums, but that I should actually be encouraging myself to do this. Understand that creating work that is personal and political is important to me, and building up the courage to go through with it, in a world that taught me to be quiet and take up as little space as possible, lest I disturb anyone. The biggest progression in my work has been putting more and more of myself into it and doing it publicly.
What’s your process like, how do you create your ideas from conception to manifestation?
The first spark of the idea can be born out of any trigger – other artwork(s), nature, personal feeling or experience, anything. I then usually take it to the sketchbook and start visualizing the chaos in my mind. When I actually start working on the intended material, I usually consider the first rounds to be failure rounds, by default. I need to fail in order to get to know my art piece, and learn what works and what doesn’t. This initial experimentation phase leads me to the main creation phase, where I know what I want and I’m working together there. I also call this the “flow” state, it’s the juiciest part of making art, but also the hardest to get to. If I experience a creative block, I set a timer to one hour, and commit to just playing around without any pressure of this needing to lead me anywhere. By the time the alarm rings, I’m the flow. It’s a great trick.
What’s your favorite project to date that you have worked on? There must be a lot!
Absolutely, it’s like you’re asking me to pick a favorite child. However, when I was creating my collection “Objects of a Matriarchal Utopia” I was in a state of unprecedented artistic euphoria. The combination of learning a new skill and creating something that’s entirely mine in the process really did the trick for me. Having a completely new medium to work with and creating this ambitious project outside of a team for the first time, allowed me to explore my artistic language in a new, liberated way. Someone might not like my creative choices, but I remain in power to go through with them anyway. It’s different when you work in a team, where the decisions are made together. Having full agency over your art is a lot of fun. And speaking of teams, I can not mention my two favorite collaborators of the past years, photographer/artists Christina Hasenauer and Marius Sperlich. Listing the projects I have loved doing with those two would take too long because it’s nearly all of them. They are both brilliant on their own accord, and have significantly contributed to my growth as an artist and as a person.
You’re very open about sexuality and comfortable expressing it, where do you think that confidence comes from and why?
I’ve always been that way in my private life. Nudity, sex, sexuality – these things were never taboo in my family. Growing up in Greece I never got Sex Ed in school, so my German mom, being the rationalist that she is, started buying me age-appropriate sex ed books for me to learn, from when I was pre-pubescent. At the time this made me the one to go to for sex-related questions in my friend group. My mom encouraged me to look at my genitals in a mirror (on my own, privately, in the bathroom), “to know what you look like”, in her words, and even taught me how to use condoms – we practiced together on bananas. (This came very handy later on when in my late teens I encountered boys my age that had no idea how to put one on.) I remember having awareness and curiosity of my own sexuality (even if I didn’t have the words to call it that) from early childhood, “playing doctor” with other little girls and boys my age. It is as I got older, and became a teenager, that society’s preconceptions of same-sex relationships and female sexuality started building walls between me and my authentic sexual identity. I denied my own queerness for many years, and, for a while, was convinced to slut shaming myself and others – without even noticing I’m doing it because it was all so normalized. Discovering feminism slowly released me from that heteronormative patriarchal straightjacket (pun intended), and made me want to be an advocate for de-stigmatizing sexuality, hopefully enabling others to live out their most authentic selves. I think the way we as a society handle sex and sexuality is very limiting, and I want to offer an alternative voice to that. Sex and sexuality are human, diverse, messy, fluid, definitely not one-size-fits-all, and, most importantly, nothing to be ashamed of. And the more we talk about these topics, with honesty and transparency, the healthier our relationship with them can be.
How much does sex or eroticism play in your work?
I don’t consider my work erotic, my intention is never to arouse the viewer. Sex and sexuality appear in my work more as topics of social and political importance, and out of my personal experience as a queer cis woman in a feminine-coded body. It’s deeply personal, really, working out the kinks in my own socialization through art.
We actually stumbled across your work years ago when we discovered Marius Sperlich and started featuring your collaborative work here in the states. How did that artistic relationship come about and how do you guys come up with the concepts you create together?
Marius and I met by following each other on Instagram years ago, I was just coming out of uni and he had just moved to Berlin. I had been wanting to work with miniatures on the body, he loved the idea and we immediately started developing concepts on it together. It was creative love at first collaboration – the very first image we created together went viral all over Instagram, it was like proof of what a good creative match we are. Our minds work very similarly, we would always call our brainstorming sessions “ping pong”, because that is what it felt like. Whatever one would throw at the other, the other would add onto, improve, and throw back. He would come to me with an idea, and I would get his vision, and know what needed to be done to make it come to life. I’d come to him with suggestions, and he’d have the perfect gut feeling for what could work, and how to develop it. We’re both perfectionists and would obsess over creating the perfect image for hours and hours. I usually stayed for the image selection after the shoot was over, and would sit next to him and watch as he edited(only color, everything else you see in our work is real, no photoshop involved). Over the years we became best friends, and while we’re currently pursuing separate projects, we’re continuing to inspire and support each other behind the scenes. Marius was one to truly believe in me and push me during a crucial time in my life (his motivational talks are epic), and I’m very proud of and grateful for the growth we’ve had together.
Must be interesting to actually create some of the concepts you do like the pubic hair cuts, the setup of the miniatures on the models, and selling the concepts and what goes into the production to them as well. How do those conversations and the tedious creation process go?
For many of these very intimate shoots, the models came from our friend circles, so there was a framework of trust. The more work we made, the more people trusted in the outcome of what we’d create, so it rarely felt like “having to sell a concept”.We knew what image we wanted to make, we meticulously planned for it, and I came set with 3 times the amount of props we need and multiple things in mind we want to try out to reach the desired outcome. We were met with a lot of willingness from our models to be part of the work, and we always worked on a small set, just Marius, me, and the model(s). If someone wanted to bring a friend to feel safer, they could. Modeling for an artwork often meant staying still, being the “landscape” for long periods of time, patiently repeating takes with us for hours, and sometimes doing bizarre and physically uncomfortable things. We did a shoot once where we transformed the model’s nose into an ice-cream cone – for this, her head had to be upside down, and I had closed off her nostrils with ear plugs, so the miniature ice cream balls out of real ice cream wouldn’t melt into her nose while being photographed. It was hilarious, for everyone involved. Our models are our heroes, and if any of y’all is reading this: THANK YOU.
What would you say is the most difficult part of collaborating with artists of different mediums and the best part?
The most difficult part: the differences in the visual language and aesthetic choices, having to find a middle ground between two creative identities that want to express themselves in order to create something that you wouldn’t on your own the best part: is the differences in the visual language and aesthetic choices, finding a middle ground between two creative identities that want to express themselves and thus creating something that you wouldn’t have on your own
Make-up is such a personal thing to people, how do you approach it for yourself versus your creations?
When I do my own makeup it’s all about how I’m feeling. While I go bare-faced many days a week, my “everyday” go-to is some creme blush, under-eye concealer, and brow gel: things that make me look and feel somewhat put together, fresh, and rested – even if I’m not. Other times I’ll feel inspired and use it for self-expression: for my makeup to match my energy on a good day, or for it to lift my spirits on a bad one. Then, it always pops with color: from a simple bright eyeliner to a full colorful gradient smokey eye. It’s always eye looks for practicability – they can last way longer without needing to be touched up. And my favorite makeup hack is using colorful liquid lipsticks to do my eye looks, for their lasting power – some of these looks survived intact on my face for longer periods of time than I care to admit I didn’t wash my face for. When I’m designing makeup for my work, from stage makeup to editorial beauty makeup, it’s not about me. Instead, I think of what role the makeup is playing in the project and what you need it to do. Is it the star or the supporting actor? Do you need it to be loud or should it be quiet, harmonious, or contrasting to its surroundings? Will you be able to touch it up frequently, or will you need it to have some lasting power because the wearer will be out of reach while shooting/performing? How much time am I given to create how many looks? There are so many things that factor into the creative process. Actually doing the makeup is only a small part of it – understanding the assignment and making the right creative choices for each project, is the real work.
What’s one thing you can’t live without and why?
I can’t live without my skincare products, especially my sunscreen. UV damage, photoaging, and skin cancer are very real, and I had acne as a teenager and then later again as a young adult so I became really anal about my skincare routine! 😀
What’s your spirit animal?
Since as far as I know spirit animals originate in Native American culture, to which I have a connection, I don’t feel comfortable appropriating that concept I know so little about. If you’re asking me which animal I feel a special connection to – it’s the axolotl. Axolotls are really cute, they are amphibians, which means that, like me, they can’t settle to one environment and instead just move between the two and make both their home, and, if you saw me in the morning, with my hair up in a bun and frizzy baby hair going crazy poking into the air around the perimeter of my hairline, I would definitely remind you of an axolotl.
What do you think of the art industry and all the new creative technology that has come out in the last 10 years? What would you say is the greatest challenge in adapting to new shifts in tech. and competition getting your work noticed?
It’s fascinating to watch all of this evolve as technology has become an extension of ourselves in so many ways. However, I’m not much of a technology chaser myself. It feels like art goes in the opposite direction, building on the past, with technologies accessible to humanity for thousands of years – painting our faces, creating ceramic objects, and transforming metal into jewelry. In a culture that drives us into chasing the next technological trend in order to be perceived as relevant and thus achieve success, I want to get my work noticed for precisely not doing that – just following, instead, the ever-relevant ancient human tradition of telling stories through art.
What’s a Friday night on the town look like for you?
Berlin has a lot to offer so it’s something different every time. The most important thing to me is spending time with my loved ones – going to exhibitions, parties, concerts, our favorite bars and restaurants, and having a beer somewhere in the streets and parks of Berlin.
What is the craziest DM on Instagram you have ever received?
I have received dick pics from complete strangers, which, although it’s crazy that people do that, unfortunately, is not exactly an unusual story.
What do you think about censorship and social media? What would your suggestions be for altering it in a better way?
Uff, that’s a big topic. First of all, a lot of censorship happening seems to unfairly target activist accounts, POC, and queer or feminist creators. A good example of this is feminist adult filmmaker Erika Lust getting guideline-compliant Instagram posts removed, while more mainstream accounts, like that of Playboy magazine, are allowed to keep significantly more explicit content online. Then is of course the matter of social media sexualizing feminine coded bodies. A nipple is a nipple no matter whose body it’s on, so why must it only be hidden when it’s on a feminine breast? I would love to see these double standards dropped. Personally, I’d be pro allowing nude content overall. There’s nothing more natural than the naked human body – we literally all have one. Why attach shame to it? Nudity has starred in art since the beginning of time. It is not inherently pornographic or even sexual. I wouldn’t even deem this necessary, but: Instagram could give accounts the option of adding an age restriction, and only being accessible to users over 18. I’d probably use this feature if it meant being able to share my art without censorship.
What are your thoughts on the algorithm for social media apps and using it for personal vs. business reasons as well as the effect it has on people and society?
Generally speaking, I think social media algorithms are designed to keep it in our echo chambers. When you’re using it for business, and your business is you’re an artist, that can actually be great, as you discover more people in your field and connect with other creatives and possible clients. Politically, however, these echo chambers can become very dangerous breeding grounds for hate and misinformation – as was made so painfully visible in the election that made Donal Trump president.
Where is somewhere or someone you have always wanted to create with and why?
I’d love to work with Isamaya Ffrench one day, I love everything she works on.
Do you plan to release any books, or put on any gallery shows/exhibitions soon or in the future?
I will be exhibiting pieces from “Objects of a Matriarchal Utopia” at Milan Jewelry Week, and I’m working on a couple of other secret projects. Stay tuned!
Obviously, in this day and age, being an artist has, for better or worse, become a multi-faceted job with curating social media feeds, marketing yourself, and essentially being your own agent as well. What is your best advice for building a solid photography business and going about developing your online presence?
I think what is most important is to stick to your values and be authentic. I used to think a lot about what people would like to see. These days I focus on just doing what feels right in my gut and bring me joy to put into the world. I believe that if your art is an honest reflection of yourself, you will attract the right audience.
You’re alone on a stranded island for a week and can only have three things, what would you choose?
A good book, a fully charged vibrator, and my sunscreen.
What are your thoughts on aliens and if you met one what would you ask about the universe?
They definitely exist, no way we’re alone in a universe this vast. If I met an alien I would ask them what their love language is.
Does music inspire you creatively when working or developing ideas? Who are your top 5 music artists/albums/songs you love to listen to while creating?
My music taste is all over the place – I will listen to Disney Soundtracks, Eminem, Lizzo, Mozart, techno, and low-fi beats. Podcasts also often keep me company while working: true crime, history, feminism.
What is your hidden talent?
I speak four languages: German, Greek, English, and French.
What is something you hope to do or accomplish one day that you haven’t yet?
Do the splits.
What do you have planned for the rest of 2022?
I’m further embracing my multidisciplinarity and expanding the “Matriarchal Utopia” universe. That means you can anticipate seeing a lot more feminist art in different mediums. I’m working on a performance piece, developing new jewelry pieces, and writing poetry. The goal is to grow as an artist and have fun doing it.
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