Théo Gennitsakis brings along an army of talent and could easily be considered a charismatic overachiever. Gazing upon his work is like taking a little walk with a kindly, perverted Charlie Kaufman perspective, who has definitely eaten too many mushrooms in front of a Chirico painting.
Théo was born in Paris before he spent his childhood in a small village in Greece. Besides the at least five hundred kinds of flowers in his grandmother’s garden, which essentially inspired him to his perennial love for color, he literally got sick and moved back to the French capital where he has been working ever since. Well, working is maybe not the right term as he describes his job as a lifelong hobby that consists of absolute bliss.
Listening to his background story reminds of a modern Cinderella tale. After having left school at the age of 15 with no degrees or study, he started an internship. Due to his keen interest, he quickly became an art director and just founded this year his very own agency for fashion, music, and luxury brands that is called PRESSURE.
In his brain, girls galore take place, as well as letters in toothpaste, buttocks, breasts, thongs, statues à la rose, and the lips of his tennis players. Even sometimes there is his own mug who walks: it is the Where’s Wally´s on the run in Being John Malkovich…
Tell us a story about your childhood in Greece.
The only real memory I have is being a 5 or 6 year old boy. I was with my father in a fake Greek cabaret. It was a really dark place and full of smoke, because at that time smoking was still possible in bars. I suddenly saw a man with a huge hat. I asked my father why this man’s hat was so big. My father did not know what to say and suggested to go ask him for me. So my father went to see the man and told him that his son would like to know why he wore such a hat? The guy responded: “This is not to lose my ideas and keep them fresh…” So now, every time I see my father, he repeats that if i’m also wearing one, it is to keep that same freshness in my work…
You mean that it has nothing to do with your hair loss?
I have no problem with hair loss despite what you might think! (laughs). Well, maybe it bothers me a little bit at the front, but even that is alright!
Can you tell me about your background and your arrival in Paris?
Not so many people think this, but I was actually not born in Greece. I was born here, however my parents went back when I was 2 years old. I stayed there until I turned 15. As there was really nothing to do, I began to get depressed. I even ended up with small red spots everywhere for many weeks. My mother then decided to send me to Paris to live with my grandmother. I lived with her for 3 or 4 years, then my parents joined us.
Do you think your time in Greece still influences your work?
My teenage years in Greece have greatly influenced what I do today. Maybe not so much in forms, but regarding colors. Greece is not only islands barred with blue and white. I remember my grandmother’s garden where there must have been at least five hundred kinds of flowers and so many different tones. So I use a lot of colors in my work and in my illustrations.
Has Paris been formative for you in the same way?
I do not know if Paris has been as important. It was an opportunity to express what I wanted to say and do. I think if I have the life I have today and I can do what I like, it’s also because I live here. This is a huge city with lots of things to see and do. There are museums everywhere, events all the time. So yes, it inspires me but I cannot say it has changed my life.
How did you start illustrating? What’s your obsession with naked girls?
When I lived with my grandmother, I was always unsure what to do in the evening. Suddenly, I began to draw a lot and started to do graffiti. I don’t pretend to be a great graffiti artist, but this is how I started my illustrations on computer. I got caught by cops and I didn’t want to cause any trouble to my parents. So I started to paint and draw at home. I drew pictures of women, their postures, and their forms. I gave it a very colorful and bright style, very sexual. People saw it like that, whereas for me it was only a matter of forms and scales. The woman and the colors.
Then I created a personal website that was my online portfolio and I started to get feedback and orders for magazines as a freelancer. I had worked hard on it and a lot of people know me from those pictures even though my creative field is much more diverse.
You were working in agencies for a short time. Can you tell us what you kept from this experience?
I started to work very early in agencies. I left school when I was around 15 or 16, so I have no GCE, no A-Levels, nothing. And my parents weren’t that rich, so I didn’t study either. I got an internship at a publishing agency, and it all started very quickly.
Since I was really passionate and interested, I worked every day, even on weekends. So I was offered a job when I was 17 and it happened just like that. By age 19 I joined a digital agency. After assisting the art director for a year, I became an art director myself and started working for l’Oréal Paris. This was the worst experience I’ve ever had, it was very tiring. In general, French agencies aren’t a good model for me.
Is lack of spontaneity the biggest problem for you?
I think there’s this state of mind in France that you can’t take any risks. We’re not looking for novelty, we’re just inspiring ourselves from other countries: waiting until it comes out, see if it works, and if it does, then we do the same thing ourselves. But it’s very frustrating for French artists who aren’t allowed to be innovative. This is the reason why the talented ones move abroad, where they can take risks and enjoy themselves. If you stay here, then you end up frustrated, especially when you’re young and you’re not allowed to explore your ideas and desires.
So what do you suggest?
As I started my own agency a few years ago, la Surprise, which I shut down lately, I wanted to take a very personal stance and offer true novelty. Then I realized that there was no solution. It was a state of mind and you have to be patient. But I don’t think our generation will be able to enjoy creative freedom, that’s for sure.
What does one need to be creative?
Be curious, do things, so you can show your skills to others and to yourself. It’s also a state of mind, a lifestyle, show interest in everything, try everything. Then there’s talent – you can’t be any good without a bit of talent. There’s a lot of creative people; but only a few ones are talented.
What’s a good agency for you?
I’ve been working for 10 years, I have the feeling I’ve been going in circles a bit, although I did a lot of things and worked with lots of advertising agencies. Then I realized that a successful agency has to have the right state of mind, in the way people work together and how they get along. I reckon that a good agency is an agency that is in peace with itself – it’s a very psychological thing.
So how do you work these days?
I’ve launched a brand new agency PRESSURE on the 1st of January 2012, but these days I only do what I enjoy. I started it alone, so I have the luxury of choosing who I want to work with and work on projects I believe in. So 90% of my work is for the fashion or luxury industry and the remaining 10% are for music – those are the only interesting fields to me. I have almost ten employees and freelancers who we choose for depending projects. We build a team around each project, with contracts limited to that one project. We don’t offer yearly contracts, we’re not interested in this. The goal is to be free to do what we want on each project.
Why is this only possible with luxury?
It is the number one market in France, and it’s a field you have to work in at some point. Whether you want it or not. Fashion in Paris is still very interesting and specialized. I’ve probably stayed in Paris for that particular reason, otherwise I’d probably have moved already to New York or Tokyo. Fashion in Paris remains very creative and it’s the field in which I can express myself the best, since people are very open. During Fashion Week, you meet people from all over the world. It’s easy to marvel at the diverse talents and very stimulating.
And what’s your thing with candles?
It’s a bit complicated. I’ve loved perfumes ever since I was a child. I’m able to recognize many of them, because I associate various smells to people I know or even places. It’s really all about sensibility and olfactory memory. When I experience something strong or meet somebody, or if I travel to some outstanding place, I buy a perfume or a candle, so I can remember them by smelling it.
So sometimes when I’m home and I feel nostalgic or melancholic, I get the corresponding candle or perfume and give myself an olfactory shot. It’s like a vacation film. But unlike many people, I’d rather keep a smell than a film – to each his own. I’ve got a massive collection by now. After having realized the importance of smells in the collective imagination, I decided to start a project around this idea. I can’t really talk about it because it’s a secret and it’s coming out soon!
It’s peculiar to hear a graphic designer talking about smells.
See, this angers me. I’m labelled as a graphic designer – I’m not a graphic designer, I’m not an illustrator, I’m nothing, just a guy with ideas, a pure creator. I’m open to everything. A project based on smells is as legitimate as an illustration or a website, thus it all appeals to the senses.
This is what I was talking about before, about working in a French agency and about labels. When you go to a place like New York and ask somebody what he does, he’ll tell you that he does a bit of everything. This will be true and everybody will find that perfectly fine. It’s possible to be skilled in many different fields. I think that a project based on smells isn’t that different from my visual works. My hobby is my job, I love it, I work all the time. I love to create, so it’s pure pleasure.
Don’t you think you work too much?
No, I think I don’t work enough. I’m happy and young. I’m 29, I do a lot of things, and I travel. I blossom through my work – if you took this away from me, I’d die. Since I enjoy it, I can’t say I work too much – it brings me too much joy. I can’t even call this “work.”
Thank you for this nice chat, Théo! Have a look at his website for more information.
Text: Doris Lanzmann
Interview: Ilan Rosenblatt
Photography: Natalie Weiss