Trying to get all of Stratos Efsathiou down on paper is hard. The quirks, the colour and the enthusiasm for instance, can’t quite jump out of the page at you as they do in real life. Growing up in Cape Town and moving to Hong Kong as an Art Director, he is so full of life - you cant help but let it rub off on you. I sat down to chat with him about moving from Cape Town, art in Hong Kong and what's next for him.
Name: Stratos Efstathiou
Occupation: Art director at Ogilvy
Hometown: Cape Town
Current Residence: Hong Kong, 2 years
What's on your playlist at the moment? I've been listening to this band Django Django - it's such a vibe. And then there is Nouvelle Vague - it's moody/Frenchy, and then soundtrack stuff - Ludovico [Einaudi] is very cinematic and to good listen to while I work. My playlist is very mixed though - it changes depending on my mood.
Favourite area in Hong Kong?
I live in Tin Hau. It's its only little area and really cute. It's got Tai Hang which has really cool coffee shops and restaurants and super quiet. It's a little pocket on it's own and definitely not like anywhere else in Hong Kong and I like that feel.
How long have you been in Hong Kong and what brought you over?
I came over two years ago at the end of June. I was studying business sciences at the University of Cape Town which is about economics, marketing, tax and that kind of stuff. I think I got into the tax class and thought, "this is definitely not for me, what am I doing!?!" I ended up dropping out in less than a couple of months. I was interested in art direction because I can do a bit of everything and so I studied at an advertising school in Cape Town (AAA School of Advertising) which was cool because it gave me a way to explore all these different aspects of design or advertising that I enjoy - from, poster design, logo design, print ads, etc. Graphic design is cool and can get very specific whereas art direction can be anything - you can art direct film, style clothes, full campaigns, you can art direct any kind of feeling.
When we were studying we had to do a month internship at any agency and one of our lecturers (Anthea Whitehead) knew a South African copywriter working at Ogilvy here (Mike Pearson who also studied at the same school) and she suggested to put myself and a copywriter who I was working with at college at the time (Amy Thompson, my work spouse) forward and see if they were willing to take us as a packaged deal! So we did a month and then went back to Cape Town to graduate, then we got asked to come back for another three months and then at the end they offered both of us a job and we were jobless so said yeah, we'll take it. Very seamless and all a series of fortunate events.
What was your first impression?
It's very different to Cape Town! Cape Town is very chilled and quite open so I guess it was the feeling from the city first up - it was exciting, all the people, new places, new job. But it was nice coming to Hong Kong with Amy and doing the experience together.
What is your role at Ogilvy?
I do art direction across all channels. It could be creating ideas for scripts, anything print, social, or digital ideas to activations and some branding too. Art direction is fun in that way that it's not really boxed into one thing which I like. I like collaborating with people and other artists or illustrators. There's never a stupid comment or too crazy of an idea really. My most exciting thing would be pro bono work which is usually for charities as you can create really creative work and its going towards a good cause.
What have some of your highlight projects included?
We just finished one called the ‘Samaritans’ which is a really cool idea. We used Chinese characters (because the forms are quite square) to create cubes like cages and used the feelings that someone with suicidal thoughts might have to create the cage. It was very Hong Kong specific idea. The rate of suicide here is really high and the concept only works using Chinese characters.
I also like working in issues that challenege what it means to be gay in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has lots of layers when it comes to issues about being gay or suicide - lots of taboos. It's such an ironic place, there all these weird contradictions and things that just don't fit. It's such an international city you think it would be more progressive in that sense.
As a art director and in the art scene, what is your take on the lack of art galleries and artistic spaces in Hong Kong?
I have a lot to say about this and it is an observation, I’m maybe wrong, but it seems like the art scene has a really weird set up in Hong Kong. Where here art is very commercial and I feel that there’s not that many subcultures (maybe I'm wrong again, these are just my personal observations) and or focus on young artist. Maybe It's just not visible, not big enough. It seems to be boxed in for very niche groups of people...
People say art in Hong Kong and you get this kind of negative vision in your head you know. It would be nice if that reputation goes away. There are cool spaces and areas growing - Wong Chuck Hang is cool. There is a place called Empty Gallery which is cool, and independent galleries are popping up which I hope means there is a shift and pull happening. I think there needs to be something that completely challenges the gallery space style.
I have friends (a couple, Thomas Orbon and Lorenza Brancadoro) who host Ubuntu once a month which is part of their overall concept named 'this is not a gallery'. The experiences and events addresses and exposes art (and what that means in a Hong Kong context). Makes it more accessible and asks questions along the lines of - is there an art scene, how big is the art scene, what is art in Hong Kong and what does art mean to different people etc. it's a great concept and creates Interesting conversations.
What do you do on your weekends in Hong Kong?
I do a bit of freelance stuff and at the moment I'm working on Nonsense which is an experimental pop up space with artists and or artwork, people selling things from sauces, to pins and people doing readings - trying to make a space where we can bring anyone in, people doing things that they like and aspiring businesses a place to sell their good and we like that it looks nonsensical but when you look into it it's a place for people to just do their own things together. It's in Sai Ying Pun next to Ping Pong and in a space called Off-limits. I do a range of small things here and on Instagram too. Its a good outlet to get things out, whatever pops into my head really. If work is crazy it’s a good creative outlet for me. I do a bit of my own artwork too.
I'm not a set in stone guy, I'll see how things go. I like the saying a rolling stone gathers no moss. Take whatever happens as it comes, and I'll keep doing what I do in the meantime. I think if you plan to much you end up getting disappointed so just go with whatever and I'm excited for it! Make the most and best of what you have. Hong Kong might feel like its in a bubble but that means theres opportunity. I definitely want to burst some bubbles and break through some challenges before I go and do some creative shit.
Where to next? I’m not sure maybe London, Barcelona, but I’ve always had my eyes on London.
Maybe I'll go into art one day and use the skills I've learnt in advertising and art direction to do my own art "campaigns". Maybe something more personal and on smaller scale projects that could get more exposure. Take the skills that I've learnt, the observations I've made and the experiences I've been through to make art that challenges and shares things about this society and share reflections on myself. Keep an eye out, I'll let you know!
Find Stratos @strataki on Instagram