Zisis Bliatkas’ work seeks to redefine the “obsolete” Microsoft Paint
With “neo-tropical” themes and noughties computer game influences, the artist has built a feverish world of absurd happenings.
- Olivia Hingley
- 17 January 2022
To most people, Microsoft Paint probably induces nostalgic memories of dusty school computer suites and idly messing around with the spray paint tool. You most likely won’t associate it with narrative worldbuilding, immense detail and long, expansive projects. Zisis Bliatkas’ work, however, is ready to prove you otherwise. Whilst Microsoft Word may be “obsolete in terms of industrial production” in Zisis' eyes it remains “very open and fresh for a dynamic visual narrative”. “Every software has its own ghost inside,” he tells us, “and it's this essence that ignites creativity when touched.” Utilising all of the neglected aspects and tools of the medium to create vibrantly coloured, layered and humorous images with “a crystallised transcendental depth”, his pieces show the undiscovered potential of Microsoft Paint whilst simultaneously maintaining its recognisable charm.
Being raised in an inner-city flat, Zisis Bliatkas developed what he describes as a “close relationship” with his computer: “I was exploring the capabilities of this ‘magical virtual machine’ with a highly playful interest.” Encountering Microsoft Paint somewhat by chance, Zisis started as everyone else did – sending doodles and jokes to his friends. However, over time, Zisis practice developed into an “aesthetically defined procedure” that he maintains to this day. Originally being completed in parallel to his painting studies, the two mediums Zisis now sees as having “merged”.
Whilst currently preparing his MFA degree show in Athens, Zisis is usually based in his Grandma’s town of Naoussa, where he works from his recently renovated studio. Once working as a primary school art teacher throughout various small islands around Greece, Zisis found that children often jumped at the opportunity to engage with digital painting and did so in “unpredictable ways”. But, finding his personal painting more “meaningful”, for the past two years he has focused exclusively on developing his own creativity.
Reworking his pieces “again and again”, Zisis approach is an elongated one, with pieces sometimes taking years for him to feel them complete. Rarely starting from a blank canvas, he has “rich folders of unfinished works” leaving him in a constant state of “remastering”. Liking to make his works “seemingly inviting” only to then “plant something absurd inside them”, Zisis’ body of work is a carnival of ridiculousness. In one of his stand-out pieces, Natura Iconophile, a figure reminiscent of Mary, mother of Jesus, sits calmly in the midst of burning fire, surrounded by a python and waddling penguins. However, some of his pieces do display a clearer, more comprehensive narrative arc. In Oh yes I remember, two figures share a meditative moment over a burning campfire.
One theme Zisis finds himself continually returning to is the self-defined “neo-tropical”. Being drawn to interesting depictions of greenery, from British and French exoticism, internet junglecore and spiritual aesthetics, Zisis enjoys depicting “imagery of rich and diverse nature that people find relaxing and uncompromisingly beautiful”. “I go along with these conventions, redrawing them, presenting them through the screen light and making them a little more ‘hyper’.” This hyper-digitised style and focus on nature facilitates the most interesting contrast present throughout his work; the broad palette of greens, luscious leaves and trees clash with the jittery, glitches and harsh lines of the Microsoft Paint tools.
Perhaps the most evident inspiration to Zisis’ work is noughties computer games, most prominently Runescape. What Zisis finds so “fascinating” about Runescape is how it is a “very detailed and slow game” in which “there is no time, no breathing, just building with others in the same 3D dimension.” Expansive scenery and mythical creatures in abundance, Zisis’ images could easily be a touched up Runescape screenshot, unearthed from an ancient PC. He focuses on such games because of the significant impact he observes them to have had on our societies, which can often go unnoticed. “These games changed our relations with objects and the perception of the outside world” he explains, “It’s not a coincidence that our world is getting gamified, making us grind points for tax reduction, coupons and bonuses.” No longer a playground of the aimless child, in Zisis’ creative world Microsoft Paint is ripe with potential.
Zisis Bliatkas: Iconophile (Copyright © Zisis Bliatkas 2021)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.