Artist Nick Georgiou laments the fading prominence of the printed word, and the sentiment shines through in his work.
Georgiou takes newspapers and books, mixes them into a moldable pulp with a mystery compound, then forms sculptures and paintings. He films the entire process of creation - he's also making a documentary on the decline of print - then sometimes posts his work on a street corner. He lingers across the street with a camera, capturing reactions to his artwork, which he posts online at myhumancomputer.blogspot.com
A native of New York, where he was born in 1980, Georgiou graduated from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. He moved to Tucson in 2009.
"I never intended to move here. In 2009, the University of Arizona invited me to have a solo exhibition and give some lectures," Georgiou said. "I arrived a few months earlier to get a feel for Tucson and to use local newspapers for my new pieces. The city was in the media spotlight for a variety of reasons. And Tucson's oldest newspaper, the Tucson Citizen, went out of business while I was working with it.
"So I felt like I had stepped into a multidimensional place - like past and present and future were all happening at the same time. Three years later I'm still here. There isn't another art hub like this. It's like working within a living organism - things are changing all the time."
Georgiou is mum about the formula he uses to harden the paper, calling it his "magic sauce."
"It's a mixture of things," he said. "Paper is a really flexible material and pretty much anything makes paper stick to canvas."
Georgiou used a copy of Stephen King's "The Shining" to make a portrait of a man on a bicycle. He enjoys taking classic fiction and commenting on the material with his artwork.
He has integrated his filmmaking passion into all aspects of his work. For example, he posts his artwork in busy spaces and watches people's reactions to catch "the ephemeral aspect - the moment of time people go looking at a sculpture after they've gone around a corner and they've got the surprise element," Georgiou said. "I'd be across the street shooting that reaction. I'm turned on by the raw element of shock and surprise. It's great to see people experience the work for the first time."
Georgiou says once he starts his sculptures, "faces start emerging from the canvass and pieces are shocked into existence. Some are bug-eyed, some have pen moustaches. They're exciting and have personality."
He came up with the style on his own.
"I didn't see anyone do this," Georgiou said. "It all came together, just by experiment."
Georgiou relishes collecting discarded paper and turning it into art.
"I think, for one, it's everywhere. People are throwing boxes and boxes of books away, and it's like it's dying. Using it is kind of giving it new life and new meaning. I'm really interested in dealing with a medium that's becoming an artifact right now.
"Books and newspapers are becoming artifacts of the 21st century. Whatever we used to read off paper, we're now reading off digital screens. Our way of interacting with text is changing. My work is not only about the decline of the printed word in today's society but its rebirth as art."
The Internet has been good to Georgiou. Some of his projects have gotten popular because he put up photos of them and friends sent them around, where sites such as Wired magazine, the Daily Beast, Boing Boing and recycling-focused sites have picked them up.
Georgiou said posting art on street corners is similar to a traditional gallery setting.
"The way people react to it, it's almost like an art installation," Georgiou said. "There's no language barrier with it," he added, referring to posting reactions from passers-by online. "It could spread all over the world."
Sara Schiller, co-founder of the Wooster Collective in New York City, used Georgiou's work in Washington Project for the Arts, a show her organization curated.
"What we love about Nick's work is that it is made from a medium that has so much historical reference yet is slowly changing - and perhaps disappearing. The work, too, changes over time as it yellows and softens," Schiller said. "Nick considers what the content of the paper is that makes up the piece - curating the text. His pieces have a strong human quality to them that is attractive and approachable."
Georgiou is establishing himself as a creative force to keep an eye on.
"He's really motivated and, I think, very talented," said local artist Andrew Brown, a friend and sometimes collaborator of Georgiou's. "I'll go out at 4:30 in the morning and he'll still be down there working on stuff at all hours of the night, listening to music really loud and working."
Brown says Georgiou is a local treasure.
"He's really, really important to Tucson. I think he could live anywhere in the world he chooses," Brown said. "Why he chooses to live in Tucson is amazing to me. We're very, very lucky."
In the artist's own words
• Why he lives in Tucson:
"Going from New York to the desert is a pretty dramatic shift. Your concept of space expands when it's not obstructed by buildings. You pay closer attention to nature because you're always in it - and you do what you can to preserve it. I traded my car for a bicycle and began limiting my carbon footprint. The environmentally friendly lifestyle plays a large role in my work.
"I work out of the historic Citizens Warehouse, which is home to more than 20 artists as well as BICAS (Bicycle Inter-Community Art & Salvage). This part of downtown is the longest continuously inhabited site in the U.S. The Hohokam tribe cultivated this land back in 300 A.D.
"Today, the warehouse sits adjacent to the railroad tracks. Union Pacific freight trains come through at least 90 times a day. The horns blast. The cars whack together. The building shakes. It's glorious."
• How urban areas inspire his art:
"Cities reflect the full scale of human emotions: the ups and the downs of a compartmentalized life. My sculptures are products of their environment - both literally and figuratively. As often as I can, I use local newspapers to add authenticity, and the form the sculpture takes is a reflection of the personal connection I feel to that particular city."
• His upbringing:
"I was born in Queens, N.Y., in 1980, and am the youngest of six. My father was a contractor and my mother a homemaker. They were supportive of my artistic side. I studied painting as a child, and later in high school and college, I focused on directing and cinematography.
"My early life was marked by politics, art and tragedy. The occupation of Cyprus had a profound impact on my life. My father was born in Neo Chorio Kythreas (Cyprus), which is currently occupied by Turkish troops. I spent my childhood surrounded by relatives who were refugees and some of whom were prisoners of war.
"Though my mother was born in Brooklyn, her parents were born in Smyrna (Asia Minor) and they fled when the city was torched in 1922. They moved to Athens and eventually settled in New York.
"My introduction to art came in the form of family artifacts that were salvaged: old, hard-covered Greek books, vinyl records, frayed sepia photographs, half-scorched icons. These were among the only possessions salvaged.
"Observing and handling vintage forms of old media shaped the way I looked at objects and helped cultivate my perspective on life."
Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or email@example.com