Artist Q&A with Steph Mastoris



"The key things in any creative process are to believe in oneself and keep doing what you know you have to do".







Steph Mastoris is a typographic artist who uses traditional letterpress techniques. His work is concerned with the power and elegance of letter and word forms. He is interested in using letterpress printing to explore the subtleties of language where punctuation, form and layout can change or create ambiguities of meaning. At its simplest the aesthetics and tonal impact of hand-printed wood type can be radically altered by enlarging it several hundred per cent.


More subtly, Steph uses small typographic triptychs to draw attention to the three-dimensional quality of language that arises when similar-sounding words and the different silences between them are exhibited in plain, hand-printed type.


R&J: What are you working on at the moment?


SM:

During the pandemic I am fascinated by the new terms and phrases that become widespread almost every week, so I am trying to use some of these in some of my typeworks. I am also thinking about how to crystalise the narratives of old folk-ballads into two or three of the phrases repeatedly found in these texts.


Images L-R: Covid19 Series (No.11) and Music & Dance series. 2021



R&J:

Are you an artist who prefers solitude or togetherness to thrive? Or do you need a balance of both? Have events over the past year and ongoing situation affected you? How have you remained positive?


SM:

Wordsworth used that wonderful phrase, ‘Emotion recollected in tranquility’ as his way of working and I think this sums it up well for me. I certainly need to be around people to gain ideas and content, but the final work is executed alone and in silence. I thought working from home long-term would be difficult, but actually I have found it beneficial to my practice.




“It would be great to work with artists of every practice,

such as performance or a musical composer”.




R&J:

What are you reading, listening to, watching right now/recently?

SM:

My bedtime reading is an account of how the Helvetica typeface transformed the signage of the New York transit system. I am listening to a lot of solo instrumental classical music - especially a new selection from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and some amazing lute transcriptions of choral music by Josquin des Prez. During lockdown I have become very enamoured of Scandi Noir detective TV series. I love their complex plotting and their slow camera-work.




R&J:

Do you have a favourite project or piece of work of your own, or ideas you return to?

SM:

I seem to return again and again to the triptych format. It allows much lateral expression of meaning and thought. In fact, ‘thinking in threes’ dominates my work at present.




R&J:

Are there peers or an artist who you particularly identify with or whose work you relate to? What would be your dream collaboration?


SM:

I love collaborations and am always open to offers! I think it would be great to work with artists of every practice, such as performance or a musical composer.



R&J:

Do you rely on a support network of friends, colleagues, for advice, feedback, exchange of ideas, critical support?

SM:

It is always important to get feedback from others, but the core motivation and inspiration come from within my own head. I am amazed that people think my work worthwhile, and I am very grateful for the support and encouragement I receive from being part of the Elysium Studios.


Steph Mastoris in his studio at elysium artspace, Swansea

R&J:

What advice would you give to younger or emerging artists?

SM:

I am certainly still ‘emerging’! The key things in any creative process are to believe in oneself and keep doing what you know you have to do.



R&J:

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your practice?


SM:

Collaborations leading to public exhibitions, every time!


Images: Part of a series of posters created for an installation in collaboration with artist Philip Cheater titled, On the Brink. This was organised by elysium gallery in September 2018 and shown at Volcano Theatre, Swansea, to coincide with Marc Rees’ performance piece, Now the Hero. The text is from a peace message to the world, broadcast by children of the Urdd.



R&J:

Do you have a favourite object within a collection or museum/archive that you return to or find yourself referencing over time?


SM:

The amazing painted inscriptions of David Jones -poetry and calligraphy in total union.

Image: David Jones, 'Exiit Edictum', 1949 Tate. © The Estate of David Jones / Bridgeman Images

R&J:

Is there something you wish you had done - or still plan to do?


SM:

Although I have been working with type for about 35 years, it is only in the last ten years that I felt it could be used artistically to express ideas beyond the text. So I wish I had discovered this earlier.


Covid 19 Series (No.5), 2021

Purchase work by Steph Mastoris

Twelve new Covid19 Series (1-12) Hand-Letterpress Prints are now available to buy in our online shop.


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