Christos Tolera Opens His Studio To The Public

The musician, Blitz style icon and artist speaks about painting, growing up in Dalston and the Blitz era before his open-studio weekend

The Blitz kids were a small group with big ideas. They were a bunch of outrageously dressed young creatives who descended upon a small Covent Garden club every week for just over year – incubating new romanticism in the process.

It was within this scene – where people expressed themselves how they wanted – that Christos Tolera flourished through multiple mediums. Primarily, he made a mark as a style icon who, among rockers, pirates and trans-dressers, became recognised for his old-Hollywood zoot suits, sharp-cut black hair and dark features – leading to modelling gigs for the likes of Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons and John Galliano. After the Blitz, he became the front man for the salsa pop band Blue Rondo à la Turk.

The Blitz kid mindset has stuck with Tolera since the 1980s. More recently, Tolera has been focusing on his career as an artist, in both painting and photography. After a 35-year absence, he also returned to his home-borough of Hackney.

In collaboration with the Barbican Arts Group, Hertford Road Studios – where Tolera and a selection of other artists are based – are hosting an open studio session and silent auction on the 26 and 27 November.

What was it like growing up in Dalston? Are you happy with the way it’s changed?

It was largely a West Indian community when I grew up there so dressing up and music was part of the culture. It didn't get rough until I'd moved out. That was in the 80s when there were no-go areas. I'm happy with the way it's changed. Where else can you get good reasonably priced food until late and wear pretty much whatever you want at any time you'd like? Although there were good bits about it when I grew up, I couldn't wait to leave. It was dangerous being me and dressing like me at that time.

What was the Blitz era like?

Smaller than you think, but with big ideas. It was driven by the confidence of ignorance that only the young can possess. There was a cultural vacuum which we gladly jumped into and took charge of our own lives and our own destiny. It was a scene governed by the young and for the first time those responsible made money out of it, not the older business minded entrepreneurs, or the manipulators and the speculators. Things are different now. It's gone backwards.

Has it informed your art?

All of my life has informed my art. It still does. From growing up surrounded by badly reproduced religious iconography to watching Fred Astaire or the Nicholas Brothers dancing to just hanging out talking shit, full of the self-importance of youth.

When did you start painting?

On my first day in primary school.

How has your art changed over the years?

Surprisingly little, although it has become less confrontational and less naked. However, it is still essentially romantic and deals with the emotions surrounding sex and death in the main. Just the little things.

The Open Studios & Silent Auction, where artist Christos Tolera is based, is open for public viewing at the Hertford Road Studios, 32A Hertford Road, London, N1 5SH on 26-27 November from midday to 6pm