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Yanni Pounartzis On Leaving Adland & Finding Himself

London, UK
Putting it all on the line for his art, senior creative Yanni Pounartzis discusses his move away from advertising and the courage it took to back himself…

The Sydney-based creative director made the brave decision to leave his full-time career in advertising a year-and-a-half-ago to pursue his love of painting. Currently dividing his time between being an artist and running Sleep — an image and branding consultancy that collaborates predominately with fashion and architecture client.

LBB catch up with the senior creative who held positions at Leo Burnett, Innocean, Saatchi & Saatchi and Campaign Palace, to see how life is treating him on the other side (even though we wish we could win him back)...

 LBB> What inspired you to drop an 18-year career in advertising to focus on your art/painting?

Yanni Pounartzis> To be truthful, it got to the point where advertising was more about my political abilities rather than my conceptual skills and branding experience. The higher up I got, the less satisfied I became. This dissatisfaction pushed me to find another creative outlet. Several years ago, I returned to art school to refresh my painting skills – I had always painted as a student. The more I painted the more serious I became, and seeing people’s reactions to my work really inspired me to pursue it further.

LBB> What do you miss most about advertising?

YP> I definitely miss the conceptual stage and that moment when an idea gets up. I miss all of the stages of commercial production as well, which probably explains why I gravitated more towards production people – directors and producers. Some of them have since become really close friends, so I miss working with them too.

LBB> What might people not know about you as an artist?

YP> That is a hard one, I’ve never really thought about that. I suppose they’d know me for the energy I create through colour and the fact that my hard edge works are painted freehand without the aid of masking.

LBB> From where do you draw your inspiration? Is there a given length of time that you spend on an artwork?

YP> I draw my inspiration from everyday life, particularly light and colour. I’m constantly studying shadows and find myself staring at light hitting inanimate objects. I’m inspired by many artists too, in particular: Ad Reinhardt, Frank Stella, De Kooning, Barnett Newman, Anselm Reyle, Richard Paul Lohse, Edward Hopper and Picasso.

The current minimal work can take one to two weeks. But some of my earlier more complicated work took about one or two months.

LBB> You’ve moved away from what could be termed a loud and extroverted industry (advertising) to a rather reflective and introverted practice (being an artist). What’s been the unexpected challenge of this?

YP> I’ve really enjoyed the change and it’s refreshing too. Adland and painting are at polar opposites in many ways. The biggest challenge at first was the solitude. It’s literally all up to you and there’s nowhere to hide. I never expected the depths you have to reach within yourself. You experience a range of intense emotions. It’s very difficult to explain, it’s animal like at times, very raw. You can get lost in it and disappear for days, weeks. It’s not uncommon to paint between 10 to 15 hours a day. I stepped out of advertising in 2010 for 10 months to paint. I struggled to speak when I returned. I literally couldn’t find my words.

LBB> How do you promote your artwork? I hear that adland has graciously supported you, with companies like Heckler and Photoplay proudly displaying your work and attending your gallery opening?

YP> I had to promote myself in the beginning, but having had three exhibitions in the past three years has really helped. I received some publicity via Art Collector Magazine, SMH Spectrum and I’ve been featured in ABC’s A-Z of Contemporary Art. I’ve also exhibited with MOP Projects who have a strong presence in the art world. Recently I’ve been added to Articurate’s roster, which is based in London and New York. And yes, I’m very fortunate to have some very loyal friends and collectors from adland. I’m so appreciative of their support to this day.

LBB> Your studio Sleep is hard to define. Would it be fair to call yourself a brand and image curator for clients? And if so, does your art and branding work cross over to balance and support your vision for both disciplines?

YP> Actually that is a great way to describe us: brand and image curators. My business partner Lucrezia Tettoni and I both have strong views in regards to imagery and aesthetics. We have an intuitive approach. The work doesn’t come about through a drawn out, or over analysed process. We try to build a strong and engaging relationship with a niche audience of passionate people, not a marketing strategy that aims to gain a broad audience through quantity alone.

We’re also quite selective with our clients and we’re fortunate enough to be working with some very talented people, including UTS Fashion and Architecture, and some of who are also artists and highly regarded in their respective fields. Their design sensibilities are aligned with ours, and they give us the freedom to create what we believe is right and through this, the work always retains its purity and integrity.

There is definitely cross over with both disciplines. Painting forces me to be strict with composition and colour. No amount of paint or technique will save a bad composition. These skills are being enhanced all the time and are applied to brand design work, whether it be composition, colour selection or design. With Sleep, we know if something is working or not, and if it’s not right, it’s resolved very quickly.

LBB> What has been your favourite Sleep project to work on and why?

YP> It’s a pleasure to work on all of our projects, but I particularly enjoyed working on the UTS End Of Year Fashion Event. I was very impressed with the graduates’ work. It was refreshingly bold and brave, and they pushed the boundaries. I also liked something as simple as the poster we did for Jack Ladder’s US tour. This is what I love about Sleep; we get to work with a great mix of clients and artists who give us total creative freedom – and I think the purity shows in the work.

LBB> What advice would you give to people in advertising yearning to make a career change such as yours?

YP> Great question – I’ve always had strong opinions about this. The advertising landscape has changed so much and I believe it’s crucial to have an exit strategy if you have no intention of changing roles and adapting to the data driven world. Actually, I don’t think creatives will exist in the near future.

From my experience, the true creatives always have a Plan B, but the challenge is making it happen whilst being consumed by an agency. I think the biggest mistake you can make is to gear up your finances to the high advertising salary – and it’s easy to do. The more that’s riding on the high dollar, the less control you have of your life. Taking a leap is so much harder.

You have to be prepared to simplify your life – and of course, you need a supportive partner. I know creatives who are scared to sacrifice the high salary. It does take courage and you really have to back yourself. It was a no brainer for me, but then again, I believe true wealth is freedom. So my advice: make your Plan B your Plan A and start shedding the material stuff.

LBB> What can we expect from your upcoming exhibition at Mop Projects? How do we get an invite :-)

YP> I’ve been travelling to and from Berlin for the past two years and I spent three months painting there. The next exhibition is the result of my time in Berlin. So you can expect a more minimalistic body of work. Everyone’s invited and the exhibition will be in Feb 2016. Dates will be listed at:, insta: yanni__pounartzis and