Deceptive simplicity is the hallmark of the work of Michael Anastassiades, a civil engineer by training whose name has become synonymous with sculptural, gravity-defying lighting fixtures with slightly askew construction. Credit his Cypriot upbringing for those blissful imbalances. Though he’s been based since 1988 in London, where he established his eponymous studio in 1994, the designer is still keenly influenced by the atmosphere of his native island. This is perhaps most clearly glimpsed in his IC Lights for Flos, which balance a luminous blown-glass diffuser on a skinny metal frame. Channeling the risky movements of contact jugglers, the collection imbues equilibrium with hints of anxiety. A dancing swarm of synchronized Calderesque mobiles populated his booth at Maison&Objet 2020, where Anastassiades received the prestigious Designer of the Year award, casting it in a gentle glow, like a Mediterranean sunset.
The lure of Cyprus is such that Anastassiades returns every few months to visit family and to swim, hike, and generally savor life outside. He prefers hidden beaches, which aren’t in short supply. “There are so many secluded spots near Paralimni and Cape Greco with completely turquoise waters—you just have to drive around and find them,” he says. On the shoreline, he collects stones, a habit he developed as a child, after the late Cypriot architect Neoptolemos Michaelides, a close mentor and family friend, gave him a flawlessly spherical stone. Anastassiades’s personal stone collection was on view at his recent retrospective, “Things That Go Together,” at the Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre (NiMAC) in Cyprus. It featured years of his found objects arrayed with a decade’s worth of lighting experiments in unfussy vignettes, eschewing plinths and vitrines for floor displays.
Humility runs through his conversation, and while proud of his achievements, he bristles at being called a hometown hero. “There’s never been a strong design culture in Greece or Cyprus, but I can’t take credit for writing a new history,” he says. Cyprus’s magnetism, he’ll tell you, speaks for itself.
In Nicosia, he suggests “getting out of your room and walking everywhere.” The city remains divided since the Turkish invasion in 1974, so bring a passport to cross over to the northern side.
Anastassiades “always feels homesick for local food,” preferring Cypriot fare during his stays. Epicureans will delight in the island’s hybrid palette, which blends Greek, Turkish, and Italian flavors with local specialties. “When we say ravioli, we always refer to ravioli that we stuff with halloumi [the national cheese of Cyprus] and mint.” While installing “Things That Go Together,” he frequented Beba, a laidback tavern with a diverse menu that includes kontosouvli (marinated pork skewers), white tarama (Greek cod roe), and courgettes with tzatziki.
“The most important thing is to get out of the city,” he says with a laugh. He recommends using Nicosia as a base and taking day trips hiking and swimming in the nature reserves near the picturesque Akamas, the island’s westernmost promontory. Non-city slickers opt for Anassa, a Thanos Hotels resort that delivers a relaxed dose of Mediterranean cool with pristine white Greek-Cypriot buildings, periwinkle shutters, and rolling lawns that spill onto the shore.
He insists that the city won’t be overrun by showy architecture anytime soon, while noting that world-renowned architects have left their marks on the city with mixed results. Some new buildings, he says, “didn’t consider fundamental issues like temperatures, materials, and shading.” He cites Jean Nouvel’s Stelios Ioannou Learning Resource Center, the University of Cyprus library, as one of the island’s biggest success stories. Resembling an earthwork or an artificial hill, the library, he says, is “a contextual, utilitarian building in every way.” Zaha Hadid Architects’ ambitious 15-year renovation of Eleftheria Square, a public plaza connecting the city’s massive fortified Venetian walls, is slated for completion later this year, despite being hamstrung by financial and managerial woes.
For a creative fix, head to NiMAC, Nicosia’s leading contemporary art museum, which champions the work of homegrown talent. “It’s housed in an old British colonial building that used to be the island’s electricity authority—a unique, warehouse-like setting,” says Anastassiades. Independent, non-commercial galleries abound. The artist-run Thkio Ppalies, which opened in 2015 inside a onetime auto-repair garage, has tantalized with experimental one-night-only performances, Natalie Yiaxi’s surreal plaster renditions of domestic objects, and calligraphic metal sculptures by Leontios Toumpouris. Anastassiades also recommends gallery-hopping in the southern enclave of Limassol.
Then there’s Nicosia’s not-for-profit Point Centre for Contemporary Art, founded by Andre Zivanari, which commissions original work from local artists about Cyprus’s sociopolitical nuances. In 2014, Anastassiades mounted a solo show there that examined what he termed the “contemporary anxieties of the modern Cypriot” through his signature vocabulary of geological elements and glowing glass spheres. The country is bound up in his art, even at a subconscious level. “Cyprus comes out in my work,” he says. “It’s unavoidable—it’s in my DNA.”
This story appears in the March issue of Surface. To experience the complete issue subscribe here.