Photo by Melinda Gallo
Florence is home to many expats: those who have longed to live here, those who have found love and moved here, and those who have come to Florence and felt immediately at home here. Many people arrive here at a point in their lives when they seek to redefine themselves: whether they were not completely happy, were searching for something new, or were looking for love, it seems that those who come to Florence are reborn. Florence will always be the ‘cradle of the Renaissance' for the art world, but it also welcomes people of all walks of life who are seeking to follow their hearts.
Born in Athens to a Cypriot father and a Greek mother, Rea Stavropoulos moved to London when she was only one year old. Before attending university, she took a year off and went to Florence where she signed up for language and art history courses. Instead of taking part in an archaeological dig in Herculaneum, she chose to stay in Florence because she fell in love with the people and way of life.
At the end of that year, Rea returned to England to attend the University of Sussex, where she studied French and English literature and language. To keep her passion for painting alive, she also took an all-day art class once a week. For her third year of university, she studied at the Sorbonne in Paris. On the merits of her portfolio, she was also accepted at the Ecole des Beaux Arts to study art. While in Paris, she exhibited her art and was even commissioned to paint a few pieces.
After receiving a masters in French poetry at the University of Sussex, Rea continued to paint and traveled for a few years to Greece, India and Sri Lanka. She wasn't certain that she could make a living as an artist, so she decided to study law. She became a barrister after obtaining a diploma in law from City University in London. Besides her demanding job as an advocate for workers in a union, she also lectured at universities and published articles in law journals. With little free time available to her, Rea painted only during her holidays, but she still participated in many local art exhibitions.
Five years later, following the sudden death of a close friend, Rea left law, realizing that she no longer wanted to live life in a straight line. She decided that life can accommodate many things and left herself open to the possibilities. Following her desire to be an artist and explore and discover more about her work and herself, she returned to St. Martin's School of Art to work on her post-graduate degree in advanced painting studies. She proceeded to paint many works of art and exhibited them all over England.
After the one year she spent in Florence, Rea visited often and dreamt of returning one day. When her son was five years old, Rea and her husband Giovanni had to move out of their apartment in London. Instead of moving to another one in the city, they opted to move to Florence instead. In 1995, the three of them relocated to an apartment with an art studio above it, situated between the Bargello and the Duomo.
At first, Rea felt disconnected in Florence and was aware, for the first time, of being a foreigner. The isolation she felt spurred her creativity and motivated her to communicate through her writing and painting. She realized that parts of herself came alive in each language that she expressed herself in. Sometimes words from other languages in which she is fluent, English, French and Greek, come to her to convey a particular feeling or idea. Eventually text became an aspect of her artwork.
Rea has published several artist's books and written many articles about art and gardens in Florence (www.reastavropoulos.com). She travels around Europe and paints in places that inspire her, like the country of her birth, Greece. She exhibits her work in Italy and Europe, and in her free time, she teaches drawing and painting in Florence.
In Florence, Rea feels a great desire to continually define her own identity, not only as an artist, but also as a woman, wife and mother.