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Elinor Saragoussi’s Whimsical World: Meet This Year’s Flagpole Guide to Athens Cover Artist

Elinor Saragoussi works on a felt piece in her studio.

This year’s cover of the annual Flagpole Guide to Athens drops into artist Elinor Saragoussi’s whimsical world, a place where anthropomorphic animals, blue-hued people and uncanny botanicals coexist underneath a smiling, buck-toothed sun. After relocating from Denver a few years ago, she quickly made herself a staple of the local music and arts scene, with recent projects including three-dimensional installations at both the GlassCube at Hotel Indigo and Lyndon House Arts Center, as well as immersive set designs during Ad·verse Fest. After her work in the retail and service industries was curtailed by the pandemic—and while most galleries were temporarily closed—Saragoussi somehow became more visible than ever within the community.

“The pandemic has allowed me to shift into working full-time as an artist. I am able to spend every day at the studio, but I also have time to manage the logistical side of being self-employed, like applying for public art projects and grants, planning ahead for big projects and keeping my finances organized,” says Saragoussi. “This is a new freedom that I never had time for prior to the pandemic. The extra amount of quiet alone time has been so darn nourishing and really helped chill out the chaos that typically consumes my brain.”

Over the past few months, Saragoussi has managed to consistently unveil new commissioned work at a prolific level, not to mention a steady stream of adorable woodcut pet portraits. In April, she designed the artwork for “ATHistory,” a new podcast produced by the Athens-Clarke County government. In May, her illustration of the Rocksprings neighborhood was sold on T-shirts as a fundraiser for Historic Athens. In June, she completed a large-scale felt work for Shelter Projects, a mini-fellowship program launched by the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts to fund creative reflections on the pandemic. In July, she was one of five artists in the Athens Banner Project, a public art project that distributed uplifting banners to 130 downtown storefronts to share messages of resiliency and unity. Most recently, Creature Comforts Brewing Co. revealed a limited edition T-shirt design and new label artwork for its Get Artistic beer, the sales of which will support the brewery’s Get Artistic campaign that fosters place attachment by investing directly into the arts community.  

Whitley Carpenter Elinor Saragoussi works on a felt piece in her studio.

“The public art projects and commission work have kept me happily overwhelmed and have pushed me to explore new territory with my work,” she says. “The bigger projects have encouraged broader visions in my illustrative art, such as more complex textures, color palettes and concepts.”

In addition to creating visual artwork, Saragoussi is a musician who sings and plays bass in a doo-wop garage pop band called Baby Tony and the Teenies. Unable to perform or book shows following the pandemic’s shutdown of bars and clubs, she launched The Cry Baby Lounge as a virtual performance space that utilizes YouTube Premiere to host bimonthly showcases of videos recorded by the participating acts.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, it was very clear that musicians were going to struggle. Not just financially, but from the lack of an opportunity to express themselves and share their art,” says Saragoussi, who launched the platform in May. “I’ve always been so inspired by public access TV and felt this was an opportune time to create a project with a similar vibe. It’s been a dream to book shows with no regional restrictions and to make independent music and DIY culture more accessible to many different communities.”

Copyright 2020 Whitley Carpenter, The cover of this year’s Flagpole Guide to Athens was illustrated by Elinor Saragoussi. Photo by Whitley Carpenter.

Occasionally debuting new music videos, like those of Immaterial Possession and Telemarket, The Cry Baby Lounge extends an invitation into the private homes and creative environments of performers. It feels like tuning in for a tour between living rooms and backyards to visit Nicholas Mallis, Micheal Potter, Br. Lydian, O Key and Cicada Rhythm, then teleporting across state lines to see the likes of Pearl & The Oysters (Los Angeles), Britt Moseley (Brooklyn) and Bathtub Cig (Minneapolis). Each episode encourages viewers to tip the performers and donate to a different organization, with past beneficiaries including Nuçi’s Space’s Garrie Vereen Memorial Emergency Relief Fund, Project Safe, Trans Women of Color Collective, Shadow Support Network, Color of Change and Athens Mutual Aid Network. 

This emphasis on community involvement also currently extends to making illustrations that help organize and disseminate important resources and information around Athens. In addition to a master list of alternative resources, she’s made candy-colored graphics to support Black-owned businesses, essential nonprofits and Mokah Jasmine Johnson in her campaign for Georgia House District 117. 

“Creating illustrations that highlight the various people and organizations that work hard to make our communities a better place has been my way of helping to fight the good fight,” she says. “I am more than happy to create eye-catching designs that help spread important information.”

Saragoussi’s busy summer seems to reflect an adaptation of the Golden Rule: Love your community, and it will love you back.