Friday, 25 February 2011

Theodoros Stamos - part 2

In this second part of a look at the work of key abstract expressionist Theodoros Stamos (1922-1997), the works shown below date from the mid 1960s onwards. Stamos travelled widely during much of his adult life. These trips both contributed to his aesthetic development and also provided fodder for his broad, deep intellectual interest in the world’s belief systems.

Beginning in 1962, he created several long series of paintings; many of these contained sub-series. The Sun-Box series, begun in 1962, explored hard-edged geometries on flat grounds. After 1971, all of his paintings were part of the Infinity Field series. These abstractions are characterized by broad areas of colour delineated by slim lines or shape. Among the Infinity Fields are the Lefkada sub-series, inspired by the Greek island where Stamos spent much of his time from 1970 until his death. I think the influence of the 'colour field' works of his friend Mark Rothko is evident in these works.

He taught at Black Mountain College from 1950 until 1954 and from 1955 to 1975 he taught at the Art Students League of New York and the Cummington School of Fine Arts. Stamos was also a member of the Uptown Group. A year before his death he donated 43 of his works to the National Gallery of Greece. He died in 1999 and is buried in Lefkas, Greece.

 1969 Homage to Milton Avery, Sun-Box III

 1970 Transparent Green Sun-Box

 1971 Untitled, Infinity Field

 1973 Infinity Field, Knossos Series

 1978 Infinity Field (HH/TS/7)

 1978 Infinity Field, Lefkada Series #2

 1978 Infinity Field, Lefkada Series #5

 1979 Untitled II screenprint

 1979 Untitled V screenprint

 1979 Untitled VI screenprint

 1980 Infinty Field, Lefkada Series (purple)

 1982 Infinity Field, Lefkada Series

 1982-83 Infinity Field

 1983 Infinity Field, Lefkada Series

 1983 Infinity Filed, Jerusalem Series

 1985 Infinity Field, Jerusalem Series, 3rd Letter

 1986 Edge of Burning Bush

 1986 Infinity Filed, Torino Series #7

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Theodoros Stamos

This is the first of a two-part post on painter Theodoros Stamos (1922 - 1997). Stamos was one of the original and youngest Abstract Expressionist artists working in New York in the 1940s and 50s. He was born on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to Greek immigrant parents; his mother was from Sparta, and his father was raised in Lefkada. He won a scholarship to the American Artists School where he studied sculpture with Simon Kennedy and Joseph Konzal. His instructor Joseph Solman, who was a member of the group The Ten, became a mentor to Stamos. At Solman’s urging, Stamos visited Alfred Steiglitz’s influential An American Place Gallery, where he encountered the work of Arthur Dove and Georgia O’Keeffe, among others. During this period, the late 1930s and early 1940s, Stamos held a variety of odd jobs: printer, florist, hat-blocker, and book salesman. Through one job, at a frame shop on East 18th Street, he met members of the European avant-garde, including Arshile Gorky and Fernand Léger.

 In 1943, when Stamos was 21 years old, prominent dealer Betty Parsons gave him a solo exhibition at her Wakefield Gallery and Bookshop. Parsons became an important ally and connection to the contemporary New York art world; Stamos would show regularly with her until 1957.

By the mid-1940s, his career was becoming well established – he exhibited at the Whitney Museum annually from 1945 to 1951, at the Carnegie Institute and the Art Institute of Chicago in 1947, and at the Museum of Modern Art in 1948. Also during this period, Stamos’ work began attracting the attention of collectors.

The Museum of Modern art purchased Stamos’ Sounds in the Rock (left) in 1946. And Edward Wales Root, who became both a supporter of Stamos’ career and a benefactor of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, bought the first of many paintings from the artist in 1945.

During the late 1940s he became a member of 'The Irascible Eighteen', a group of abstract painters who protested the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s policy towards American painting of the 1940s and who posed for a famous picture in 1950 (see below), members of the group are considered as the 'first generation' of abstract expressionists. These artists are part of the New York School and they were referred to as The Irascibles in an article featured in an issue of Life where the infamous Nina Leen photograph was published.

From left, rear, they are: Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, Ad Reinhardt, Hedda Sterne; (next row) Richard Pousette-Dart, William Baziotes, Jimmy Ernst (with bow tie), Jackson Pollock (in striped jacket), James Brooks, Clyfford Still (leaning on knee), Robert Motherwell, Bradley Walker Tomlin; (in foreground) Theodoros Stamos (on bench), Barnett Newman (on stool), Mark Rothko (with glasses).

Around 1950, Stamos began exploring a new approach to abstraction. Inspired by East Asian aesthetics, he created his Tea House series of paintings, characterized by softly defined geometric forms painted with a limited palette and often overlaid by dark calligraphic brushwork. Later in the 1950s, Stamos worked with compositions that became increasingly reductive and simplified. He explored the use of layers of thin pigment, carefully worked, to create depth in his broad expanses of colour. The paintings below cover 1945 to 1968. The second part, where his Infinity Field paintings clearly have a lot in common with the work of Mark Rothko, will cover from 1969 to his death in 1997.

 1945 Bleached Fishbones on the Beach

 1946 The Sacrifice

 1946 Untitled

 1947 Ancient Land

 1947 Cyclops

 1947 Sea Images

 1950 Composition

 1952 Untitled

 1957 Olympia Sun-Box

 1958 The Divide II

 1959 Delphic Shibboleth

 1960 Albatross

 1961 Adam

 1961 Edge of the Day

 1962 Mykonos

 1963 Dog Town #1

 1963 Untitled

1965 Untitled screenprint

 1967 Olivet Sun-Box #2

1968 Classic Yellow Sun-Box

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Photo Essay - San Francisco

I'm squeezing in a small photographic essay featuring a random selection of my own photos of San Francisco. Several visits have confirmed San Francisco as one of my favourite cities, if not the favourite. The topography, the architecture, the Bay, and of course the fantastic light make it unique.

I particularly like the North Beach area and it's association with the Beat Generation. I've browsed in Lawrence Ferlighetti's City Lights Bookstore, sat at Jack Kerouac's table in the wonderful Vesuvio's bar next door, and had coffee sitting next to the stove in Caffe Trieste where Allen Ginsberg held meetings and readings. William Makepeace Thackery who wrote Vanity Fair lived in the town I'm now living in, but frankly I prefer On the Road.

Posting some more abstract expressionism tomorrow.