ODYSSEUS OF INFINITY FIELDS
Theodoros Stamos was, as we came to know him, something between a mountaineer and a fisherman, whose physiognomy and art combined features recalling his parents' origins: those of his Laconian mother and Lefkadian father. ( ) The artist's friends and critics used to talk of his typically Greek physique and ethos; nevertheless, he was born and bred in New York, the son of a large family of immigrants. ( )
At the age of twenty one Theodoros Stamos was not merely a mature artist with an individual idiom; his first exhibition at Betty Parsons' historical gallery in 1946 also secured for him a proper introduction to the artistic life of New York. The painter Barnett Newman, Stamos' personal friend who was to play a leading role in the School of New York, aptly defined the original characteristics of his art (...) The atavistic attraction to the sea and its living world ( ) it is translated into almost abstract forms in his works; his adherence to the surface together with the rejection of the third dimension and illusionist perspective attest to the modernist orientation of his work from the very start.
Ever since the time of his first works Stamos revealed a particular relationship to nature, which was radically different from the European tradition of dualism, where the painter - subject considers nature as his object. In contrast, the artist here identifies himself with nature; what he records as his experience on the canvas is rather the formulation of his feelings than the image in front of his eyes. Stamos was to describe his decisive attitude towards nature in a revealing essay written in 1954 and titled "Why Nature in Art". ( )
Stamos does not hesitate to reveal his teachers(...) These are the great artists of the East, of China and Japan, where the dualism of the West has not intruded in order to separate the painter from nature and from the work of art, which are therefore fused in a liberating pantheistic amalgam. Nevertheless, Stamos sought and discovered his own teachers in the indigenous tradition of the United States as well: the painters of the Hudson River School and some twentieth - century artists such as Arthur Dove and Milton Avery are among them. In that search for masters he has been guided by his intellectual vision and subtle technique. Stamos didn't hesitate to learn from the work of European painters like Matisse and Bonnard; I might even add Klee and Monet (...)
Stamos' models and masters have one point in common which may be detected throughout his artistic career: painterliness. The Lefkadian artist's works are among the most elaborate accomplishments of Abstract Expressionism if we assume that we should include our painter in this School. The gestural element intervenes in this mature phase of his creation (...)
In Stamos' paintings the vibrant pictorial surface, the rich and brilliant colour lay bare the palimpsest poetics of the work: the successive strata of colour starting from the dark and opaque and ending in thin and transparent layers that create the perennially moving feeling of the bottom. The light, combined with colour, seems to emerge from the painting's depth. The surface acquires a limited depth: that of its breath. Could it be the nostalgia of the Ionian seashore that animates his compositions with iridescent blues and purples, with blazing sunsets of reds and oranges? In any case, Odysseus was bound to rediscover his island, Lefkas, that faces Ithaca. There he would build the house of his homecoming, and from 1972 on he would share his creative time between his two homelands.
In his mature works his links with recognizable reality are more tenuous. Abstract forms and artistic signs are dynamically balanced; they are never static within the immense spaces that give the impression of extending beyond the limits of the frame, as suggested by the title of a large category of works: "Infinity Fields". After his first painful pilgrimage to Greece in 1948, to a Greece torn apart by Civil war, Stamos, according to the critic Kenneth Sawyer "recaptured the spirit of the Mysteries, the pantheism of his childhood; it was there, too, in the silver light of the Aegean, that the love for clear, vibrant color was fully awakened. It is amusing to note that subsequently his synonym for whatever was clear, warm, or brilliant was "Greek". Greece as legend, place and history occupied increasingly more space in the painter's imaginary landscape, generating a new repertory and a new expression. The generous donation of 45 significant works to the National Gallery and Alexandros Soutzos Museum was an ultimate act of love for his country. Ulysses completed his homecoming and left his last breath a year ago in his beloved Lefkada where he rests. His works in the collection of our National Gallery together with those assembled by important Greek collectors, have brought back home to Greece a major part of Stamos' opus, thus justifying the artist who adored his ancestors' sublime homeland. ( )
Professor of the History of Art
Director of the National Gallery
and Alexandros Soutzos Museum
© ART TOPOS 1996, 1998
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