Theodoros Stamos

Theodoros Stamos


Stamos is born on December 31 in New York City. His Greek immigrant parents, Stamata from Sparta and Theodoros from Lefkada, live on East 18th Street. His father, who had been a fisherman back in Greece, runs a small hat-cleaning and shoe-shining shop in St. Mark's Place in Lower Manhattan. Stamos is the fourth of their six children.


He studies in New York City public schools.


Stamos falls, raptures his spleen and it is removed. After five blood transfusions he is sent to a camp to recuperate. He begins to draw. He makes his first drawings on a small, portable blackboard, and also works with clay throughout elementary school.


While attending Peter Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, he also attends The American Artists School at night. In order to supplement the scholarship he is awarded he works as a model and operates the elevator.


Joseph Solman, member of the artists' group The Ten and a teacher at The American Artists School becomes Stamos' mentor. He encourages him to begin painting and to study the work of other artists, in particular Arthur Dove at "An American Place", Alfred Steiglitz's gallery, where he also becomes familiar with Georgia 0' Keefe's work. He also visits all the other contemporary galleries such as Nierendorf Gallery, where he sees the work of Paul Klee, Kurt Valentine's, Knoedler's, Bonestell Gallery, Durand-Ruel, Buchholz Gallery and Valentine Dudensing's, where he studies the work of another of his major influences, Milton Avery. Stamos explains Dove's and Avery's influence in his own words: "Dove for his way of seeing things, and Avery, for his way of doing them" (Pomeroy, I 974, p. I 7).


Stamos leaves Peter Stuyvesant High School three months before graduation and concentrates on his painting. He abandons sculpture due to his lack of finances and space. He paints in shared studios near 10th Street, while supporting himself doing a number of odd jobs such as florist, printer, hat-blocker, book salesman etc.


He meets Milton Avery through Joseph Solman. I94I-48 He runs a small frame shop on East I8th Street, where he meets among others Arshile Gorky and Fernand Leger. He also frames a lot of Paul Klee works for Karl Nierendorf Gallery.


Stamos meets Betty Parsons through Sarah Deans. Parsons gives him his first one-man show at the Wakefield Bookshop-Gallery. He describes the paintings in this show as a combination of, say, the primitive, the Rousseau thing in terms of many leaves, little animals and things like that, and on the other hand, the very simplified sort of landscapes of the New England Coast where the water was pink and the sky was green and boats were handled just like sticks, which is the only way that Klee's influence ever crept into my work But the Avery influence predominated in that" (Stamos, Interview, I 968, p. 420). Around that time, his circle of fellow artists begins to expand and he meets Barnett Newman, with whom he becomes very close, and Adolph Gottlieb. Through Gottlieb and Solman he also meets two other members of The Ten, Ben-Zion and Louis Schanker.


Stamos sites the work of the Surrealists and especially Joan Miro, whose work he sees at Pierre Matisse Gallery, as another of his major early influences. He also sees Andre Masson's work at Buchholz's. Around that time he meets Arshile Gorky, Andre Breton and Max Ernst, and reads all the contemporary surrealist publications available through Wakefield, such as VVV edited by David Hare, View ran by Charles Ford and Dyn by Wolfgang Palen. Nicolas Callas is another fellow Greek who writes for View. Stamos meets him around that time at Wakefield. Stamos' work begins to get involved with mythmaking, and his technique is influenced by the Surrealists and their use of automatism. He explains his involvement with myths apart from that of his contemporaries (Rothko, Gottlieb, Baziotes and Hofmann), and attributes it to his Greek origins (Stamos, Interview, 1968 p. 420-421 ). Archaic Sentinel (1947) is a typical example of his interest in ancient myths. In addition, a great body of Stamos' work of this period has a bio/hydromorphic quality. This under-water quality is motivated by his summer visits to the shore. However, his chosen reading material in his personal library included "Power of Movement In Plants" by Dar-win, Grey's "Botanical Textbook, Geology and Mineralogy, Considered with Reference to Natural Theology" by Buckland, "The Structural Development of Moses and Ferns" by Douglas Campbell, and "Seaside Studies in Natural History" by Elizabeth and Alexander Agassiz, and his frequent visits to the Museum of Natural History reveal an avid interest in scientific interpretations of nature. His work at the time, is mostly on masonite and has a dark quality, which he preserves until the end of the decade, when he switches to canvas.


Stamos participates in the Whitney Museum Annual Exhibition, with Movement of Plants. Edward Root buys the painting, thus marking the beginning of a long-lasting friendship and patronage of Stamos' work. All thirty-two of Stamos' paintings purchased by Root are now at The Munson-Williams- Proctor Institute in Utica, New York and at the Addison Gallery in Andover, Massachusetts. During that year, Stamos follows Betty Parsons at Mortimer Brandt Gallery, where he holds his second one man show at the age of twenty-three.


The Museum of Modern Art in New York buys Sounds In the Rock, the first of Stamos' paintings to be bought by a museum. During that year Stamos meets Clyfford Still.


In the summer- he travels by train to New Mexico and the Pacific Northwest to spend time at the sources of the ancient civilizations which produce the myths and symbols, current and past arts and crafts he admires. During his travel, he meets Mark Tobey, with whom he exchanges pictures, as well as Kenneth Callahan and Guy Anderson. During the same year he also meets Peggy Guggenheim, as well as Mark Rothko and Kurt Seligman, both of whom become two of his closest friends. He also begins his close friendship with John Graham and Tony Smith, who was introduced to him by Buffy Johnson, an artist-decorator and also a very close friend of Stamos'.

During the same year, he completes a mural commission for Moore-McCormack Line's S.S. Argentina. He also follows Betty Parsons to her own gallery, where he has another show. The killing of Stamos' own uncle by guerrillas in Greece on the Good Friday of 1947 prompts him to make a small ink wash drawing called Good Friday Massacre and inspires a whole series of paintings, the Good Friday series. He begins to use dark calligraphy against open and transparent space.


Stamos travels for the first time to Europe with the poet Robert Price. He visits France, Italy and also for the first time Greece. He spends the whole winter in France, and through Christian Zervos, the publisher of Cahiers d'Art and a fellow Greek, and Buffy Johnson, he meets Brancusi, Giacometti, Henri Laurens, Picasso, Hans Hartung, Wols, Gerard Schneider, Guglielmi, Serge Poliakoff and Victor Brauner. He also meets Morris Graves at Chartres. In Italy he meets Renato Guttuso, a social realist painter, and the brothers Afro and Mirko. The art he sees and singles out during this trip is that of Watteau, Monet at the Orangerie, and Tiepolo in Italy. Other European art he later sites as influential is that of Matisse, Bonnard and Vuillard. During that year he buys his first pictures, a Victor Brauner while in Europe and two by John Graham in the United States. He also begins collecting Art Nouveau objects and furniture.

The sparseness of the Greek countryside and the starkness of light make the influence of Greece in his work stronger than that of Japan. However, his work becomes increasingly calligraphic and there is a sense of a strong oriental influence. The first work he mentions to be predominantly black and white is The New Farm. During that time he also begins the Divining Red series of strongly calligraphic and abstract works.


He recalls being influenced by the Orient from about this period. Although he is interested in the sparseness of the Japanese and reads about Japan, he is more interested in approaching nature like Arthur Dove (Stamos, Interview, I968, p. 43I). However, around 1949 and 1950 he paints Teahouse series, and paintings such as The Emperor' Ploughs the Fields where the oriental influence becomes explicit.


Stamos has his first one-man show at the Duncan Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. He also begins teaching at the Hartley Settlement House in New York for the next four years, after being recommended by Tony Smith. During the summer, he teaches at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where Kenneth Noland is one of his students and Clement Greenberg is also in residence. Around that time, he buys his first Arthur Dove painting.


Stamos is awarded the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Fellowship. He builds his house in East Marion, Long Island, designed by Tony Smith. Jackson Pollock, with whom he had a love-hate relationship, and Bradley Walker Tomlin help lay out the batter boards for the actual boundaries of the house. During that year he also illustrates The Sorrows of Cold Stone: Poems 1940-1950 by John Malcolm Brinnin and buys his first Mark Rothko painting.


Stamos continues painting the Teahouse series, trying to express the idea of light as seen through paper walls. Teahouse 7 is a key picture in his development as a painter. Around that time, he becomes friendly with the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Rene d' Harnoncourt, and meets Aldous Huxley and Mayer Schapiro. He participates in "Artists' Sessions at Studio 35," published in Modern Artists In America, edited by Robert Motherwell and Ad Reinhardt. He also acquires some of Rothko's Surrealist drawings.


During the summer he teaches at the Bennington School of the Arts at Bennington College in Vermont. 1954 Stamos delivers a lecture at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., titled "Why Nature in Art". The lecture is received well by Clive Bell and in the next few years Stamos repeats it, among others, at The Chicago Art Institute, The Munson- Williams-Proctor Institute in Utica, New York, Tulane University and the Tuscaloosa Festival of the Arts at The University of Alabama. "Why Nature in Art" signifies Stamos' quest for the refinement of his formal means. However, his obvious reference to Whistler's "Ten 0'clock" lecture and identification with Whistler's inclusion of nature in abstraction and admiration of Oriental art, makes "Why Nature in Art" the most concrete example of Stamos, parallel sophistication of his theoretical means, and an attempt to place himself within the history of art.

In Long Island he paints what he himself later considers to be the best of his Field series and a very important picture in his whole development as a painter. Field 3is also a painting he recalls to have made a great impact on Rothko when he first saw it (Stamos' Interview 1968 pp. 433-434). During the same year he begins his friendship with Robert Motherwell and is deeply affected by the death of his close friend Robert Price, the poet with whom he traveled to Europe in I948. Stamos' grief for his friend's sudden death prompts him to paint In Memoriam No 1 and 2 (I954-55).


Stamos begins teaching at The Art Students' League in New York.


He receives the National Institute of Arts and Letters Award and illustrates the posthumous volume of poems by Robert Price, "The Hidden Airdrome and Uncollected Poems". He also has his last and most successful show at Betty Parsons Gallery.


Stamos begins the High Snow-Low 5un series. The first big one of that series starts his fight with Betty Parsons, because he sells the picture without paying her commission. His work begins to show evidence of heightened color, as for example in Levant No /, a painting he chooses as a characteristic example of that period. Stamos calls these colorful pictures of that period Turkish Banners, however his work does not move away from nature in favor- of paint.


Stamos has his first one-man show at Andre Emmerich Gallery. He first meets Emmerich at an Easter brunch at Jerry McAgy's house. Stamos is no longer associated with Betty Parsons, but waits for six months until Emmerich gets a proper gallery space, instead of the apartment he was operating from at the time. After Christmas The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. opens with a thirteen-year retrospective of Stamos' work. He is also included in The New American Painting, the historic show organized by the Museum of Modern Art to travel to eight different countries between 1958 and 1959 and establish Abstract Expressionism as the American avant-garde. During that year he participates in Nine Generations of American Artists, a group show organized at Zappion by the National Gallery and Alexandros Soutzos Museum in Athens with The Emperor Ploughs the Fields (1950). In addition, he participates in the "The Irascible Eighteen" protest against the Metropolitan Museum's use of a jury to judge paintings for a show, which becomes an important matter, makes the front page of the New York Times and causes a three-day conference at Studio 35.

Stamos picks up the Field series again in paintings such as Sun Games No 1, but with white grounds and spotted forms sometimes combined with bands. He also gets into large colorful pictures with a collage-like quality and with no use of a bold black line, such as Red Sea Terrace. In addition, he paints Orleans, the first picture of the Channel series, named so for their resemblance to aerial views of rivers or channels, orDivision of Threes as they are often called by Stamos.


Stamos is awarded the Brandeis Creative Arts Award. During that year he also writes an important theoretical statement for the magazine It Is (winter - summer 1959), not fully renouncing nature in abstraction as he had described it in "Why Nature in Art", but reassessing its importance in his quest for the relation of paint on canvas to the eye of the viewer, thus assuming a more formalist view of his art. In his painting he concentrates on the Channe 1 series, moving away from the calligraphic qualities of his earlier works and focusing on the texture qualities of paint. All the titles of the Channel series are different, named after hotels, such as Hotel Syria or Ahab 1 for R.H. inspired from Mobby Dick, or referring to specific places such as Delphi.


He has his first show in London at Gimpel Fils. Kenneth B. Sawyer writes the first book on Stamos, published in Paris by Editions Georges Fall.


He wins the Mainichi Newspaper Prize, at the Sixth Tokyo International with a Channel painting, Orleans ( 1958), and has his first show in Milan at Galleria Naviglio. He sells his house in Long Island, buys a house on West 83rd Street in Manhattan and moves to "The Barracks" in East Marion, Long Island.


Stamos paints the first Sun-Box titled Very Low SunBox.


He starts using acrylics.


He makes his first lithograph.


Stamos becomes guest lecturer at Columbia University, School of Fine Arts in New York.


He receives National Arts Foundation Award and becomes the third Maurice and Shirley Saltzman Artist-In-Residence at Brandeis University, succeeding Jacob Lawrence and Philip Guston. His visits with Rothko become more and more frequent. On November 28 Stamos' father dies. In his work, the first of his Transparent Sun-Boxes appears, suppressing the textural quality of his earlier paintings.


He donates Red Mound / (1963-64) to the Museum of Modern Art in memory of Rene d' Harnoncourt. His one-man show at Emmerich Gallery is a room of blue paintings as a memorial to his father. Around that time, he buys a Max Ernst colored lithograph, a 1928 Giacometti lithograph and a Frank Kupka drawing. In April of that year he gives the most important interview of his career to Irving Sandler. There he states that his closest remaining friends are Mark Rothko and Ralph Humphrey. He has a one-man exhibition in Montreal at Waddington Fine Arts Ltd. Around that time he also works on tapestry designs in collage and participates in American Tapestries, a group show at Charles E. Slatkin Inc. Galleries in New York.


He completes his first large-scale tapestry commission for the lobby of an office building at 150 East 58th Street, Manhattan. He trades paintings with Rothko and offers a stone from his Long Island property for Rene d' Harnoncourt's grave.


On February 25 Rothko commits suicide. Stamos offers Rothko's family part of his family burial plot in East Marion, Long Island. He is also asked to supervise the installation of the Rothko Ecumenical Chapel in Houston, Texas, commissioned by Mr. and Mrs. John de Menil. Roy Edwards, who worked with Rothko on the murals also assists Stamos. Stamos acquires Roy Edwards' work along with that of other young artists such as Ed Meneeley and Stanley Boxer.

He spends his summer in Lefkada with his cousin Theodosis Stamatelos. After that second visit to Greece he returns to Lefkada regularly, where he organizes a number of events and exhibitions with the locals. In Lefkada he begins his Infinity Field series, which he works on for the next two decades with many different subtitles: Sounion, Lefkada, Marathon (1971 ), Olympia (1971 -72), Knossos (1972- 73), Nemea (1973), Delphi (1976-77), Lefkada for C.D. Friedrich (1980-81), Lefkada for Nikos Xylouris (1981-82), Jericho, Sinai, Masada (1982), Cretan Rizitika, Delphi (1983), KoIn (1983-84), Jerusalem (1984-89), Torino (184-89), Red series (1990-94).


His Infinity Fields are predominantly monochrome.


In November, Kate Rothko's guardian, Herbert Faber, files petition against the three executors of Mark Rothko's Estate, Rothko's financial advisor and a director at Marlborough Gallery, Bernard Reuse, Morton Leaven, anthropology professor at Fordham University and guardian of Christopher Rothko, and Stamos. The petition charges them of entering "into a conspiracy with Marlborough Gallery and Marlborough A. G. and other corporations affiliated with them, to defraud the Estate of Mark Rothko, Deceased, to waste the assets of that estate and to dispose of the paintings. . . for the sole benefit and profit of the respondents. . . " (Seldes, 1996, p. 152). The Rothko case lasts for six years and involves the reversal of the executors' decision to sell 100 of Rothko's 798 paintings to Marlborough Gallery for $ 1.8 million and cosign to the same gallery the other 698 for sale at fifty per cent commission. The main charges of this case are conspiracy and conflict of interest, in the case of Reis because of his dual position as executor of the estate and employee of Marlborough and in Stamos' case because on January 1, 1971 he draws a contract for himself with Marlborough. Finally, both Stamos and Levine are held liable because of their knowledge of Reis' dual position. 1972 On June 8 the New York State Attorney General, Louis Lefkowitz, enters the suit on behalf of the public as "the ultimate beneficiaries of the Mark Rothko Foundation" adding onto Kate Rothko's suit.

Stamos has a one-man show at Marlborough Gallery.


On February 14 the Rothko trial opens. It lasts for seven months and demands the participation of seven sets of lawyers.

Stamos has his first one-man exhibition in Athens, Greece, at the Athens Gallery. In addition, Harry Abrams publishes a large monograph on Stamos written by Ralph Pomeroy since the late 1960's.


On December 18, New York Surrogate Court Judge Millard L. Midonick hands down his decision in "The Matter of Mark Rothko, Deceased" in an 87 page long statement. Stamos and the other two executors are removed from the Rothko estate and the contracts they made selling and consigning the 798 paintings to Marlborough are canceled. In Stamos' case conflict of interest is not proved, but the judge found that there was a "self-serving breach of loyalty" and that he acted "improvidently and negligently in view of his own knowledge of Reis' self-serving and the entire case of events" (Seldes, 1996, p.275). As a result, Stamos and Reis, jointly with Marlborough, are liable for the present value of paintings sold. How the total of $7.3 million would be apportioned among the defendants will be up to them.

During that year Stamos also donates 11 silk screens and 34 oil paintings to the National Gallery and Alexandros Soutzos Museum in Athens.


In February, Stamos together with Reis files a motion in the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court to stop the enforcement of the Surrogate Court's monetary judgment pleading hardship. Stamos' only assets are his house and paintings. They argue that if all the Rothkos that Marlborough has sold are returned the liability of Reis and Stamos should be satisfied. The Appellate Division grants a stay until October of the same year. In October the appeals are postponed until February 1977.


After nine months of appeals, on November 22, the New York State Court of Appeals in Albany hands down the decision imposing fines and damages of nearly $9.3 million on the executors and Francis K. Lloyd of Marlborough galleries. Finally according to the decision, since Lloyd is the only one who profited from the sale of Rothko's paintings, he pays all $9.3 million in fees and fines, also returning some of the paintings to the estate for credit. The court also awards Stamos' Manhattan residence to the Rothko estate in lieu of legal fees, but Kate Rothko gives Stamos a life tenancy.

During that year, Stamos has his first one-man show at Louis K. Meisel Gallery. Meisel remains his dealer until 1982. He also has a one-man show in Germany at Galerie Le Portail in Heidelberg.


Stamos meets Veith Turske, who becomes his dealer from 1980 until 1991 through a variety of companies such as Turske Fine Art, Cologne, Turske Fine Art, Zurich, M. Knoedler Zurich A.G. and Turske & Turske, Zurich.


He combines poetic, geographic and romantic allusions in the series he dedicates to the German Romantic, Caspar David Friedrich, as for example Infinity Field Lefkada Series for C.D. Friedrich.


He has a one-man show in Athens at the Jean & Karen Bernier Gallery.


Stamos files a $5 million libel suit, which he later drops, against BBC for the production and broadcast of a docudrama based on the Rothko case called The Rothko Conspiracy, which after airing in England was broadcast in May of that year across the US.

In October of that year, a small number of mainly European collectors of Stamos' work form a group called "The Circle of Friends of Theodoros Stamos," which aims to promote Stamos' work mainly in Europe, but also the US, because they feel that the Rothko scandal hurt Stamos' reputation and his work has been greatly undervalued. Among their aims is the publication of a new catalogue raissonne on Stamos.

During the same year Stamos travels to Jerusalem with his cousin from Lefkada, Theodosis Stamatelos, and also begins to think of Turin, Italy, where Christ's shroud was allegedly found. At the end of that journey he completes two murals, Infinity Field Koln Series-Two Letters from Jerusalem at an office building in Koln with the help of his cousin. These specific journeys, and the paintings produced thereafter, Infinity Field Jerusalem series and Infinity Field Torino series, establish an even greater specificity of symbolism in his work. There are allusions to fire and blood and the use of graphic elements that recall ancient scripts. An example of his work of this period is Infinity Field Jerusalem Series, Edge of the Burning Bush.


Stamos has a one- man show at Knoedler in Zurich. As a result of an increased buying interest in his work, mainly in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, but also at auctions in general, his prices have risen from $3,000$6,000 in 1971 to $60,000-$ 120,000 in 1984. During that year, Kouros Gallery becomes Stamos' dealer in New York until 1991.


Stamos has an important retrospective from 1945-1984 at Turske & Turske in Zurich and has his first one-man show at Kouros Gallery.


In Athens he meets Zacharias Portalakis, who becomes one of his closest friends and the owner of the largest collection of Stamos' paintings from 1945 to 1994. He also has a one-man show at Museum Morsbroich in Leverkusen, Germany.


He has a one-man show at Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center in Athens.


Stamos begins to shorten his Infinity Field titles to IFJ and IFT, often referred to as the Red series. These paintings depict variations of triangular and rectangular figurations combined with calligraphic elements. His symbolism becomes increasingly personal.


ACA Gallery becomes his dealer in New York.


ACA Gallery in New York shows a retrospective of his work and Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center in Athens holds a one-man show of his work. He has a serious stroke and his health begins to deteriorate.


Stamos has his last show at Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center and a retrospective exhibition at the Municipal Art Gallery on the occasion of the 29th Dimitria Festival in Thessaloniki. He paints his last painting, Untitled, which remains unfinished.


After a long period of illness Stamos dies at Yiannena Hospital and is buried at the village of Tsoukalades in Lefkada.

Chronology: Orsalia Parthenis

© ART TOPOS 1996, 1998

With the kind support of
Zacharias G. Portalakis S.A. Brokerage Firm