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Theodoros Stamos (1922-1997)


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Ancestral Myth, 1947
oil on Masonite
24 1/8" x 30", signed and dated

 

Of The Woodland, 1947
oil on Masonite
24" x 11", signed

 

Cyclops, 1947
gouache on paper
30 3/8" x 21 1/4" (sight size), signed and dated
 

Petroglyph, 1947
oil on Masonite
30" x 24", signed and dated


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Artist Information

“Rhythms and color create the interplay of spaces and thereby give to me the symbols needed for the exploration of the interior world.”[1]

The youngest member of the first generation of abstract expressionists, Theodoros Stamos was born in Manhattan in 1922 to Greek immigrant parents and grew up on the Lower East Side. Stamos’s interest in nature was sparked at a young age, when he would accompany his father on trips to Pelham Bay and Orchard Beach. He began collecting rocks and shells as a child, a habit he retained throughout his life. In 1936, he received a scholarship to the American Artists’ School, where he studied sculpture with Simon Kennedy and Joseph Konzal. At the school, Stamos also met Joseph Solman, who was part of “the Ten,” a group of politically conscious artists that included Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko. Solman encouraged Stamos to pursue his interest in painting, and in 1939, Stamos left school to strike out on his own. He supported himself by running a framing business on East 18th Street, where clients included Paul Klee, Fernand Leger, and Arshile Gorky.

In 1943, Stamos met Betty Parsons, who gave him his first solo exhibition at the Wakefield Gallery. His work caught the attention of Gorky and Barnett Newman, who saw in his paintings of this era—which used the surrealist technique of automatism to create mystical, biomorphic visions—an interest in myth and abstraction similar to their own. Over the next few years, Stamos’s work was shown in various exhibitions, including the 1945 Annual Exhibition at the Whitney and The Ideographic Picture, curated by Newman in 1947 for Betty Parsons Gallery. In 1948, Stamos traveled to Europe for the first time, where he visited France, Italy, and Greece, including the island of Lefkada, the birthplace of his parents. Upon his return to New York City, Stamos affirmed his commitment to the exploration of abstraction and continued to create works guided by his firm belief that “for the painter there exists a spiritual power, which communicates life and meaning to material forms, and . . . he must achieve this power before taking part in the elaboration of forms.”[2]

In the 1950s, Stamos’s paintings were exhibited regularly in New York, in solo exhibitions and alongside the art of his fellow abstract expressionists, many of whom were a decade or two older than him. He was one of the thirteen “Irascibles” to appear in Nina Leen’s Life photograph; his work was included in MoMA’s Abstract Painting and Sculpture in America; and in 1958, he was also part of the museum’s New American Painting international traveling exhibition. Stamos retained his interest in the natural and the infinite throughout his life, and his paintings often glow with a light that seems to originate from somewhere behind the paint. In the 1980s, this inner light became even more pronounced in his Infinity Field series. With titles that reference specific locations—Jerusalem, Torino, and Lefkada—these luminous works of acrylic on paper seem to vibrate with energy, as if a radiance is just about to burst through the pigment. 


[1] Theodoros Stamos, undated statement, Theodoros Stamos—Allegories of Nature: Organic Abstractions, 1945-1949, exh. cat., Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, November 8, 2001-January 12, 2002, 16.

[2] Theodoros Stamos, “Why Nature in Art,” 1954 lecture quoted in Theodoros Stamos, 22.

 

SELECTED MUSEUM COLLECTIONS

Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY
Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, CT
Art Gallery, University of Notre Dame, IN
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD
Bayerische Staatsgemaldesannlung, Munich, Germany
Berkeley Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley, CA
Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY
California Palace of the Legion of Honor Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco, CA
The Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA
Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH
The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA
The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
The Francis Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY
Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Kresge Art Museum, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla, CA
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX
The Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ
Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica, NY
Museo d’Art Moderno, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna, Austria
National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
National Pinacotheque, Athens, Greece
New Britain Museum, New Britain, CT
New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, NJ
Palm Springs Desert Museum, Palm Springs, CA
The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC
Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ
Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE
Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
Tel Aviv Museum, Tel Aviv, Israel
University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City, IA
Virginia Museum of Art, Richmond, VA
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Wilhelm-Hack Museum, Ludwigshafen, Germany