Stamos, Theodoros (1922-1997)
A first-generation Abstract Expressionist, Theodoros Stamos is known for paintings done later in his career, which is large expanses of dissolved light. Underestimated at first by Clement Greenberg, New York critic whose commentary often decided the reputation of Abstract Expressionists, Greenberg later wrote, “I scorched his show and I was wrong. You keep on learning.” (Falk 3138)
Of his painting, Stamos said: “The great figurative painters were involved with grandeur of vision, using the figure as a means to an end, whereas today the best of the abstract painters are also involved with a grandeur of vision using color as their means toward a new space-light.” (Herskovic 318)
Stamos was also an art educator and held positions at the Art Students League (New York), Columbia University, Black Mountain College and Brandeis University.
Stamos was born in Manhattan to Greek immigrant parents and studied sculpture for three years, 1936 to 1939, at the American Artist’s School. In 1939, he turned to painting, and in this medium was basically self- taught.
With their amorphous shapes and busy lines, his first paintings resembled those of Mark Rothko, who became his close companion, and of William Baziotes. Stamos’ colors were in tonal clusters, vague and undifferentiated.
During the 1940s, Theodore Stamos ran a framing shop near Union Square where his customers included modernists Arshile Gorky and Fernand Leger. In 1943, he had his first solo show at Betty Parsons Gallery. Several years later, he began painting with distinct bands of color, usually black or very dark, and then in the 1950s, his work was much less controlled, more violent, emotive, and confrontational.
In 1950, Theodore Stamos was the youngest artist to be included in the famous “Irascibles” photograph of leading Abstract Expressionists. He began a “Sun Box” series in 1963 with shapes that took on enormous size, filling almost the entire surface of the canvas, with the suggestion of atmospheric light and organic expansion.
A close friend of Mark Rothko’s, he was executor of his estate and later found guilty of negligence in a 1975 trial. He and the Marlborough Gallery were fined $9.2 million dollars.
In later years he lived between New York and the Greek Island of Lefkada.