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GEORGE CONSTANT (Greece 1892-1978 / act: USA)

George Constant George Constant was a pioneering modernist painter, engraver and etcher. He was born George Zachary Konstantinopoulos in 1892 in Greece. Orphaned in early childhood, he was raised by uncles, one of whom was a monk at the Monastery of Panagia Eleousa, near Patras, from whom he "learned about icons". Constant, who immigrated to the United States in 1910 at the age of 18, said he "had a flair for drawing even in Greece, but really turned to art only in the United States," after reading Dante's Inferno, with its striking illustrations by Gustave Dore. He enrolled in art school in 1912 -among the earliest Greek Americans to do so- first at Washington University in Saint Louis (1912-1914) and then, on scholarship, as a student of George Bellows and Charles Hawthorne at the Art Institute of Chicago (1914-1918) with George Bellows and C. W. Hawthorne. As soon as he graduated, Constant's paintings were exhibited in a group show at the Arts Club in Chicago (1918). From then on, his work has been exhibited almost every year of his life. By 1998 his work had been in more than 50 personal exhibitions.

In 1922 he moved to New York where he attended the Society of Independent Artists. In 1940 he founded the Society of Modern Painters and Sculptors. In 1943 he was honored by the Chicago Art Institute. Participated in group exhibitions in famous museums of modern art: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Musee d 'Art Moderne, Paris. In art, he passed out from the figurative to abstract painting. His work from the 1920s is mostly figurative and often indebted to the School of Paris, although the major influence on his painting for many years was Paul Cezanne. But the drypoints he did during this period, of pear-shaped portrait heads with staring eyes recall the Byzantine icons of his childhood. In the 1930s he came under the influence of the Expressionists and the great Mexican muralists. Like William Baziotes, Theo Hios, and many others, he joined the Works Progress Administration - WPA Federal Art Project during the Depression. In the late 1930s, architectonic forms became the central imagery of his work. His paintings became noticeably more abstract in the mid-1950s, eventually consisting simply of horizontal or vertical ribbons of color, which metamorphosed into the Space series from the late 1950s onward.

After several years of traveling in both Europe and America, Constant taught at the Dayton Art Institute School from 1920 to 1922. Constant's first one man exhibition of his art took place in 1929 at the Arts Club of Chicago. Several years later he moved to New York and lived and worked there for the following four decades. Constant was a full member of the Federation of Modern Painters & Sculptors and of the Audubon Artists.

Much of Constant's oeuvre is in the mediums of engraving and etching. In all probability, Queen Anne's Lace dates from the 1960. During the decade Constant was commissioned on several occasions to create engravings for the Associated American Artists in New York. Since its creation in the mid 1930s, the Associated American Artists commissioned original graphic art from such great masters as Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, Reginald Marsh and others. During the 1960s, major contributing artists included Jack Levine, James Kearns, Chaim Koppelman, Joseph Margulies and George Constant. All commissioned graphic art from this publisher was printed in editions of 250 or less. Queen Anne's Lace was probably published by the Associated American Artists.

Constant's social, historical, and philosophical attitudes were equally significant parts of his artistic mix, as is evident from his early teaching at Jane Adams's Çull House at the hub of Chicago's Greek Town, and from his paintings. "One can get a good sense of this from the many images of close family units whose forms are bound together by intertwining arms, from the tenderness of his renditions of the female figure and men and women in love, and from the themes of the three major series of paintings he worked on over many years: Man as the Builder of Civilization, the Totem series, and In and Out of Time (also called the Space series). He said his intention was "to paint universal and to paint man and woman in a religious form," and he remarked of the Space series that "its main themes are love and space."

Artworks by George Constant are kept at the following insitutions: Academy of Fine Arts, Pennsylvania; Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover MA; The American College of Greece - ACG Art, Athens; Art Institute, Detroit, MI; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; The Art Gallery, Tel Aviv; Brooklyn Museum, NY; Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art - Norman, OK; Library of Congress, Washington; Kresge Art Museum - Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI; Metropolitan Museum of Art , NY ; Michelson Museum of Art - Marshall, TX; Museum of Art, Philadelphia; Museum of Modern Art, NY; National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC; Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY; Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln NE; University Of Kentucky - Lexington, KY.

[Megakles Rogakos 08/2010]

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