YANNIS SPYROPOULOS (Greece, Messenia, Pylos 1912-1990 / act: Athens)

Yannis Spyropoulos The painter Jannis Spyropoulos was born on 12 March 1912 at Pylos of Messinia, Greece, the son of Georgios Spyropoulos and Figaleia Nikolopoulou. Spyropoulos never met his father, who had immigrated to America. In 1913 Spyropoulos and his mother settled in Diakofto, with her family. He spent his childhood and adolescence there. The death of his mother in 1924 forced young Spyropoulos to remain under the care and guardianship of his family on his mother's side. Even as a schoolboy his interest in and inclination towards, painting is obvious. Spyropoulos attended the 9th High School in Athens for his penultimate year at school, returning to the 2nd High School in Aigio for his last year. Between 1930 and 1936 he studied at the Athens School of Fine Arts - ASFA, with Umvertos Argyros, Spyridon Vikatos and Epameinondas Thomopoulos as his teachers. He offered his service to the military in 1937. The following year Spyropoulos won the First Prize in a competition organized by the Academy of Athens (Ourania Konstantinidi Bequest) for 3-year scholarships for painters to study in Western Europe. He departed for Paris, where he continued his studies at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, under Charles Guerin, and at the Colarossi and Julian free academies. On the outbreak of the Second World War, he discontinued his studies and returned to Greece. Between 1940 and 1948 he lived in the Pension Barbalia at the Exarcheia district of Athens, since the family house at 11 Sarantaporou Street was occupied by a protected tenant. In 1946 he joined the Hellenic-French Union of Young People; he was recruited by the Workers Center as artistic director, and was responsible for organizing artistic events in various places of work. In 1948 began the apprenticeship with him of Nikos Kessanlis, a young painter whom he had befriended since 1945. Between 1948 and 1976 he lived in the family house at 11 Sarantaporou Street. In 1950 Spyropoulos had his first personal exhibition at the Parnassos Hall, Athens. In the year 1950 began a period in which Spyropoulos came under various French influences, and especially that of Cezanne. The transition to formal abstraction can be observed in his paintings; black outlines. In 1952 Spyropoulos met his lifelong companion and wife, Zoe Margariti. He joined the art group called Stathmi, which had been formed in 1949. In the period from 1952 to 1957 Spyropoulos made frequent trips to the Peloponnese and the Greek islands. At the Biennale of Alexandria in 1955 Spyropoulos began showing his abstract tendencies within structured space. After a visit to Athens in 1956 of Herbert Mayer of World House Galleries, he signed a contract of cooperation. In 1957 he married Zoe Margariti, his lifelong companion. He designed the poster for the program of the Thessaloniki Art Festival Biennale of Sao Paolo. Spyropoulos' painting Anafiotika is one of five Greek works representing the country in the international competition for the Guggenheim Prize in New York in 1958 (alongside other works by Yorgos Gounaropoulos, Spyros Vassiliou, Yannis Mitarakis and Panagiotis Tetsis). In 1959 he began to do collages in the tradition of Tachisme and Informel; characterised by mixed techniques and gestural styles. That year the Greek state chose Spyropoulos along eight other Greek artists to represent Greek art in eight American cities (abstraction was prominent among the participating works). Through his friend Professor Michalis Tombros, Spyropoulos came to meet the work of the Japanese sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Later in 1959 Spyropoulos has a personal exhibition at World House Galleries, New York. Spyropoulos was part of the group of artists to represent Greece at the XXX Biennale di Venezia of 1960, where he and the Italian artists Antonio Music shared the UNESCO Prize. This prize signalled the beginning of Spyropoulos' international career. Later in 1960 Spyropoulos had a personal exhibition at the gallery of the Techni Art Association of Macedonia, Thessaloniki. In 1961 Spyropoulos visited England, where he met the sculptors Henry Moore, Lynn Chadwick and Eduardo Paolozzi, and visited their studios. He held a personal exhibition at the Kursaal of the Educational Caner, Ostend, Belgium, for which he was awarded the town's Gold Medal. Then followed two more personal exhibitions; one at World House Galleries, New York, and another at Galleria Gian Ferrari, Milan. He took part in many group exhibitions at Print Internationale in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, at Wolframs-Eschenbach in Germany, and at Carnegie Gallery in Pittsburgh. In 1962 Chrysanthos Christou published a monograph on the work of Spyropoulos. In that year Spyropoulos had personal shows grew in number: Portland Art Museum, Oregon, at Roswell Museum and Art Center, New Mexico; Neue Galerie im Kunstlerhaus, Munich, Germany; Institute of Art History, Mainz, Germany; Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois; Bazalel National Museum, Israel; Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio. In 1963 Spyropoulos had four personal exhibitions at World House Galleries, New York; Jerrold Morris International Gallery, Toronto; Theater der Stadt Lunen, Westphalia, Germany; Riverside Museum, New York. An important event in the career of Spyropoulos was his first participation in 1964 at the Documenta III exhibition, Kassel, Germany. Later that year, Spyropoulos had four personal exhibitions at Sheafer Art Gallery, Grimmel College, Iowa; Fränkische Galerie der Stadt Nürnberg, Germany; Galerie des Deux Mondes, TWA Flight Center, J.F. Kennedy Airport, New York; and Carnegie International of Art, Pittsburgh. In 1965 he had two personal exhibitions at David Jones Art Gallery, Sydney, Australia and at Galerie Arnaud, Paris. In January 1966 Spyropoulos was made Commander of the Royal Order of the Phoenix. He had a personal exhibition at The Israel National Museum, Jerusalem. In February 1967 was the first presentation of his work on television. Another important event in the career of Spyropoulos was his personal exhibition 1969 at the National collection of Fine Arts of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. In 1971 he had a personal exhibition at the David Jones Art Gallery, Sydney, and at New Delhi, Germany. In 1975 Spyropoulos took for a second time at the Documenta Sammlung, Kunstverein, Kassel, Germany. In 1976 Spyropoulos settled into a new house at 5 Faidras Street, Ekali, starting to give flesh to his dream; to bring together a home, studio, and museum. This place was where artists Yorgos Zongolopoulos, Achilleas Apergis, Yannis Parmakellis, Thodoros Papadimitriou, and Dimitris Yannoukakis frequently met. In 1978 Spyropoulos was awarded the Gottfried von Herder Prize by Vienna University. In 1986 Spyropoulos had his last personal exhibition, at the Nees Morphes gallery. Publication of an album of his engravings. On 25 November, he was the subject of a special program in the 'Paraskinio' TV series. In 1989 The Workers' Center published a book entitled Jannis Spyropoulos, a professional analysis of Spyropoulos' entire oeuvre by the critic and art historian Efi Strousa. On the evening of 18 May 1990, Jannis Spyropoulos died at home. On 21 May, he was interred in Kifissia Cemetery. Yorgos Zongolopoulos created a sculpture to adorn the tomb of his old friend. On 1 December 1990, the Jannis & Joe Spyropoulos Foundation was formed, housed in the residence and museum in Ekali. The Foundation's purposes were to collect, study and present the paintings of Jannis Spyropoulos, and to support talented young painters by establishing an annual competition in honor of the artist, and to promote his work in general. In 2010 the Foundation relocated at 37 Dionysiou Areopagitou Street in Makriyanni area, Athens. A large number of his works were shown in the exhibition Metamorphoses of the Modern - The Greek Experience, curated by Anna Kafetsi, at the National Gallery - Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Athens, in 1992. The Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, organized a retrospective exhibition in 1994.

[Megakles Rogakos 01/2010]

STROUSA, EFI Yannis Spyropoulos: Within and Beyond a Time 1990 National Gallery, Athens <Greek>