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ARTISTS V
SPYROS VASSILIOU (Greece, Galaxidi 1903-1985 / act: Athens)

Spyros Vassiliou [1903-1926] Spyros Vassiliou was born in Galaxidi in 1903. The year of birth entered on his identity card however reads 1902, as his parents never declared the arrival of another child, who took the place of a brother, deceased a few months earlier and also named Spyros Vassiliou; "thus I lived (...) eighty years without clarifying whether I was myself or my brother".

Thanks to a modest scholarship of short duration granted by the elders of his birthplace, Spyros Vassiliou came to Athens to study painting at the School of Fine Arts. His first teacher at the school (1921-23) was Alexandros Kaloudes. The young student was discontented with the sterile teaching methods and the mandatory discipline with charcoal and pencil. He was the instigator, with others, of a movement for revitalizing the school, resulting in the election of Nikolaos Lytras and the institution of workshops. The lively band of firebrands enrolled in Lytras' workshop (1923-1926), under whose guidance they were initiated "into the principles of the Impressionists and the values of pure color". At about this point Spyros Vassiliou's fertile artistic career took wing, characterized by dedication to and promotion of the individualistic nature of a national art, and the intent to converge with contemporary artistic trends while drawing on the precepts of Greek heritage.

On graduating from the School in 1926, Vassiliou exhibited in the Foyer of the Athens Municipal Theatre, together with P. Rengos, S. Kokkinos and A. Polykandriotis.

[1927-1939] In this period began his collaboration with newspapers and magazines, in which his sketches and illustrations were published. His first individual exhibition took place in the Stratigopoulou Gallery in 1929. Views of Athens, still lifes and his vivid and sarcastic self-portrait constitute a small yet significant sample of his work, which attracted interest on the part of critics.

In 1929 Fotos Politis, at the time professor at the Professional Theatre School, noticed a Vassiliou cover of the magazine Ellenika Grammata and invited him to design the set for I. Rizos-Neroulos' Korakistika for the School's annual public performance. This was the inception of a long-standing association with the theatre, comprising some 140 productions in all theatrical genres.

On 25 March 1930 he was awarded the Benaki Prize of the Athens Academy for his decorative designs for the church of Aghios Dionysios Areopagitis. The prize money enabled him to travel to Europe, where he had the opportunity of close contact with the original works of great painters and contemporary art. He was particularly influenced by Guardi, C. Lorrain and Bruegel, evidenced in such of his paintings as Laïki Agora (Open-air Market) and Karnavali (Carnival), (1934) and Zappeio (1935).

In 1930 he also took part in the first exhibition of the 'Techni' group, of which he was a founding member. In the same year, in collaboration with Agenoras Asteriadis, he published Paedika Schedia (Childhood Sketches) showing the results of their experience and the infuence which the students had on the teachers at the Papastratos School for Toys and the Grevena Primary School.

Worth noting are also his participation in 1934 in the Venice Biennale and the publication of the album Galaxidiotika Karavia (Shipsof Galaxidi) with his own texts and depictions of the old sailing ships of his birthplace. From 1933 to 1938 he was responsible for the stage sets and costumes of the plays performed by Socrates Karantinos' New Dramatic Stage.

In 1937 he exhibited in Sofia, Bulgaria, with the 'Techni' group and in 1938 took part in the Panhellenic Exhibition. In the following year (1939) he completed the frescoes for the church of Aghios Dionysios, which were begun in 1936.

[1940-1949] On 27 April 1941, date of the entry of the German forces into Athens, he married Kiki, the daughter of George Konstantakopoulos. The couple had two daughters, Drossoula and Dimitra.

During the years of the Occupation (1941-1945) when "paints were few and expensive" he engaged in engraving. Spyros Vassiliou's etchings "constituted a special contribution to the struggle of the intellectual world against the conqueror" (with particular emphasis in works such as The Burial of Palamas and The Mourning of the Kalavrytans (1943). His activity included the illustration and underground publication of three manuscript volumes (Sikelianos' Akritika, S. Skiptis' Mes' apo ta Teichi and A. Theros' Drakoyenia) as well as woodcut prints for all the issues of Nea Estia magazine for two years from January 1942.

In 1945 he designed the stage sets and costumes for the performances by the 'Enomeni Kallitechnes' theatre company of D. Fotiadis' Theodora and Vassilis Rotas' Rigas o Velestinlis. He also collaborated for the first time with the National Theatre, designing the sets and costumes for the performance of Sto Germa tou Heimona directed by Socrates Karantinos.

Two years later in 1947, when he designed the sets for a production by the Hellenic Theater Association, he also started his teaching work in tenure at the 'Athineon' Cultural Institute, the Athenian Technological Institute and the School of Dramatic Art of the National Theater.

The year 1948 distinguished his participation in the Panhellenic Exhibition and his first collaboration on sets and costumes with the National Opera House. The following year among other saw his illustrations, graphic works for the primary school 5th Grade Reader.

[1950-1960] In 1950 Spyros Vassiliou was involved in the founding of both the artists group 'Stathme', and of the Hellenic Ballet where for many years he was one of Rallou Manou's closest collaborators. He undertook the sets and costumes for the production by the National Theatre of José Zorrilla's Don Juan Tenorio, while in November of the same year he created the icon of Saint Demetrios of monumental dimensions for the central arch of Thessaloniki's Aristotele University. His artistic oeuvre comprises the design and execution of a number of decorative programmes commissioned by public and private patrons.

In those years he was also one of the eminent painters commissioned by the Greek National Tourist Office to design posters and publicity material.

A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Winter's Tale were produced by the National Theatre with his sets and costumes in 1952, when he also took part in the fourth Panhellenic Exhibition at the Zappeion and a year later (1953) in the 'Stathme' group exhibition at the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome. This was also the year when he began a long collaboration with Manos Katrakis, with the stage sets for the performance of Eugenie Grandet in Thessaloniki, with costumes by Yannis Tsarouchis.

This decade was marked - among the multiple and diverse occupations of Vassiliou - by his taking part in a group exhibit of Greek art in Belgrade (1954), creating the theme, sets and costumes for the Hellenic Ballet's production Helleniki Apokria with music by Mikis Theodorakis, organizing the exhibition Neo-Byzantine Church Art at the Detroit Institute of Arts (1955), collaborating in productions of the Greek Popular Theatre, exhibiting at the Centro per la Cooperazione Mediteranea in Palermo, Sicily, as well as mounting a series of individual exhibitions (of particular note was his annual presence, from 1956 to 1959, at the Zygos Gallery), stage sets and costumes for Terzakis' Theophano at the Thessaloniki Rotunda (1958), further participations in the exhibitions of Greek Drawing on the Ocean Liner Olympia (1956); Art Grecque Contemporaine at the Galerie Creuze in Paris; Art Book and Etching at Techni Gallery, Athens (1958); the Panhellenic Exhibitions of 1957 and 1960; presentations at the competition for works representing Greece for the international Guggenheim prize (from 1958) and the Sao Paulo Biennale (1959).

In 1960 his painting Lights and Shadows was honoured by the Greek department of AICA with the Guggenheim Prize for Greece.

[1961-1967] Placed at the outset of the 60s is his collaboration with Michael Cacoyiannis (1961) for the film version of Euripides' Electra. In that year Vassiliou also completed the devotional frescoes for the church of Aghios Vlassis in Xylokastro and presented an anniversary solo exhibition at Zygos Gallery.

In 1962 he supervised the Hellenic Ballet's production of The Song of the Dead Brother to Mikis Theodorakis' score. The next year (1963) he designed the sets and costumes for Richard Strauss' Electra at Stuttgart Opera and collaborated with Alexis Solomos and the National Theatre on Strindberg's The Dream Play. In 1964 he worked on Vyzantios' Babel (producer Karolos Koun) and Aristophanes' Peace produced by Pelos Katselis, staged by the Arma Theatrou.

In 1965, in the framework of the promotion of the Cypriot people's claim to self-determination, he elaborated for the General Press Directorate an artistic map of the island (with the elder George Papandreou's message emphatically accentuated). He also undertook the configuration of the stage of the Dora Stratou Theatre on Philopappos Hill.

Moreover, throughout the decade of the sixties Vassiliou became gradually recognized as one of the most consistent chronicler of the transformations of the modern urban environment. At the same time he consolidated his artistic stamp of identity with the monochrome background, the elevation of the everyday and the unorthodox juxtaposition of motley objects. He also participated in a number of exhibitions in Greece and abroad. Selectively, we mention his presence in group exhibitions of Greek artists in Paris and Belgrade, in the 6th Panhellenic Exhibition of 1963, in the Peinture Grecque Contemporaine exhibit at the Brussels Palais des Beaux-Arts and the 1964 Venice Biennale, his solo exhibition in 1965 at the Hilton, under the general title Athens-Eretria; variations with winter light, and at the Upper Grosvenor Galleries in London a year later, as well as the inclusion of his work in the exhibition La Semaine Grecque in Brussels in April 1967.

[1969-1985] 1969 is the year when he gave a personal account of himself in the publication of his autobiographical album Lights and Shadows and, on the initiative of friends and colleagues, his forty years'' work in stage set design was celebrated. In 1970 he exhibited in London and Cyprus, and for the first time a theatrical production of ancient tragedy in Epidaurus was performed under his artistic direction: Iphigenia in Aulis by Euripides, produced by T. Mouzenidis.

From 1971 to 1974 Spyros Vassiliou exhibited individually in major European cities: Basel, Paris, Zurich, Geneva, Cologne, while in 1972 the Stoa S. B., known as 'Mantrotichos', came into being in his country home in Eretria, Evvia, inaugurated with the exhibition Sponde Filias, with the participation of Zongolopoulos, Kolefas, Baharian, Panourgias and Tetsis. From 1974 he joined the Board of the National Opera House, of which he was a member and chairman until 1981, as well as presiding over its artistic committee. The same year he exhibited at the Athens Art Gallery and organized the 2nd Sponde Filias at the Mantroticho, together with his old classmates Asteriadis, Kokkinos, Polykandriotis, among others.

In 1975 the National Gallery - A. Soutzos Museum mounted his first major retrospective exhibition. At the time he himself estimated his paintings as amounting to about 5000 in number. He then also took part in the Panhellenic Exhibition after a ten-year absence and set up an individual exhibition in the Lambert Monet gallery of Cologne. He also was the artistic supervisor of Berlioz’ Damnation of Faust by the National Opera House at the Herod Atticus theatre. His exhibitions in 1976-77 were out of town: in Iraklio, (Basilica of St. Mark) and Rethymno, Crete; London, (Villiers Gallery); Geneva (Dedale Gallery); Thessaloniki (Kohlias); Ghent and Patras. Vassiliou’s last production as artistic adviser of the National Opera House took place in 1978. In 1979 he took part in a group exhibition of Greek painters in Ireland, and exhibited individually at the University of Constança in Romania.

There followed in 1980 a solo retrospective show at Kohlias Gallery in Thessaloniki, the last work he was to do for the theatre, in 1982, starring Manos Katrakis and cooperating with Yiannis Tsarouhis on costumes, and, in the same year, his last exhibition on his own at Zygos Gallery. The National Gallery - A. Soutzos Museum honoured the painter with a second retrospective in 1983.

Spyros Vassiliou died in 1985 at the age of 83.

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