Aris Koutroulis

Aris Koutroulis



He was born in Piraeus on 14 May 1938. His mother was born in Smyrna and his father in Lesvos. His childhood was marked by the bombings of the Second World War, the deprivations of the Occupation and the Civil War. He had been drawing since his childhood, while also learning the flute. At the age of 15 he moved with his mother and sister to America, where his father settled since 1939 and his older brother a few years later. He lived with his family initially in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, seeking to adapt to the American way of life,  without developing any special ties with the Greek community. He also took piano lessons and joined a band. He was accepted to Louisiana State University for undergraduate studies in Fine Arts, with a music scholarship. During the third year of his studies, he gave up music and devoted entirely to visual arts. While he was studying at the university, he mostly painted landscapes and was inducted to printmaking. He graduated in 1961. Two years later, he was accepted  with a Ford Foundation scholarship to the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles, California. Before being accepted, he took preparatory courses at the John Herron School of Art in Indianapolis, where he met Garo Antreasian the co-founder of Tamarind. In Indianapolis he also met his first wife, Maryan, who followed him to California.

Koutroulis' staying at Tamarind was really productive. For two years he devoted fully to lithography, developing his skills alongside Irwin Hollander, Bohuslav Horak and Marcel Duracier. At the same time, he studied the work of artists working with Tamarind, such as John McLaughlin, Sam Francis, Josef Albers, Jasper Johns, Georgia O'Keeffe, Peter Takal, Louise Nevelson and Philip Guston (some of whom he worked with personally), as well as with printmakers working for Picasso, Braque and Joan Miró. Around 1963, he completed the 'Greek' suite, a series of mainly black and white lithographs with letters of the Greek alphabet, which he treated as abstract forms, and sometimes with mythological symbols or simplified representations, referring  to parts of ancient vessels. Koutroulis referred to the series as an attempt to disentangle his Greek heritage and at the same time as a study regarding the relationship between negative and positive space.

In 1964 he received a full scholarship for graduate studies at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where he also taught lithography. There he met Walter Hamady, with whom he collaborated on the publication of the illustrated poetry collections Six Poems & Pictures (1965) and Consenting Shadows (1966). During this period Koutroulis focused on the line, which became a reference point in his art ever since, investigating the line for its specific qualities and expressive potential. At the same time, he produces lithographs almost exclusively in small scale and abstract style, influenced by the art of Joan Miró, Paul Klee, Julius Bissier and Mark Tobey. He describes the compositions of this period as completely intuitive, without any reference to logic and oriented towards a visual interpretation of the music (especially Bach), intensified by the placement of the colors. In 1965 he suffers from a nervous breakdown. The following year he was awarded a master's degree and was also appointed associate professor in the newly established lithography laboratory of the Wayne State University Art Department in Detroit, Michigan. There, he also designed a paper making and processing machine and taught handmade paper making. In 1966 he also held his first solo exhibition at the Hanamura Gallery (Detroit).

From 1967 he began a series of works, but later he destroyed  a great part of these series, in which he broadly explored the influence of science on art through linearity, spectrum and the sense of grid. This is the period when he returned to painting, even on a large scale. In 1968 he received the Purchase Prize at the Michigan Artists Show, and two years later, Getrude Kasle organized at her gallery in Detroit, the first major exhibition of paintings by Koutroulis, who by then was known primarily as an engraver. Meanwhile, in 1969 Koutroulis created a series of prints by Robert Morris, while at the same year his daughter Georgina was born. At this time he maintained a studio at Common Ground, and helped to found the Willis Gallery, where he exhibited his artworks a year later.

In the following years, his work reveals influences from abstract expressionism, automatism and gestural painting. He focuses on the horizontal line, as for example with the strips of canvas that he spaced apart, while between and below colors are projecting, mixed in a random manner. Without aiming at any correlation with the external reality, the works have been interpreted, among other things, as references to musical scores or even to the violence and bombings that defined the artist's childhood. Meanwhile, in 1976 he accepted the position of associate professor and head of the Painting Department at the Center for Creative Studies, College Art and Design (Detroit). Then, in 1981, he was promoted to professor and chair of the Department of Fine Arts, where he remained until his retirement in 1999.

Koutroulis maintained workshops in Detroit and New York. Among other awards he received the Michigan Foundation for the Arts Award (1976), the National Endowment for the Arts (1975) and the Michigan Council for the Arts (1974). He has exhibited his artworks in the United States, Greece, Cyprus and Japan. His artworks have been included in private and public collections, such as The Museum of Modern Art (New York), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Detroit Institute of Arts, and the National Gallery of Arts (Washington, D.C.). He passed away on April 10, 2013.

Xenia Giannouli
Art Historian