Basilios Poulos

Basilios Poulos



The Greek-American, known mainly for his contribution to color painting, artist and distinguished painting teacher Basilios Poulos (also known in the USA as Bass Poulos) was born in 1941 in the State of South Carolina, of Greek origin from Karyes, Laconia (his parents immigrated to South Carolina in 1938). According to Vitruvius the inhabitants of the ancient Karya helped the Persians in the war against the rest of the Greeks and after the defeat of the Persians the Greeks took revenge on the supporters of the enemy from Karya by killing their male population and taking their women as slaves and therefore, as they demonstrated the spoils of war with their fine clothes and jewelry, the architects of the time used the female statuesque figures as columns to represent their punishment. This forgotten anecdotal story is recalled by director Agnès Varda (1928-2019), also of Greek origin, in her short documentary about the Karyatides (Les dites Karyatides, 1984). However Basilios Poulos's own story, could offer a variation on the inspiration of the Karyatids, as art critic Virginia Billeaud Anderson would point out about him in 2015, the Greek-American artist “seems to have the power for which his Peloponnesian ancestors are known”, and as according to Thucydides a Spartan was equal in physical strength to several Greeks from another region. The artist's uncle, on his father's side, even had the nickname “jackal” for his high-risk operations in the Resistance against the Germans, such as ambushes on German convoys. Basilios Poulos will receive a BA in Fine Arts from the Atlanta College of Art in 1965, with an award and prize money for his performance, and will complete his MA from Tulane University in New Orleans in 1968. In 1965-66 he will stay for a year in Paris with a scholarship from the French Government. In 1972 he will participate in a group exhibition at the Andre Emmerich Gallery in New York. In 1974 he will receive a scholarship from the Guggenheim Foundation. From 1975 and for 33 years he will teach painting at Rice University, in Houston, Texas, from where he will retire in 2008 as emeritus professor. In 1977 he will teach as a visiting professor in Cortona, Italy, while in the same year he will participate in the 35th Biennial of Contemporary American Painting organized at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington. In 1983 he will reside again in Paris, as a guest artist (artist residency) at the School of Fine Arts. In 2016 he will once again be a guest artist at the Butterfly House in LaGrange, Georgia. His career includes over 35 solo exhibitions, 2 of which in Athens (1998, 2001), 1 in Paris (1983), with the great majority being organized in Houston. His presence in group exhibitions is also rich and constant, among them in Toronto, Canada (1977), in Stavanger, Norway (1982), in his place of origin Karyes Laconia (1989), in Cortona, Italy (1994), in Athens (2012) and Istanbul (2012). He maintains a workshop, apart from Houston where he lives, in Karyes, where he has traveled as he says more than 30-40 times. His works are among others in the Columbia Museum of Art, the South Carolina Mint Museum, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Vorres Museum in Athens, the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, as well as the Chase Manhattan bank in New York and Athens. He has also been awarded the Mellon Enhancement Grant, as well as the Phi Beta Kappa Award for Excellence in Teaching. Finally, he taught nine summers in Greece with the Rice Studio Art program.

His work, as the art critic Jane Livingston points out, initially moves in the modernist line of Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011), Jules Olitski (1922-2007) and Larry Poons (b. 1937). While, as he will underline, he is inspired by Morris Louis (1912-1962), Kenneth Nolan (1924-2010) and H. Frankenthaler. More recently it has been pointed out by the American critic Jim Edwards that the painter combines color, line and form, rendering the landscape through coexisting color schemes, creating both a painting space and a sense of the rhythm of nature and its dancing brightness. His painting development presents a clear intersection when he decides to abandon pure abstraction for a painting with representational elements, which he calls abstract landscape painting. Moving beyond the darker colors, such as those taught by the pioneering abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell (1915-1991) and the late work of Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), he now seeks a return to nature and the strong color contrasts it offers, emphatically placing light next to dark colors (for the standardization of abstract expressionism in the recent period, see Jerry Saltz, “Zombies on the walls: why does so much new abstraction look the same”, New York Magazine, 16/ 6/2014). In this turn, which he himself traces around 1987, he was based to a degree on his admiration for the pioneer artists of Modernism Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Georges Braque (1882-1963), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880 -1938), Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), André Derain (1880-1954), as well as Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) and more recently Francis Bacon (1909-1992), revealing the influence exerted on him by the color intensity of the Fauve painters combined with a geometric rendering of nature that conveyed its deepest truth without sentimentality that would cloud the clear message that the painter sought. In this most recent phase of his painting, he is often inspired by Greek landscapes, such as the dozens of stone or the rarer Mycenaean bridges, as they symbolize for him his personal history as a Greek-American with ties to the Greek landscape. Basilios Poulos does not simply observe the landscape in order to paint it, as did Picasso, whom he never stopped admiring, or Matisse, but he walks in it, and the way he renders it, detaches it from objective reality, thanks to use of emphatic colors and bold geometric compositions. He by no means reproduces the object, but, as he emphasizes, “sees how the light filters through the foliage and branches, how it hits the trees and the soil, and how it casts shadows from the stands of trees”; what creates “it’s not a landscape portrait, it's a visual experience.” The painter, in order to reach this transcendence of abstraction, with the transition from non-figurative painting to an idiosyncratic figurative one, was also influenced by Byzantine painting, as he visited many monasteries and painted images of saints, around 2005-2006. The intense and otherworldly symbolism of the colors would be particularly fruitful for those who studied non-figurative painting, such as the golden depth (or golden plain) that is not found in nature, as the philosopher of the Paris Diaspora Costas Papaioannou underlines (Byzantine and Russian painting, Athens 2007, p. 82-83): “it is a substance that lies beyond any natural coloring”, since “shining gold – the only color that is never found in nature – strips space, matter, bodies, from everything that could hint at the extent, the gravity, the contingencies of an earthly existence”. With his work, Vasilios Poulos does not narrate but transmits pure emotion, completely mastering his mastered technique and using expressionistic tools, such as brushes and squeegees, painting on a canvas that is always fixed very firmly to offer him the greatest possible resistance. What he seeks and achieves is a painting that is open and accessible, able to render the changes of atmospheric light and seasons, without insisting on their detailed depiction. He will describe himself as “a simple Greek-American artist, who travels”.

Anestis Melidonis
Art Historian
Scientific Associate of the Hellenic Diaspora Foundation