Jean Xceron

Jean Xceron

Greek / American
1890 – 1967


Ioannis Xirokostas, known as Jean Xceron, was born in the village of Isari, Arcadia, in 1890. His father Petros Xirokostas was a blacksmith. From an early age, Xceron came into contact with Greek history and Byzantine tradition, creating murals with portraits of revolutionary heroes in his family home, sculptures made of pieces of iron, copper wire and other materials from his father's shop as well as engravings on stone. In 1904, he moved to Pittsburgh, USA, with his family. For the following 6 years, he worked at some of his relatives’ small businesses as a salesman, polisher and cleaner in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and New York. At the same time, he painted portraits for the Greek community. In 1910, he moved to Washington, D.C. and, in 1912, he enrolled in Corcoran School of Art where he studied classical antiquity as well as the Early Christian mosaics of Ravenna, while working with plaster casts and watercolors. During this period, his interest in the developments in the field of contemporary art arose when he encountered works from the Alfred Stieglitz collection for the first time on the occasion of an exhibition organized by his classmates George Lohr and Charles Logasa in 1916. In 1920, he moved to New York and became friends with artists Joaquin Torres-Garcia, Max Weber, Abraham Walkowitz and Joseph Stella. For the following two years, he participated in the New York Independents’ exhibitions held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York and focused on the study of European artistic movements, emphasizing on Cezanne's work. He then started reducing realistic details in his paintings and approaching his subjects using cubist elements. Meanwhile, he met Mary Dorros whom he later married, and established close contact with her brother Theodore, a writer and intellectual who actively contributed to his development. In 1927, he traveled to Paris where he remained for the next 10 years. He wrote as an art critic for the Boston Evening Transcript and the Chicago Tribune in Paris and was immediately accepted in the modern artistic circles of the city, having written articles for artists such as Piet Mondrian, Theo Van Doesburg, Fernard Léger, Hans Arp and Mikhail Larionov, whose studios he frequently visited. Up until the early years of his stay in Paris, his work was only known to Joaquin Torres-Garcia, Theodore Dorros, Tériade, Michael Tombros and Christian Zervos, until the latter, as the publisher of the magazine Cahiers d'Art, organized his first solo exhibition at the Galerie de France in 1931 presenting a series of post-cubist canvases on which he revealed for the first time his tendencies to move away from fixed form, replacing rectangular with curvilinear forms, adopting the rhythmical motion of the line and using mainly shades of gray. In the following years, he focused on the purely geometrical rendering of space and introduced the first structural patterns and grids into his works. Gradually, his paintings acquired more complex forms and vibrant colors in combination with bold black lines, while light emitted from the colors themselves and spread towards the edges of each form. These were the primary expressive means that established him and remained the same for the rest of his career. By the mid-1930s, he had already joined the artist groups Cercle et Carré, Abstraction-Création and Surindépendants. In 1935, he exhibited at the Garland Gallery in New York and came into contact with David Smith and James Johnson Sweeney, who promoted his work. In 1937, he exhibited at the Nierendorf Gallery, where Hilla von Rebay, the former director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, acquired his work. He then moved to New York, joined the group of American Abstract Artists (AAA) and became one of the few abstract artists of his time with an international reputation participating in national competitions. He was subsequently hired by the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration in order to design an abstract mural for the chapel at the Rikers Island Penitentiary, which contrasted with the hitherto program’s preference in artists of Social Realism. In 1939, he began working at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, a position he would hold until the end of his life. In the following years, while being and working among the leading artists of the Greek American community such as Polygnotos Vagis, Kimon Nicolaides, Aristodimos Kaldis, George Constant, Theodoros Stamos, William Baziotis, Peter Voulkos and Michael Lekakis, he stood out as a pioneer of his kind and remained committed to exploring the possibilities of geometric abstract painting, which few have represented with corresponding ingenuity. In 1965, a retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and, in 1966, the National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum of Athens acquired his works from an exhibition held at the Zappeion exhibition hall of Athens, co-organized by the Ministry of Education and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. He passed away in New York in 1967. Among other spaces, he exhibited solo at the following art venues: the Galerie Percier (1933, 1934) in Paris, the Museum of New Mexico (1948) in Santa Fe, the UCLA Art Gallery (1949) in California, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (1949) in California, the Henry Art Gallery (1949) in Washington, D.C., the Janis Gallery (1950) in New York, the Rose Fried Gallery (1955, 1957, 1960) in New York, the Newcomb College (1957) in Louisiana. His works can be found in the collections of art institutes and museums such as: the Cahiers d’Art in Paris, the Phillips Memorial Gallery in Washington, D.C., the MoMA in New York, the Museum of Living Art in New York, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts of the University of Georgia, the Berkshire Museum in Massachusetts, the Carnegie Institute in Pennsylvania, the Smith College in Massachusetts, the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe in Germany, the Tel-Aviv Museum in Israel. He has also received a high honor for his contribution to art from the Greek state.