Lucas Samaras

Lucas Samaras

Greek / American
1936 -


Lucas Samaras was born in Kastoria in 1936. With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, his father, who worked as a furrier, remained in the United States, where he had been for business. As a result Samaras experienced the tragic events of this period, as well as the Greek Civil War, growing up with his mother, his grandmother and his two aunts. The family finally reunited in 1948, when Samaras and his mother moved to the United States. In high school, he focused on art and experimented with watercolors, pastels, oil paintings, clay and paper compositions. In 1955, he studied on a scholarship at the Rutgers University School of Fine Arts and Sciences in New Brunswick, following a recommendation from Allan Kaprow, who became his teacher and mentor. He also studied informally under George Segal and Robert Whitman. At the same time, he studied literature, acting and art history and participated in plays and musicals at the Queen's Theater. His earliest creations include abstract and figurative works, mainly oil paintings and pastels with still lives and portraits. During this period, he experimented with silver and bright phosphorescent colors as well with the use of aluminum foil, which he would repeat in his future works. In 1959, he was awarded a scholarship from the Woodrow Wilson Center and enrolled in the undergraduate Art History department of Columbia University. In the same year, he appeared in Allan Kaprow's happenings and was awarded a scholarship from the Stella Adler Drama School in New York, where he studied for two years. At the same time, he built small-scale objects, initially using plaster, began writing short stories such as “Pythia helps the Three-Legged Man” and held his first solo exhibition at the Reuben Gallery in New York. In the following year, he continued participating in happenings by other artists such as Red Grooms, Jim Dine, Claes Oldenburg and Robert Whitman. In 1961, he participated in the exhibition The Art of Assemblage at the MoMA in New York with the work Untitled, 1960 – 1961, which the museum later added to its collection. In 1962, he created the first of a series of numbered boxes, Box #1; the series was concluded in 1972. He used feathers, mirrors, plaster and nails in order to make the boxes. At a later stage, he added other disparate and sharp objects such as knives, forks, plastic flowers, stuffed birds, scissors, blades and pins. In 1965, he created his first installation/room with mirrors, known as the Mirrored Room, and, in 1966, the series Transformation: Eyeglasses, the first series of sculptures where ordinary objects were modified through various methods. In 1967, he participated in the exhibition American Sculpture of the Sixties at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, including the installation Mirrored Corridor, which was specially designed for the interior of the building. In 1969, he was invited to teach as a visiting professor-critic at the Yale School of Art. During this period, he also produced the series Chair Transformations, transforming chairs in a variety of ways while also launching the photo series AutoPolaroids, 1969, which he presented in a publication with two or more rows of photos. In these photos he depicted himself in various poses expressing his personal and existential quests. His obsessive involvement with his own image is also evident in the film he directed in collaboration with Kim Levin entitled Self, 1968, and in a series of works that followed. In 1972 – 1973, his first major retrospective exhibition was held at the Whitney Museum in New York, for which he designed the almost labyrinthine plan and supervised the installation procedure. In 1973, he launched a second series of works with polaroids entitled Photo-transformations, interfering with the delicate surface of the photos and distorting the original image, often to the point where figures and shapes were no longer visible. He achieved this either by the innovation of controlled, handmade deformation, or by using filters, thus attributing to the photographic image design, engraving or even painting features. In 1975, he created the series of designs Matrix from graphite and later in silver and bronze color on black cardboard. In the same year, he participated in the exhibition Eight Artists, Eight Attitudes, Eight Greeks as part of the Greek Month at the London ICA curated by Christos M. Joachimides and Norman Rosenthal. In 1976, he began working with a sewing machine for the series Reconstructions, with pieces of fabric he stitched in order to make them look like mosaics. In 1978, he created three new photo series, the Still Lives, which included self-portraits with autobiographical elements, and the Figures and Sittings, with portraits of sitting friends and acquaintances surrounded by bright lighting and fancy fabrics. In 1982, he further developed his methodology with the series Panoramas, which are compositions and reconstructions of images (self-portraits, still life and spaces) of thin photo strips. He then experimented with the dimensions of photography, resulting in the creation of the series Ultra Large, 1983, known for the evocative size of the pieces. In 1983, the touring exhibition Samaras: Photos Polaroid Photographs, 1969 – 1983 was held by the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Since 2001, he began the digital manipulation of his photographs. In 2003, he produced the series Photofictions and, in 2004, the Photoflicks, short videos he edited on his computer. An integral part of his overall work is his self-referentiality and the personal need to investigate himself with a psychoanalytic, voyeuristic, raw and at the same time self-complacent look. He has participated in a number of solo and group exhibitions, in Documenta 4, 5 & 6 (1968, 1972, 1977) in Kassel, and represented Greece at the Venice Biennale in 2009. Retrospective exhibitions of his work have been organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art (2003 – 2004), the National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum (2005) in Athens, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago (1971), the Denver Art Museum (1981 – 1983 & 1988), as well as the Yokohama Museum of Art (1991 – 1992). His works can be found in collections such as those of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Tate Britain in London and many more. He lives and works in New York.