Mario Prassinos

Mario Prassinos

1916 - 1985


Mario Prassinos was born in 1916 in Constantinople to a Greek family who emigrated to Paris in 1922 in order to escape persecutions by Atatürk’s regime. His father’s rich library introduced young Prassinos to the artistic and literary movements of the time. In 1932, he studied at the École des Langues Orientales. At the same time, he frequented Charles Dullin’s theater workshop and Clément Serveau’s studio, and created his first artworks. Those artworks were distinguished for their surrealistic traits, they also revealed his particular interest in the emergence, deconstruction and reconstruction of images deriving from memories and the subconscious. In 1934, he studied at the Faculté des Lettres in Paris and socialized with surrealist artists and poets. In 1936, the year his father died, he began abandoning surrealism, studied engraving and made his first attempts at creating portraits of animals and persons, such as Bessie Smith. In 1937, he exhibited at the Salon des Surindépendants alongside Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and André Masson and, the following year, he held his first solo exhibition at the Billiet-Pierre Vorms gallery. In 1941, after returning from World War II where he had voluntarily enlisted in the French army, he settled in Paris. Shortly thereafter, he became friends with Michel, Raymond and Gaston Gallimard as well as with Raymond Queneau. This is when his long-standing collaboration with N.R.F. publications began, during which he illustrated books written by Jean Paul Sartre, Guillaume Apollinaire, Albert Camus, Arthur Rimbaud, Edgar Allan Poe and other authors. Since 1948, he started exhibiting at the Galerie de France in Paris regularly and in 1949, he acquired French citizenship. In 1951, he bought a house in Eygalières, Provence, where he focused on tapestry design and on the production of paintings based on nature observation and experimentation with the technique of drip painting, making use of overlapping lines and ink stains on paper as a way of rendering an impression of an image. From then on, many series of artworks followed and, in 1961, Robert Lapoujade created the film L’image et le Moment dedicated to his work. Another central part of his career was the portraits he produced more systematically from 1962 to 1975. These were idiosyncratic portrayals of his father Lysandros, his grandfather Pretextat-Leconte as well as other personalities, who were either abstractly depicted by replacing density and contours with stacked marks and successive lines and layers, or drawn with distorting interventions and associative allegorical references. The succeeding theme units he engaged with were the Paysages Turcs, 1970 – 1981 [Turkish Landscapes], in which he depicted elusive figures from orchards, gardens, meadows, groves, parks and forests using black and white color on large surfaces in order to underline the difference between nature, his work and objective reality, and Les Arbres, 1980 – 1984 [The Trees]. In 1983, his retrospective exhibition was organized by the Presence Contemporaine in Aix-en-Provence and, in 1984, by the Musée de la Tapisserie in Aubusson, the École Nationale des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and the French Institute in Athens, Rhodes and Thessaloniki. He passed away in France in 1985. His last artworks were the Peintures du Supplice [Paintings of Torment], completed in 1986, for the chapel of Notre Dame de Pitié in Saint-Remy, Provence. The same year, the Donation Mario Prassinos collection was inaugurated, including 108 works he had donated to the French state in 1985. He has held numerous solo and group exhibitions in museums and art galleries located in almost all European countries and the USA. Moreover, he has also designed stage sets and costumes for plays at the Avignon Festival, the Theatre National de Paris and La Scala in Milan. In 1961, he was a professor at the École des Beaux-Arts in Luminy, Marseille. He has written texts and books on art such as Les Prétextats, 1973 published by Gallimard publications and La Colline Tatouée, 1983 published by Grasset publications. He has been awarded with the titles of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (1961), Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (1966) and Officier des Arts et des Lettres (1981). His works remain in the collections of the National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum and the National Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation (MIET) in Athens, the Centre Pompidou, the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Fonds National d’Art Contemporain in Paris, the Musée Picasso in Antibes, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the MoMA and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and many others. In 2005, the monograph Mario Prassinos was published by Actes Sud publications.