Yannis Gaitis

Yannis Gaitis

1923 - 1984


Yannis Gaitis was born in Athens. An indication of his appeal to painting is the fact that when he was 16 years old a drawing of his was published in the newspaper I Vradini. From 1942 to 1948, he studied at the Athens School of Fine Arts under Konstantinos Parthenis. In 1944, he held his first solo exhibition in his studio which was located in his house. Since then, his studio became a meeting point of personalities from the field of arts and literature such as Miltos Sachtouris, Yannis Tsarouchis, Minos Argyrakis and Odysseas Elytis. In 1947, he participated in an exhibition at the Parnassos Literary Society in Athens with 34 paintings depicting elements of cubism and surrealism; however, the critics were not positive. In the same year, he founded, together with Alekos Kontopoulos, the group of artists Akraioi [Extremes] which was opposed to academic realist art. Since 1950, he also started working as a costume and stage designer. In 1954, he presented pieces he had created in the previous 7 years (oil paintings, watercolors and designs with a geometric and expressionist character, biomorphic and abstract sculptures) at an exhibition held at the Kentrikon hotel; the catalog’s preface was written by Angelos Prokopiou. The exhibition sparked debate and disagreement, but also became one of the reasons for him to leave Greece. In the same year, he married sculptor Gabriella Simosi, who had become a source of inspiration for his works since he had met her at the Athens School of Fine Arts; a month later, they moved together in Paris. Gaitis studied at the École des Beaux-Arts and at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and focused on producing works in the style of gestural, amorphous art and experimenting through the reproduction of abstract works of art. In 1955, he started participating in group exhibitions in France, such as the Artistes étrangers en France (1955) at the Petit Palais, and the Première exposition internationale d'art plastique contemporain (1956) at the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts. In 1957, his first solo exhibition in Paris was organized by the Diderot gallery and, in the same year, he presented his work at the group exhibition Micro Salon d'avril at the Iris Clert gallery, along with artists such as César, Max Ernst, Jean Fautrier, Pablo Picasso. In 1958, his daughter Loretta was born. In the following year, he exhibited the series Foliage, 1959, at the Zygos gallery, which was entirely based on art informel. In 1962, he became a member of the group Kentra [Centers] in order to coexist and collaborate with the artists who were members of it. At the same time, he produced works with his body and used his innate spontaneity as a basic tool. Since 1964, he started taking his first steps towards a new proposal regarding figurative painting and participated in a series of exhibitions organized by Gérald Gassiot-Talabot, a theoretician in narrative figuration. The opening exhibition was Mythologie Quotidienne, where he exhibited works depicting imaginary places with fantastic beings at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. In 1967, his creations, clearly politicized, stood openly against the Colonels' dictatorship in Greece, such as the work Tiens!, The Assassination of Freedom and Military Men where a group of soldiers shoot a dove. During the same period, he spent some time in Brazil and presented his new work at galleries and at the São Paulo Biennale. A milestone year for his career was 1968 because it was when he introduced the “little man”, the most representative element of his practice, a figure without a face, sometimes solitary and sometimes repetitive, usually depicted in side view. He placed it in contexts such as the circus, parades, fairs, social events, amusement parks and squares as well as in situations that refer to homogenization, mass consumption and isolation social phenomena. In 1969, he started dating artist Anni Kostopoulou, who became his life partner. He worked on his first installations and developed the form of the little man on canvas and by using wood. After two years, a film dedicated to his work entitled Gaitis le Baladin, 1971, filmed by Serge Bergon. In 1973, he exhibited an installation with wooden life-sized men at the exhibition Olympiacos – Panathinaikos at the Desmos Art Gallery, and a year later, he exhibited at the exhibition Exhibition and viewers, Lecture, and Funeral of Painting at the same art space. In 1974, the Circle Gallery organized a touring exhibition in the USA, after which Gaitis returned to Greece. In the same year, he experimented with the settings he presented his work, seeking to reach a wider audience. As a result, he gave life to his little men in public places such as at a happening at the Patras Carnival and at a parade in Brussels as part of the 1982 Europalia. In 1983, his retrospective exhibition was held at the Minion department store in Athens, but after a while he got seriously ill and went to New York. He did not stop working; instead he continued producing self-portraits that reflected his condition. He returned to Greece the following year, attending a retrospective exhibition of his work at the The National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum in Athens shortly before its inauguration. He passed away in Athens six days after the opening of the exhibition. Besides his artistic activity, Gaitis also designed sets, created toys, furniture, plates and textiles, while designers such as Yannis Tseklenis reproduced his work in their creations. His most recent retrospective exhibition took place at the Benaki Museum (2006) in Athens. An important monograph regarding his work is Yannis Gaitis: “A Revolutionary Creator” (1980) by Polyplano editions, while the most recent one is Yannis Gaitis (2009) and belongs to the series Modern Greek Visual Artists by the Lambrakis Press Group publications.