Yiannis Spyropoulos

Yiannis Spyropoulos

1912 -1990


Yiannis Spyropoulos was born in Pylos, Messinia, in 1912. He spent his childhood with his mother and her family in Diakofto. During his early school years, he expressed his interest in painting and created portraits of his grandparents. From 1930 to 1936, he was a student at the Athens School of Fine Arts under Umberto Argyros, Spyros Vikatos and Epaminondas Thomopoulos. In 1938, he won the 1st prize of the Academy of Athens competition for studies abroad and left for Paris with a three-year scholarship. While in Paris he studied at the École Supérieure des Beaux Arts under Charles Guérin. At the same time, he attended classes at the Colarossi and Julian academies and produced paintings in academic style. In 1940, he paused his studies and returned to Greece because of World War II. Six years later, he became a member of the Hellenic-French Youth Union and the artistic director of the Workers’ Housing Organization. In 1950, he held his first solo exhibition at the Parnassos Literary Society in Athens. That was the first time that the influence of the French school on his practice became evident. Since 1951, his practice started shifting towards abstraction, presenting images that expressed its principles and symbolized the internal structures of the material world and nature. In 1952, he met his future wife Zoe Margaritis, who would contribute to the development and promotion of his work. He also became a member of the group of artists Stathmi. In 1955, he participated in the Alexandria Biennale and, in 1957, in the São Paulo Biennial. During this period, he began collaborating with Herbert Mayer of the World House Galleries and, in 1959, he held a solo exhibition on their premises in New York. In 1958, his work Anafiotika represented Greece at an international competition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and, in 1959, through his friend and professor Michael Tombros, he discovered the work of sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Since 1960, he started shifting from the rigorous geometrical compositions towards the dynamism and vitality of gestural expression using condensed amounts of color and light cores on a dark canvas – these expressive peculiarities established him. In the same year, he represented Greece at the 30th Venice Biennale with the work Oracle, 1960, and won the UNESCO prize. This distinction marked his international recognition as his subsequent participations in solo and group exhibitions started to soar worldwide. In 1961, he held a solo exhibition at the Kursaal Oostende Education Center in Belgium and was awarded the Gold Medal of the City of Belgium. In the same year, he met with Henry Moore, Lynn Chadwick and Eduardo Paolozzi. In 1962, an extensive monograph regarding his work was published by Chrysanthos Christou. Since 1964, he started putting an emphasis on gesture and the surface of the canvas with various materials, while the use of paper, scrapes, color scratches and coatings became increasingly daring in his creations. In 1964, he participated in Documenta 3 in Kassel and in the touring exhibition entitled Spontaneity in Art in America of the American Federation of Arts. In 1966, he was awarded the title of Commander of the Royal Order of the Phoenix and, in 1969, he exhibited solo at the National Collection of Fine Arts of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1974, his life changed after a stroke and, in December 1976, he moved to a new home in Ekali, where he maintained a studio and an exhibition space. In 1978, he was awarded the Gottfried von Herder prize from the University of Vienna. Since 1980 until the end of his career, he also used fabrics, sacks and newspapers in his paintings. In 1986, his last solo exhibition was organized by the Nees Morfes Gallery in Athens. In 1989, the Workers’ Housing Organization published a book entitled Jannis Spyropoulos with an analysis of his work by art critic Effie Strouza. In May 1990, he died at his home in Ekali, which, in November of the same year, started operating as the Jannis & Zoe Spyropoulou Foundation, aiming at collecting, studying, presenting and managing Yiannis Spyropoulos's work and supporting young artists. Major retrospective exhibitions of his have been organized by the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art (1994) in Thessaloniki, the National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum (1995) in Athens and the Municipal Gallery of Patras (1998). His latest retrospective exhibition was held at the Benaki Museum (2010) in Athens.