New York

Theodoros Stamos

André Emmerich

At exactly mid-century, Life Magazine pointed to those young artists whose work would mark the second half of the 1900s in America. Among the disclosures was a young Abstract Expressionist, Theodoros Stamos—a lyrical and evocative painter. The lyricism has remained—a kind of Italianate nostalgia realized through a highly nuanced color. But, my disappointment in Stamos’s recent offerings will be better understood if I contend that as pictures they are little removed from the pedantic organizations typical of the Yale School of Fine Arts of the early ’50s. I have the abstractions of Neil Welliver (who has long renounced this mode) in mind. The present Stamoses are nowhere. The scale varies from authentic modest to quasi-ambitious. The lyricism is now purely a function of color as distinguished from gesture, figure or shape—as was once true of Stamos. The color is both visually and emotionally familiar: warm earth, brickish pinks, slaty blues and tilish greens. This studied sensitivity—so heavily in the debt of Baziotes—is equally reliant on Mark Rothko who also provided the compositional structure, a quintessential landscape of earth, horizon and sky. What all this appears to mean is that Stamos, like several other Abstract Expressionists of second rank, is returning to devices which had been established during the heroic years of the movement. This impenitent reworking—I take it to be an avowal of creative impoverishment—may have received additional support in Stamos’s mind owing to the more curious and challenging “Open” paintings by Robert Motherwell, pictures which are superficially similar to these, but in which the figure/ground relationship is explored in a more intellectually stimulating way.

If you think that paintings exist in and of themselves alone, with no stylistic or historical accesses, evolutions or linkages of any kind, then I suspect that you will regard Stamos’s latest paintings with greater charity. But if you regard pictures as a quilt of stylistically interconnected pressures, then I suspect that your view of Stamos’s work will be closer to mine—namely, that the present Stamoses have remanded a once widely acknowledged and merited promise. They are just too little from a man so big.

Robert Pincus-Witten