“What are you going to be when you grow up?” actress Marika Kotopouli asked 12-year-old Demosthenis (Dimos) Skoulakis while visiting the boy’s parents in the family’s Athens home in the early 1950s. “An artist,” he responded without hesitation. “Yannis, come meet a colleague,” she said laughing to her friend, the artist Yannis Tsarouchis.
Little did she know that this was exactly what the boy would do when he grew up, battling for a place in the classes of Athens School of Fine Arts masters such as Giorgos Mavroidis and Yiannis Moralis against the opposition of his father who had barged into his room one day and destroyed all his paintings and implements in a fit of rage.
Skoulakis died in 2014, leaving behind a fascinating and multifaceted oeuvre and a reputation for being one of those understated artists who aren’t interested in the spotlight. Modest to the marrow, occasionally self-destructive and a political animal in the Aristotelian sense, his talent shone whether he was drawing satirical cartoons or creating a painting, yet he remains largely overlooked.
A new show at the Benaki Museum’s Pireos Street annex aims to rectify that by reintroducing this wonderful artist to the public. The exhibition, comprising dozens of works representing every phase of his 50-year career, reveals an artist who is not just a pre-eminent representative of the 1970s generation, but also a painter with a profound knowledge of art history and an equally profound sense of humor.
The exhibition is curated by Eleni Athanasiou, who has succeeded in providing a comprehensive understanding of Skoulakis’s trajectory as a man and as an artist, through 100-plus works arranged in themed sections, as well as a chronology.
“Demosthenis Skoulakis: An Artist of Contradictions” runs through May 5 and is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue in Greek and English.