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Culture

Greek-American Artist George Stavrinos Remembered 30 Years after His Death

NEW YORK – Greek-American artist George Stavrinos (1948-90) was profiled recently in Kathimerini for his impressive career and contributions to fashion illustration thirty years after his untimely death at the age of 42 due to complications of AIDS. With his remarkable attention to detail and impressive craftmanship, he elevated fashion illustration to fine art.

Bradford Hamann, assistant professor of graphic design at Shepherd University, wrote that “Stavrinos revolutionized fashion illustration, proving that it could be ‘imbued with dramatic content, it could be monumental in feel, and it could stand as ‘Art’ in the truest sense of the word,’” Kathimerini reported.

Stavrinos’ art may be classified as part of the Superrealism movement of the late 1960s and early 70s in which “art approaches the realism of photography,” Kathimerini reported.

According to Hamann, it involved “such painstaking detail, that he ultimately came to use an F lead mechanical pencil almost exclusively,” Kathimerini reported, noting that “his process began with hundreds of photographs of his model in various poses and at various focal lengths using a Polaroid SX-70. He would then create an environment around the model that included a variety of shapes and materials, such as pottery, fans, lights and various geometric designs.”

Stavrinos’ niece Cynthia Morakis Pursley was “privileged to draw with her uncle, as well as watch him work,” and “especially recalls the time he placed his model in his bathtub because he liked the tile as background,” Kathimerini reported.

Stavrinos was born in Somerville, MA to Greek immigrant parents, who came to America for a better life like so many immigrants. “His father ran the Sunrise Diner in South Boston, and his mother, an excellent seamstress, assembled soldiers’ uniforms during World War II,” Kathimerini reported, adding that “their history was a painful one” and “to escape persecution and likely death after repeated pogroms by Turkish irregulars and the Turkish army, they fled their homes on the Aegean coast of Asia Minor where Greeks had lived for thousands of years.”

Stavrinos’ father, Theophilos John Stavrinos, was born in the town of Reis Dere near Smyrna, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1916 at age 16, Kathimerini reported, noting that “George’s mother, Asemo Davazoglou, born in Alatsata, also near Smyrna, took her ailing sister’s place on the ship to be with her brothers, who had already settled in the Boston area.”

Both Theophilos and Asemo had “survived the 1914 pogrom and massacre in the region,” Kathimerini reported, adding that “Asemo’s family fled to the Greek island of Chios, with some members ultimately coming to America, others settling in Chios, and others still moving to the island of Crete.”

Settling in Massachusetts, they were a typical Greek-American family, active in the Greek Orthodox Church of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary in Somerville, where the young George served as an altar boy and attended Greek school, becoming fluent in Greek, Kathimerini reported, noting that “his murals for school plays and pageants still adorn the church walls.”

Stavrinos was the youngest of seven children, five sisters and two brothers, and his eldest sister was 21 years older than him, Kathimerini reported, adding that “he clearly was, and still is, adored by siblings, nephews and nieces, who miss him and hope to foster appreciation for his work. Surrounded by his art in their homes, George continues to be an important part of their lives.”

With a scholarship from the Tiffany Foundation of New York, Stavrinos studied graphics at the Rhode Island School of Design, “distinguishing himself as a star student,” Kathinerini reported, adding that he was “accepted into an honors program, also spent a semester in Rome studying architecture and fashion design… [and] traveled to Crete, meeting the side of the family that had settled there, delving into studying and drawing the architectural elements of the Minoan Palace at Knossos.”

Following his graduation, Stavrinos “spent time in Boston and Philadelphia, taking on a variety of assignments, finally moving to New York in 1973, creating illustrations for the travel section of The New York Times and its Sunday Magazine,” and “in March 1974, his first fashion spread appeared in the Times,” Kathimerini reported, adding that he  freelanced with Pushpin Studios, and “took on high-end clients such as Bonwit Teller, Gentlemen’s Quarterly, and Keio Stores in Japan.”

In 1984, Stavrinos “created a series of character drawings for the New York City Opera’s promotional campaign,” Kathimerini reported, noting that “in addition to fashion, Stavrinos also drew book covers, including for a mystery series by Gore Vidal, published under an alias.. [and] also contributed to LGBT art. His illustrations were published in numerous gay magazines, including Christopher Street, Blueboy, and Gay Source: A Catalog for Men.”

Though his life was cut tragically short, Stavrinos was a prolific artist and was posthumously honored with in 2007 “when he was elected to the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame,” Kathimerini reported, adding that “in 2013, the Museum of American Illustration showcased his work in The Vision of George Stavrinos, an exhibition of over 100 illustrations highlighting his innate artistic ability and brilliant career.”

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