The enigma of G. Steris

For more than 30 years, all trace of the painter Gerassimos Steris (1898-1987) had been lost. Nobody in Greece knew where he was and when an exhibition of his work traveled from the Munich Glyptothek to the National Gallery of Athens in 1982, Steris did not show up to witness the belated acknowledgment of his work in the country where he was born and raised. To this day, little is known of the life of Gerassimos Steris. But his work has been appraised as an important part of modern Greek art of the interwar period. «Steris: Works from the Koutoulakis Collection,» a large exhibition which opened recently at the Pireos annex of the Benaki Museum (and is curated by Natassa Karagelou in collaboration with Maria Sari), reveals the full scope of his work and unravels the artistic imagination behind this mysterious personality. Showings of the film «Gerassimos Steris,» by Gay Angeli, have been arranged for May 2. Another exhibition on Steris opens at the Alpha Bank Cultural Center in Nafplion on June 11 and runs to October. Drawn from the Alpha Bank collection, it includes a selection of drawings on mythological subjects from the period 1931-1936. From the scant information available on the life of Steris, one gains the impression of a remote figure. He changed his name twice and spent most of his life abroad, in Paris and later New York and Hollywood, where he worked for Paramount Pictures. Even his second wife did not learn his true identity until shortly after his death. In New York he was initially known as a French artist going by the name of George de Steris. When he became an American citizen in 1949 he changed his name to Guelfo Ammon d’Este. In New York he was entrusted with the decoration of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral and made a large wall painting for the pharmacy of his friend Alfred Lippe. He made a living by teaching art and from 1965 by dealing in art. Paintings, engravings and old books, mainly by French artists and authors, were his specialty. He also became increasingly interested in writing about art, including his own work, rather than actually painting. His early works are probably the most imaginative. They include portraits, drawings of nude figures and images of the Greek landscape. There is also a distinctive series of paintings inspired by the Homeric epics. Some of these works bring to mind the work of Giorgio de Chirico but also reveal a certain influence from cubism. This blending of different styles and influences continues in the works of the later period. Abstract, minimal portraits of nude figures become a recurring theme. In some works, Steris drew only the outlines of the human body on a monochromatic background. They are probably the most interesting works of his mature period. They are the epilogue to the work of an artist with an idiosyncratic personality and an uneven artistic output. At the Benaki Museum’s Pireos St annex (138 Pireos, 210.345.3338) to July 27.