American, 20th century.
Born 1912, Kalymnos, Greece; died 1973, Chicago, Illinois.
The work of Drossos Skyllas conjoins an impassioned personal statement with largely familiar romantic imagery–nudes, children and pets, stylized landscape settings in over-the-top but earnest evocations of ideal beauty. As with many self-taught painters frequently called “naive”, the artist established a highly personal vision while responding to academic aesthetic conventions (especially those rooted in nineteenth-century stylistic verisimilitude) while simultaneously responding to familiar imagery of his contemporary popular culture.
Skyllas, who desired from childhood to be an artist but had to work in his father’s tobacco business, began painting when he immigrated to the United States after World War II. He devoted himself to art, largely supported by his wife. He failed, however, to find customers for his work, which he priced at rates based on those of the most successful contemporary artists. He completed only thirty-five oil on canvas paintings during his lifetime, in part because he strove to create works of such clarity and exactitude that would meet his advertised ideal of “pure, realistic paintings, one hundred percent like photographs.” In many of these works, Skyllas’s attempt at photorealistic precision takes the work far beyond realism into what appears like a kitsch-driven private fantasy. Nevertheless, the works are captivating, perhaps because the artist’s vision is so intense and personally authentic that he makes the conventional appear unconventional.
Indeed, Skyllas is one of the most powerful of naive artists, for like many such artists he communicates the passion of a life both seen and dreamed. The most frequent expression of this lived and imagined intensity is the extreme investment placed in every element of each painting. Every object, every brushstroke, carries exceptional meaning. If some comment on the surrealist quality of these works, we might rather speak of a super-realism, for Skyllas’ ideal bespeaks not only such a heightened visual response to his subjects that the works are infused with an aura of unnatural lucidity and more than just a suggestion of the artist’s unconscious desires, but an uncanny capturing of the mythic elements found within the popular imagery offered up by the ubiquitous modern media.
- Charles Russell
Selected Solo Exhibitions
1995, Self: The Paintings of Drossos P. Skyllas, Intuit: A Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Chicago, Illinois.
Selected Group Exhibitions
2018, Outliers and American Vanguard Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
American Folk Art Museum, New York
Intuit: A Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Chicago
Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee
Maresca, Frank and Roger Ricco, American Self-Taught: Paintings and Drawings by Outsider Artists, New York, Knopf, 1995.
Borum, Jenifer, "Spinning in a Lonely Orbit: The Works of Drossos P. Skyllas," Folk Art, Winter, 1993-94
Rosenak, Chuck and Nan, Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Folk Art and Artists, Abbeville Press, New York, 1990.