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A Conversation with the Artist

By Tom Durgin

Have any of the places you've lived and the experiences you’ve had influenced your art in a particular way?

The beaches and ocean have always been my solace, my beloved places as I grew up in San Diego, as they were in Patras. I have always been interested in psychology, philosophy, and spirituality. To me the beach was my mother, the ocean my father, the whole beach/ocean experience was heaven on earth. And children playing on the beach are all of us in our true spiritual home. So I started painting children, my most passionately enduring subject, and the ocean. My own children and their friends were my models many times over. I believe in the spiritual integrity of children. As adults we wear many masks, often convincing ourselves of their veracity. I like to paint children because they manifest our true reality.

What are your earliest recollections of your passion for art?

I have always been an artist. I used to draw in the sandy dirt of the walled-in garden behind the house where I lived as a very young child in Greece. As a young adult I learned that many of my Greek relatives were artistically talented in one discipline or another, but I am the only painter that I know of. I decided to become a painter after viewing a large oil of a young girl by William Bouguereau at the San Diego Museum of Art. It was my first visit to an art museum and I remember standing in front of this painting while holding my father’s hand. Although I was only five, I knew that Bouguereau saw the spiritual essence of the girl-child. I continued to visit this painting for years.

Did you begin as a painter or have you explored other forms as well?

I started by drawing in the dirt and on the windowpanes, and finally was given paper and pencil when I got to the U.S. I started painting in oil and watercolor in childhood. For my sixteenth birthday my parents bought me an easel and an arsenal of art supplies. I’m still painting on that same easel. I have also worked extensively in pastel (mostly for portraits). My hands are very delicate and sensitive and I never felt comfortable with clay or metal or any other medium which needed force or changed the feeling in my hands. My sense of composition and color are subtle and intuitive and require freedom of thought. Oils are sensitive to every nuance of pressure from the brush and the colors are variable in the extreme. Changes are easy in this medium and spirit can hold sway.

Where and with who have you studied?

I attended San Diego State College where I earned essentially a double degree – Art and Psychology. For Art I mostly took courses in Fashion Design and Illustration. I also took a lot of Life Drawing. Most of my instruction in painting I received by studying the Masters in the San Diego Museum of Art. I did this on my own until I moved to Berkeley and studied Art History as a graduate student. Then I studied the Masters at the Museums in San Francisco.

Who has influenced your art? Were you influenced by a particular period or style?

As a college student in the 70s I was subjected to the extreme bias of the university fine art programs which held forth that painting was obsolete. Radical political statement, multi-media, installation art was in style. My paintings were misunderstood and ridiculed by my professors who were all abstract expressionists of one kind or another. There was still some traditional painting being taught in private art colleges, but I didn’t have the money for any of these schools. So I haunted the museums, brought home stacks of art books and prints and learned by copying the paintings of my favorite artists. These include but are not limited to Peter Paul Rubens, Jan Vermeer, Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Claude Monet, August Renoir, and Mary Cassatt. But the most influential of all to me were William Bouguereau, Elizabeth Gardner, and Joaquin Sorolla

How long have you been at this professionally (not necessarily profitably!)?

I have been drawing and painting professionally since I was child. I was always asked to provide the publication illustrations for the school plays and various other school functions. I can hardly remember my first portrait. I think it was of a pet. I would be asked to draw or paint a portrait of a person or a pet quite often and get paid for this service. This went on all through my school years. While still in elementary school I designed and sewed a line of clothes for my sister’s Barbie doll. And to accompany the line I made an illustrated catalogue of the clothes with Barbie and her friends as models. That was fun. I moved out of my parent’s home at 19 and earned most of my income from portraits.  I was accepted to exhibit at the San Diego Art Institute while still in college and have been selling paintings via art galleries ever since. A list of all the galleries in which I’ve exhibited paintings can be found on my website. I also continued to paint numerous portraits professionally and have lost count of how many I’ve done and for whom.

Sometimes painting has been profitable, but I was a very slow painter for many years and had trouble keeping up with the demand for my work. And galleries are notorious for closing down or changing management and/or venue. Also I was a wife and mother for many years. Now my three children are grown into fine and independent adults. I have more time and freedom to work these days. This summer and for the foreseeable future my paintings will be in the Day Hill Studio Fine Art Gallery in Cape Cod, The Atelier Gallery in Sarasota, Florida, and the Grantham Stonewall Gallery in New Hampshire.   

Where have you lived, and where do you live now?

I was born in Greece and shortly lived in Patras, a port town. I came to this country as a young child of five, and grew up in San Diego, also by the ocean. I got married and moved to Berkeley in 1974. We then moved to Santa Barbara, where my oldest son, Konrad was born in 1980. Then we moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area where we settled for a while in Benicia. While living there my daughter Eileen was born. In 1988, we moved to Roswell, Georgia, where my youngest son Cliff was born. After four years we moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut for one year, then up here to Wells River, Vermont.

I started visiting Wells River as a child because my father was born and raised here and still owns his family home, in which I live now. I love the beauty and magical quality of these mountains and rivers and lakes. The spirit of the land speaks to me everywhere here. I also appreciated the safety and the friendliness of these towns.

Here I love to paint the pristine spiritual essence of the landscape as I see it. Even here, however, my attraction to water has asserted itself and my most recent landscapes are mostly of the lakes and rivers.

What direction do you see your art going in the next five years or so?

I see myself painting more with fewer distractions. I would like to travel the world enjoying inspiration wherever I find it. I will probably continue to paint children and water scenes, but I plan to incorporate other ethnic cultures. Also I am getting back to figure painting with a series of nudes. Some of these compositions I see as the nude figure near or in water. I have already begun work on these.

November, 2005