Picture of the Week: Hypodermia in Red and Gold by Aris Koutroulis

June 4, 2023

Hypodermia in Red and Gold, Aris Koutroulis, Cass Corridor, 1974, lithograph, 31 x 27 1/2 in.

Aris Koutroulis is a Greek American artist and educator. He was born in Athens, Greece in 1938. Koutroulis grew up during the bombings and the Axis Occupation of Greece during World War II, which began in April 1941. He was interested in the visual and performing arts from a young age, drawing and playing the flute. Koutroulis moved to the United States with his mother and sister at age 15; His father had been living there since 1939, and his older brother soon joined the rest of the family. Koutroulis and his family initially lived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; his focus at the time was adapting to American life, as opposed to connecting with the Greek community. He enrolled in Louisiana State University, where he studied Fine Arts and was awarded a music scholarship. By his third year of undergraduate studies, he abandoned music to focus solely on the visual arts. He primarily painted landscapes as a student but was also introduced to printmaking during this time. Koutroulis graduated from Louisiana State in 1961. Following his graduation, he took preparatory courses at the John Herron School of Art in Indianapolis. While there, Koutroulis met Garo Antreasian, the co-founder of Tamarind Lithography Workshop. Koutroulis continued his study of printmaking in 1963, when he was accepted to Tamarind in Los Angeles, California under a Ford Foundation scholarship. He spent two years at Tamarind, where he had the opportunity to strengthen his lithography skills and observe the art of John McLaughlin, Sam Francis, Josef Albers, Jasper Johns, Georgia O’Keefe, Peter Takal, Louise Nevelson, and Philip Guston, along with artists who worked for Picasso, Braque, and Joan Miro. 

Koutroulis’s connection to Michigan began in 1964, when he was awarded a full scholarship for graduate studies at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, MI; He also taught lithography while attending Cranbrook. Koutroulis focused on line in his artwork during this time, which became one of his focuses throughout the rest of his career. Specifically, he was interested in analyzing the “expressive potential” of line. Koutroulis also composed many lithographs during this period, which were “almost exclusively in small scale and abstract style, influenced by the art of Joan Miro, Paul Klee, Julius Bissier and Mark Tobey.” He has described these works as “completely intuitive, without any reference to logic and oriented towards a visual representation of the music (especially Bach), intensified by the placement of the colors.” Koutroulis suffered from a nervous breakdown in 1965, yet in 1966, he earned his master’s degree and was hired as “associate professor in the newly established lithography laboratory of the Wayne State University Art Department.” In addition to teaching lithography at Wayne State, Koutroulis “also designed a paper making and processing machine and taught handmade paper making.” Moreover, Koutroulis also had his first solo exhibition that same year, at the Hanamura Gallery in Detroit, which is known today as the Kayrod Gallery at the Hannan Center. Along with teaching at Wayne State, Koutroulis also taught at the College for Creative Studies; He was invited to lead their Painting Department in 1976, “and became a full Professor and appointed Chairman of the Fine Arts Department in 1980.”

Koutroulis was the recipient of many awards throughout his career. These include the National Endowment for the Arts, Michigan Council for the Arts, Ford Foundation and Mellon Foundation Awards, and the prestigious Michigan Foundation for the Arts award. His artwork has been featured in exhibitions throughout the United States, Greece, and Japan. Koutroulis’s work is also part of the collection of many prestigious institutions, such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and the Detroit Institute of Arts, among many others. Koutroulis passed away in 2013 but will forever be remembered as a great artist and educator. 

In the 1970s, Koutroulis composed works that possessed “influences from abstract expressionism, automatism, and gestural painting.” This is evident in his 1974 lithograph Hypodermia in Red and Gold. Koutroulis layers splatters of gold and red ink in an arch formation across the upper portion of the composition. He maintains remnants of the arches with tiny splatters that trickle down to the bottom of the composition. The gold ink is much more subtle, which accentuates the brightness of the red ink. Perhaps the red ink could be interpreted as blood; this could also be supported by the title of the work. “Hypodermia” brings to mind a hypodermic needle, which is used to inject substances or extract fluids from the body, including blood. Despite the use of abstraction, the blood interpretation may offer a personal component to this work. As mentioned previously, Koutroulis grew up during a tumultuous period in Greece: during the bombings and the Axis Occupation of Greece in World War II. It may also be a reflection on the violence and racial injustice during the 1960s and 1970s in the United States, along with the bloodshed of the Vietnam War. Koutroulis’s abstract rendition of bloodshed may commemorate the lives lost all over the world throughout his lifetime. His choice of abstraction represents the lost lives in a dignified manner by omitting the naturalistic details of literal flesh and gore.

Written by Angela Athnasios

Sources: https://www.annexgalleries.com/artists/biography/1288/Koutroulis/Aris




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