The diligent and prolific Athos Zacharias epitomizes the artist who’s always working, always searching, even after more than 60 years of painting. His abstractions vibrate with energy. They’re lively and engaging, deeply rooted in the history of art, and colorful, much like the artist himself.
A who’s-who of 20th century artists—Larry Rivers, Grace Hartigan, Mark di Suvero, Milton Resnick and Franz Kline—slip into the consciousness of his thoughts on canvas. He knew them all and credits friends like those, as well Elaine and Willem de Kooning and Lee Krasner, nights at the Cedar Tavern, and a lifelong conversation with art for bringing him to his current place.
“I was Bill de Kooning’s assistant and Elaine’s assistant. I told her, ‘I think I’m between generations.’ She said, ‘Of course. You’ll always be between generations.’ I’m too young to be an Abstract Expressionist and Pop Art was blowing up in our faces. It was evident. It was there. It was real. So I grabbed, that’s what artists do…I squished them together.”
Cartoons and comics are major inspirations for his gestural paintings, which goes back to Pop, but he takes them somewhere surprisingly more current. “For a long time it was Warhol I thought of, because of his interesting color relationships. But when I saw The Simpsons, I said, ‘Yeah, they’re more to the point of what I’m trying to do.’ The humor is in the colors. It’s intertwined. They’re mavericks.”
Zacharias’ bravura brushstrokes, laid down with the confidence of experience, energize compositions that float atop candy-colored canvases of bright yellow, pink and turquoise. They’re a symbiosis of Ab-Ex and Pop, and they appear effortless. “Myself, my sense of humor, my relationship with American cartoons, especially The Simpsons, my history as a young Abstract Expressionist and all I learned from them—my paintings express what I’m feeling, what I know and my whole long history. You’re tied to what you are. It’s a long, long journey.”
Though he’s in his 92nd year, there’s nothing sedate in his work. An interplay of line, color, action and emotion balance with areas for the eye to rest. It’s a meditative experience to stand before a Zacharias.
“From my Abstract Expressionist side, we’re primarily involved in not thinking. I’ve been painting so long, thinking is the enemy. All I know about painting is in every stroke…what I have to think about is getting to the point immediately. Suddenly something in the painting ticks me off—a passage—and then I try to amplify that and develop it and bring out the personality of that painting.
“It’s painting in the now, taking chances…I can be free with my emotions and imagination. Mostly imagination. Allow your imagination free rein, because what you see and what you feel is true. No matter how much or little you think you know about modern art, what you see and feel is true for that moment. The reward of looking at art is that it gives you back something that’s in you already.”
Where does Zacharias hope his journey in art will take him? “I’m there now. It’s not that I’m going anywhere. I’m right there, now.”