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Drossos P. Skyllas

Drossos P. Skyllas, Self-Portrait, n.d.

Drossos P. Skyllas, Self-Portrait,

Photo courtesy of the Phyllis Kind Gallery Archive of Self-Taught Art, Roger Brown Study Collection, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Born 1912, Kalymnos, Greece

Died 1973, Chicago, Illinois

Drossos Skyllas achieved the exquisitely detailed, jewel-like surfaces of his paintings with tiny brushes he fashioned himself. He applied miniscule dabs of luminous oil paint in a pointillist manner, which gave his subjects a petrified yet shimmering quality. His refined technique and adherence to the academic genres of still life, landscape, portraiture, and mythological scenes demonstrate his knowledge of art history. And inspired by the old masters, he perfected the difficult depiction of reflective surfaces, including gems, mirrors, water, and ice. At the same time, his uniform clarity of detail, imposed symmetry, and sense of frozen time create a dreamlike mysteriousness reminiscent of magic realism. In addition to high art sources, Skyllas likely drew upon commercial illustration and photography. Untitled (Roses) resembles both traditional floral still lifes and midcentury advertisements for jewelry and flowers. Wisconsin Ice Cave relates as much to northern Renaissance landscape painting as to mass-produced picture postcards.

Born in Greece, Skyllas worked in his father’s tobacco business before emigrating to the US shortly after World War II. He settled in Chicago and devoted himself to becoming a professional artist, though he had no formal artistic training. Supported financially by his wife, Skyllas produced thirty-eight paintings from the late 1940s until his death in 1973. Some of these he submitted to the annual juried exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago and Vicinity, which featured his work in 1955, 1967, 1969, and 1973. He also sought commissions to paint portraits, but with asking prices as high as $30,000, he never found any patrons.

Skyllas’s work was discovered after his death by Chicago gallerist Phyllis Kind, who added him to her roster of self-taught artists in 1974. He was likely known to artists Jim Nutt and Gladys Nilsson before this, as they had exhibited alongside him in the 1967 Chicago and Vicinity exhibition and are enthusiastic collectors of self-taught artists (Wisconsin Ice Cave is in their collection). The meticulous finish of Skyllas’s paintings, which simultaneously evokes advertising art and Renaissance illusionism, appealed to Nutt, Nilsson, and fellow Chicago imagist Roger Brown, whose art collection also included the self-taught Greek master.

 

Antonia Pocock

 

Borum, Jenifer. “Spinning in a Lonely Orbit: The Works of Drossos P. Skyllas.” Folk Art (Winter 1994 / 1995), 33–41.

Bowman, Russell. “Imaging the Academy: ‘Naïve Art’ and the Mainstream.” In Self-Taught Art: The Culture and Aesthetics of American Vernacular Art. Ed. Charles Russell. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001.