Distinguished by the use of vibrant colors, Stephen Antonakos (1926 – 2013) was a pioneer in introducing neon into the realm of fine art, giving it new perceptual and formal meanings. Colored pencil drawings on paper and vellum, often in series, have been an equally rich practice of the artist.
Around 1960, when it was becoming clear that neon would be his primary medium, Stephen Antonakos called neon a “controlled paradise.” This phrase indicates both the innate rigor of his vision and his readiness to discover new possibilities. Neon is natural, an element of the earth, Number 10 on the Periodic Table. His art is based on light, scale, proportions, and the relations between geometric forms and their overall relation to their site. It has nothing to do with neon’s previous uses, only with its new capabilities as purely abstract linear and spatial color. Antonakos turned away from illusions, allusions, representations, metaphor and symbol: he defined his art as “real things in real spaces, here and now.”*
He felt that each viewer’s direct experience in the space defined by the art was the “completion” of what the artist “started.” Through this engagement, partly mental, partly kinetic, he hoped always to reach the inner person — with the large scale Public Works no less than the Panels, the Chapels, the work on paper. This “dialogue,” naturally involves time and is practically endless, given the art’s extreme sensitivity to minute changes of natural light and varying distances, angles, and frequency of viewing. To the end of his days, Antonakos felt he was still just beginning to realize neon’s great spatial potential.
*One of the artist’s rare statements.
Text extract, copyright © 2015 Stephen Antonakos Studio LLC
All images copyright © Stephen Antonakos Studio LLC