Press Release: The Master of Neon Shines on Paper

Graduate Center Art Gallery Presents Stephen Antonakos: Five Decades of Drawings

From March 2 to April 23, the Art Gallery of the Graduate Center will feature the drawings of Stephen Antonakos - most famous for his sculptures in neon - in an exhibition covering 50 years of the artist's works on paper. The 78 works included display a remarkable evolution in drawing that not only sheds light on the development of Antonakos's three-dimensional neon works but constitutes a parallel creative journey of experimentation with form, space, and color. The Gallery will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 12 to 6 pm. The Graduate Center of the City University of New York is located at 365 Fifth Avenue (34th Street).

(The press is invited to an opening reception on March 1, 5 to 7 pm.)

"My art operates formally; its meanings all come through the arrangement of a very limited number of abstract elements--their position, proportion, scale, color, and their light in space," Antonakos has said, and his drawings are no exception. Antonakos was born in Greece in 1926 and emigrated to the U.S. as a child. In the 1950s he created works with discarded found objects, but began investigating neon in the 1960s and it has become his signature medium - employed in sculptures, installations, and large-scale architectural commissions. Throughout his career, however, Antonakos often worked on drawings exclusively for extended periods. His favored medium, used in many of the works in the exhibition, is colored pencil on French vellum - one that affords a freedom and immediacy not available in neon and metal works.

"I start with the site, the page," Antonakos has said. "I have a basic idea about one or two forms I want to make, but then the drawing tells me what I want to do takes over. I may have a sense that I want this drawing to be very spare or that one to be very active, but I never plan it beforehand...There would be no discovery--I like the adventure of figuring it out as I go along."

The crucial role that drawing played in the conception of the artist's early neon works developed into an ongoing, independent, creative practice. In the 1960s drawings, ideas for new neon sculptures are drawn in color and set within pencil lines depicting their architectural placements. By the 1970s, the drawings present rigid geometric forms in open white space - frequently a series of two or four large heavy sheets. These rigorous works avoid all illusion, allusion, or reference to anything outside themselves. Like the sculpture from the early 1960s onward, the drawings have become real things in real space.

The exhibition is accompanied by a 24-page catalog with 15 color illustrations, an essay by the curator Professor Diane Kelder, and notes on drawing by the artist. The catalog was funded, in part, by a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

The Graduate Center is the doctorate-granting institution of The City University of New York. The only consortium of its kind in the nation, the school draws its faculty of more than 1,800 members mainly from the CUNY senior colleges and cultural and scientific institutions throughout New York City. According to the most recent National Research Council report, more than a third of The Graduate Center's rated Ph.D. programs rank among the nation's top 20 at public and private institutions. Further information on The Graduate Center's programs and activities can be found on its website at:

Submitted on: JAN 1, 2005

Category: James Gallery | Press Room