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Drawn to Paint

08/22/2013

After losing much of his sight to macular degeneration, Tom Sgouros continued to paint REMEMBERED LANDSCAPES.

The Illustration department has teamed up with Cade Tompkins Projects, a Providence-based gallery and artists’ representative, to present a retrospective of work by the late Professor Emeritus Thomas Sgouros 50 IL, who died on December 17, 2012. RISD’s Woods-Gerry Gallery offers an ideal setting for Thomas Sgouros: Drawn to Paint / 1944–2012, which runs from Saturday, August 24 through Thursday, September 26.

The stunning show of drawings and paintings presents a comprehensive overview of Sgouros’ development as an artist, illustrator and educator over a career spanning 68 years. “Four distinct bodies of work define his oeuvre,” notes Cade Tompkins, his longtime gallery rep: “illustrations for advertising clients; watercolors, pastels, drawings and oil landscapes and architectural images; still life paintings of studio objects; and finally the expressive and painterly Remembered Landscapes.”

After earning a degree in Illustration from RISD in 1950, Sgouros’ artistic career began to take shape in Cambridge, MA and New York City, where he created colorful collaged surfaces on assignment for advertising agencies. In 1962 he returned to RISD, initially to teach in Foundation Studies while continuing to work as a freelance illustrator.

In 1973 Sgouros started teaching in Illustration and never looked back, going on to lead the department on and off for 18 years and also chairing what was then known as the Design Division for seven years. In 1991 RISD recognized his remarkable gift for teaching and mentoring by appointing him the Helen M. Danforth Distinguished Professor in Illustration. Over the years, he amassed more than 30 awards of recognition from institutions such as the American Watercolor Society, the Boston Watercolor Society, the Pennsylvania Watercolor Society and the Society of Illustrators. In 1992 he was elected to the National Academy in New York and in 2001 he earned the Pell Award for Excellence in the Arts as well as an honorary degree from Rhode Island College.

In tandem with his teaching, Sgouros was active in the studio, painting significant buildings, evocative boats and scenic landscapes wherever he went – on Cape Cod and in Greece, Italy, Maine and Rhode Island. In the early period, his paintings clearly reflect his preference for realism. Lyrical still life paintings of everyday objects followed in the 1980s as the artist continued to experiment with various mediums in his Rhode Island studio. “Throughout his career, Tom was constantly exploring light, color, movement and mood – characteristics that infuse all of his works,” Tompkins notes.

In early 1994, when Sgouros was stricken with a sudden onset of macular degeneration, he began developing his Remembered Landscapes paintings out of a deep dedication to painting and a determination to continue to make art. “Twenty-two years later, he not only reorganized his studio practice and process,” Tompkins says, “he discovered an internal landscape.” In many ways, his Remembered Landscapes epitomize his strength as an artist – as if transcending the physical limitation of poor sight freed him to see more clearly where he wanted to go.

“I think of Tom’s internalized landscapes and of his quiet Chardin-like still lifes – both utterly lacking in excess or tricks,” noted Maureen O’Brien, curator of Painting and Sculpture at the RISD Museum, in a talk accompanying an exhibition of his work in 2011. “He is fearless in his spin of the color wheel, alternately serene and ecstatic. He is never more marvelous than when he risks it all in a fiery explosion… Somehow, in the great orange and red skies of his recent oil paintings, the saturated heat of those pigments reads cool, as if Tom has distilled and then magnified the sensation of a sunset.”   –Liisa Silander

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tags: alumni, faculty, Illustration

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At RISD there's nothing unusual about suddenly finding a doorknob on a tree trunk, shown here across from Carr House,
the charming home of Student Life offices and the student-run Carr Haus Café.