Athos Zacharias, a last link to the post-war New York School artists and a fixture in the artistic scene on the East End of Long Island, died on Saturday. He was 92-years-old. Funeral and memorial information has yet to be released.
Athos Zacharias (also known as Zack) was a last living link to the first generation of Abstract Expressionist painters, many of whom spent significant periods of time on the East End of Long Island. He worked as an assistant to Elaine Dekooning, was Bill DeKooning's first assistant and worked for Lee Krasner and Alfonso Ossorio, among others, even as he painted himself.
In 1955, after graduating from art school on the G.I. Bill, he made his way to New York City and landed smack dab in the middle of the art scene — small, intense, and a cauldron of abstraction.
If New York City was the center of the art world at the time, the Cedar Tavern was the epicenter. One night as Zacharias sipped his 35-cent beer, a charming, somewhat older gentleman with piercing blue eyes began to chat with him. Before leaving to join an insistent group of friends, the man stuck out his hand and said: “By the way: my name is Bill de Kooning.”
As Zach would recall years later: “I went home, a few blocks away on Broadway, and told my wife: ‘Mary, I just met one of the greatest painters in the world and he’s a regular guy.’ ”
De Kooning was 23 years Zacharias’s senior but his wife, Elaine, was just nine years older. Zacharias was invited by de Kooning to join “the Artists Club,” a regular discussion group that met in secret. “We’d spend all night trying to understand a word like intuition in painting,” Zacharias recalled. “Sometimes it would almost end in fistfights. There were only about 400 people in the whole art world, and pretty soon I knew them all."
Zacharias became very much a part of this group that made post-war New York and America the new center of artistic expression. Dekooning writes about Zacharias: "...I can say he was one of us...Zacharias was as much in the middle of it as anyone."
Elaine de Kooning was a particular fan and said this of Zacharias: "Athos Zacharias, as a painter, has serendipity: his colors and forms always charge into the right place at the right time."
Zacharias discovered the East End of Long Island in the 50s, along with many of the other New York School artists. He was drawn by the quality of light and the semi-rural life-style. Handy with his hands, he build Jackson Pollock's house for him. It is today the site of the Pollock-Krasner Museum.
Zacharias painted in a classic action painting mode, one which emphasized direct application of the paint with minimal interaction with the conscious mind. He very much subscribed to the modernist belief that what you see and paint is true. "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."
Lawrence Fine Art represented Zacharias for the last seven years of his life. Gallery owner Howard Shapiro recalls talking with him frequently about his friends in the artistic milieu of the time--Pollock, DeKooning, Milton Resnick, Larry Rivers, Grace Hartigan and Franz Kline. "It was an art history lesson in every sense of the word," says Shapiro.
Zacharias had numerous one-person and solo shows during his lifetime and is represented in numerous collections. He was the recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 2007-2008.
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Lawrence Fine Art specializes in contemporary and historic-modern art.