Theodoros Stamos

Theodoros Stamos (1922 New York – 1997 Ioannina, Greece)
Hovering Yellow Sun Box, 1967
Acrylic on canvas, 143 x 132 cm
signed, titled and dated on canvas overlap verso: “Hovering Yellow Sun Box 1967 Stamos”


Galerie Turske & Turske, Zurich
acquired by the present owner at this gallery, since then private collection, Germany

Theodoros Stamos. Arbeiten von 1945 bis 1984. Galerie Knoedler, Zurich, 16th June – 15th August 1984, no. 57 (colour illustration)
Theodoros Stamos: Malerei von 1946 bis 1987. Schloss Morsbroich, Städtisches Museum Leverkusen, 26th September – 8th November 1987
Theodoros Stamos: Contemplations on the Universal. Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York, 26th January – 4th March 2017, no. 17 (colour illustration)

Turske, Irène: Theodoros Stamos. Arbeiten von 1945 bis 1984, Zurich 1984, no. 57 (colour illustration)
Grove, Jeffrey: Theodoros Stamos: Contemplations on the Universal, New York 2017, no. 16 (colour illustration)


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Theodoros Stamos, born in 1922 in New York to parents of Greek heritage and one of the youngest Abstract Expressionists of the first generation, was a highly gifted colourist of great sensitivity. In his abstract paintings we perceive his search for a universal expression of sentiments that tie in with the objective world, and yet transcend it.

At the beginning of the 1950s Theodoros Stamos devoted himself to colour field painting. In his Sun Box series, which he begun in the early 1960s, we find both main characteristics of his art united: the associative allure, the decidedly sensual quality and spiritual trait of his contemplation on nature on the one hand and the treatment of colour as a means of expression that is completely detached from subject-matter on the other hand. Yet, Stamos’ Sun Box paintings almost naturally evoke associations of landscapes. Slim horizontal stripes allude to the notion of a horizon. These paintings seem like a materialization of the four elements – light, air, earth and water.

The element that defines and unites all Sun Box paintings by Theodoros Stamos is the interplay between geometrical shapes and sensuous, sensitive colouring as well as sensations of nature that shimmer through despite the entirely abstract and non-objective painting style.

In this painting dating from 1967 titled “Hovering Yellow Sun Box” a yellow square hovers on a blue colour field directly below a small horizontal stripe in a muted purple hue that intersects the canvas from the left to the right margin. The shade of blue is not a radiant and vidid cyan or royal blue that would be reminiscent of a summer sky by the seaside. It is a rather subdued, opaque shade of blue that comprises an ever so slight reddish mist like a echo of the stripe on the horizon. One could think of a sky before the twilight sets in.

All paintings of the Sun Box series evolve around a square or rectangle. This geometrical shape takes a special place in art history. In his Homage to the Square series which he began in 1950 Josef Albers devoted his entire artistic life until his death in 1976 to the exploration of the compositional scheme of squares of varying sizes inserted into each other and the relativity of our perception of colour and the interaction of colour. Even though Albers’ Homage to the Square paintings appear abstract, austere, matter-of-factly and devoid of any subjective or emotional element, they speak of Josef Albers’ profoundly nuanced sentiment and awareness for colour and the notion that colour as a pure means of expression can evoke.

Similar to Josef Albers Stamos finds in the square and its compact frontality an ideal form. The simple yet iconic and archaic character of the shape of a square is an ideal projection plane for exploring the interplay of various identities of colour that relate to each other, exert influence and reciprocally modify and shift each other. The perception of colour is always relative and never absolute. Colour is relative to the respective beholder, it is subject to his associations and sentiments, to the changing light conditions and the varying textures of objects and surfaces. The square signifies balance and harmony are well as spirituality whilst representing the utmost simplification of a means of expression.

His peer Barnett Newman with whom Theodoros Stamos was friends just like with Mark Rothko, described the essence of Stamos’ art in the preface of a catalogue accompanying an exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York as follows:

“The work of Theodoros Stamos, subtle and sensuous as it is, reveals an attitude towards nature that is closer to true communion [with nature]…Stamos is able therefore to catch not only the glow of an object in all its splendor but its inner life with all its dramatic implications of terror and mystery. In doing so he makes clear the important difference between the sense of nature and the act of worship.”

Barnett Newman, in: Ausstellungskatalog, Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, The Ideographic Picture, Januar 1947