Former Rice Professor Emeritus Basilios Poulos’ latest solo exhibit of acrylic paintings, “Landscape Journeys,” takes viewers on a journey through an abstract landscape.
The works’ contrast between warm, vibrant colors and cool, dark tones helps viewers understand what is bathed in light and what is covered in shadows, considering reality while remaining abstract.
“I tried to engage the armature of the trees, the way the light filtered through, [which is] the luminosity and the color,” Poulos said.
Using orientation, Poulos twists the viewer’s traditional sense of landscape painting.
“It’s difficult to produce a landscape painting vertically because the tendency is to see it [as] an icon, a figure, a vertical figure,” Poulos said. “[The paintings in my exhibition] were my solution to the problem. I took it as a problem: to produce a landscape vertically.” Since November 2016, all of Poulos’ paintings have had a vertical orientation. Poulos spent last November in the state of Georgia without any connection to the outside world in an effort to “walk the landscape,” his observation style, which blends plein air and studio painting. This experience inspired his latest paintings.
Poulos came to Houston in 1975 to be Rice’s resident artist just as his professional career in New York was taking off. He had received a Guggenheim Fellowship two years earlier and was beginning to have exhibitions in group shows.
“To be honest, I had a sense of did I make the right decision to come to Houston as opposed to staying in NY and painting. How would have my professional career as an artist proceeded?” he said.
But Poulos knew he had a future here in Houston when he realized a great art community was in the city. During his time here, he has made a name for himself in the art scene with over 30 exhibitions in the city. Meanwhile, he taught painting and drawing at Rice from 1977 until he retired in 2008 and became a professor emeritus. Since then, he has busied himself with relearning what it meant to be a painter.
“It took me about two years to get over the schedule of fall semester, spring semester, summer off,” Poulos said. “But after a couple of years, I realized I’m free. I’ve returned to being what I’ve been all my life, which is an artist. So this exhibit now, this solo exhibition of recent abstract painting, is sort of a just the next step.”
Though his latest exhibition is all landscape painting, Poulos said he didn’t start off that way. He initially painted abstract figures before turning to abstract landscape.
“Now in my mature age, I’ve sort of become a landscape painter because I really value this idea of [the] human in nature,” he said.
Though he enjoys retirement, Poulos’ ties with Rice are never far behind. His former students are all over the world, and when he sends them images of his works, he often receives replies. Recently, he ran into a former student in South Carolina.
“I’m so pleased and proud that I reconnected with this former student, and she honored me by buying a painting. And that’s the beauty of teaching at Rice,” he said. “Some of [my former students] are artists, some of them are architects, but we’ve become friends.”
Poulos said he might do watercolors next, but he’s not sure. “There’s just periods of rest where you’re thinking [about what to paint next], and I’m always thinking,” he said. As an artist, he views his surroundings as potential paintings. For example, he is inspired on walks by how the light filters through the leaves onto the road. He still explores new things and places to find new subjects to paint. He often told his students, “You can only draw what you know. You can only paint what you know. So you need to allow yourself to experience things. You need to go seek experiences. That’s your knowledge. That’s what you paint. That’s what you draw.”
“Landscape Journeys” will remain on view until Saturday Oct. 7 at the William Reaves | Sarah Foltz Fine Art Gallery and is free to the public.