Since 1959, the 75-year-old Greek-American has been gypsying back and forth between his native California, New York and the picturesque, well-storied Greek island of Hydra, where his mother grew to womanhood. His family has roots on the island dating back to 1850.
What draws him to Hydra was recently put on colorful display when Gassoumis held a one-man show of landscape paintings in the island’s Melina Mercouri Auditorium and then took part in a group show held at a nearby museum. He has a strong following on Hydra, which has long been associated with artists and writers. Celebrated painter Brice Marden usually spends Augusts on the island and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen still owns the house where he lived and worked as a poet in the Sixties.
When Gassoumis held his first show on Hydra in July of 2002, he received a glowing review from none other than Panayiotis Tetsis, who is from Hydra and whom many consider to be Greece’s greatest living painter. Describing Gassoumis’ work as “a very beautiful example of robust painting,” Tetsis, who is a professor of painting and dean of the School of Fine Arts in Athens, writes: “The integrity, strength and sensitivity of his paintings are his virtues.”
Some islanders, such as fellow artist Iris Kharami, talk in terms of Gassoumis following in the Hydriot tradition of top-flight landscape artists. Like Tetsis, Gassoumis uses deep, rich colors. In his latest show, the paintings capture the mood of the contemplative light seen around sunset and early in the morning, when earth tones are their most intense.
White-haired with a trim, agile frame, Gassoumis has a sharp mind and an easy, self-deprecating sense of humor. “Most people at my age are dead,” he shoots back when asked about his future plans, which involve setting up shop in Athens. “Obviously, I will have to do some paintings of the Acropolis because I’ll be in Athens—that will be a challenge,” he observes wryly.