Remembering: Stephen Antonakos and David Gilhooly

Remembering: Stephen Antonakos and David Gilhooly

Neon for the Greektown Station by Stephen Antonakos

Neon for the Greektown Station in Detroit, Michigan (1988) by Stephen Antonakos

Influential neon artist Stephen Antonakos and beloved ceramicist David Gilhooly died on August 19 and August 21 respectively. Antonakos, a resident of New York City since immigrating from Greece in 1930, was 87 years old. Gilhooly, a leader in the California funk ceramics movement, was 70.

Stephen Antonakos began working with neon in 1960, creating sculptural works in distinct shapes and forms and with brilliant hues of light. Some of his most well-known projects, including several large-scale public art projects, were commissioned works for various government agencies. According to The GLASS Quarterly, his 1990 installation of red neon on the 59th Street Marine Transfer Station for the New York Department of Sanitation was praised by the New Yorker magazine as "Subdued, stately, and somewhat spiritual, like the haloes above votive candles in a dimly lit church." In addition, Antoniaks also installed light fixtures for the Department of State at several American embassies in the mid-2000s.

In addition to neon sculpture, Antonakos carried a life-long passion for drawing on paper and vellum, as well as a talent for designing packages, artists' books, and reliefs of white wood and silver. Over the course of his 60-year career, Antonakos was featured in more than 100 one-person shows (most recently at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah Georgia in 2012), 250 group shows, and in more than 50 Public Works installed in the United States, Europe, and Japan. For more information on the life of this prolific glass artist, see his 1975 oral history interview with the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

David Gilhooly, a graduate of the University of California at Davis (BA 1965, MA 1967), was one of the most distinguished artists to come out of the California funk ceramics movement. His work often featured animals, particularly frogs that made up what he refered to as "FrogWorld." According to Gilhooly's charmingly candid website, he made his first frogs using low-fire whiteware while working in a studio he shared with contemporaries Robert Arneson, Margaret Dodd, Chris Unterseher, and Peter Vandenberge in 1965. After nearly 20 years working in ceramics, Gilhooly started exploring the media of Plexiglas in 1982. In 1996 he officially gave up clay to work on what he called "the shadow boxes," which were much evolved form of the Plexiglas pieces.

Several of Gilhooly's frog pieces were featured in exhibitions around the world, including "David Gilhooly: Ceramics," held at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts from January 28 to April 2, 1978. In the catalog for the exhibition, Gilhooly has this to say about his work process:

These are examples of my most recent concerns, no not compulsions, I'm not driven nor am I insane nor do I dream about my work (after all my art is completely conscious and handled thusly, you dream about those things still on an unconscious level and not handled by yourself analytically). Art after all, despite popular conceptions, is the sanest thing around - and also despite popular misconceptions, anyone can make it if you believe that to be true and want to take the time (it does take time and is not something you can be born with but must work at).