The Light

Stephen Antonakos1997

National Academy of Design

National Academy of Design

Neon light is the primary medium of Stephen Antonakos, and the artist has continued to explore and develop its possibilities throughout his career. Born in Greece, Antonakos immigrated with his family to America at the age of four. As a young man, he initially worked as a commercial artist but soon began to incorporate found materials in his works; one of his earliest assemblages was included in the seminal exhibition, New Forms, New Media, at the Martha Jackson Gallery in 1960. The following year Antonakos experienced a revelation while walking home from his studio one evening and was captivated by the illuminative effects of a neon sign. It was then that he decided to incorporate neon into his work, and, after beginning to experiment with it in his studio, he created his first light assemblage in 1962, entitled "White Light."

By 1964, Antonakos was working almost exclusively with neon to create works that defy conventional definitions of sculpture. It was a time of artistic ferment when the two very different aesthetics of Pop art and Minimalism were prevalent. While adhering to neither of these movements, some of Antonakos's neon works have incorporated elements of each. The artist often blurred the lines between drawing, sculpture, and installation in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as he worked with exposed neon tubes in simplified geometric shapes, which, through their non-referential, inherently spatial, and abstract qualities, surpass categorization. The genesis of Antonakos's panel pieces can be traced back to his installations and wall reliefs of the 1960s. These eventually led to works that combined exposed neon tubes with unstretched, gestural abstract canvases of the 1980s. The early canvas and neon wall pieces were transitional works that incorporated the artist's interest in the transformative qualities of light with painting and drawing and anticipated the mature panel works of the last twenty years.

"The Light" is part of a larger group of spare neon panels that Antonakos created in the late 1990s. The work is painted stark white, and while its form is inherently geometric, the polygon's shape is broken by fragmentation on the right side. Like all of Antonakos's neon panels, it floats on a wall over a neon light, in this case white light, that emanates from behind. The intrinsic allaying and ethereal qualities in Antonakos's panels have been linked to Greek icons, while his integration of light has been interpreted as halo like. Like all of the artist's works, "The Light" is meant to relate to a specific architectural setting and activates not only the surrounding physical space, but through the incorporation of white neon light, also suggests a psychological space of quietude and self-reflection. In his own words, he is "interested in the possibility of reverberations in the space between the work and the viewer's inner life. For me, the panels relate to a higher consciousness, an open responding sense of self in the here and now, where feeling and thought can come unforced, simply through seeing."

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  • Title: The Light
  • Creator: Stephen Antonakos
  • Date Created: 1997
  • Physical Dimensions: 24 x 25 3/8 x 4 1/2 inch
  • Provenance: NA diploma presentation, April 7 1952
  • Medium: White varathene paint on wood with neon