Stephen Antonakos

Stephen Antonakos

    Known for his abstract work with neon, the artist Stephen Antonakos died in New York City of a heart condition on Aug. 17 at the age of 86. He was a longtime resident of Sag Harbor and showed regularly at the Drawing Room, a gallery in East Hampton. 

         Mr. Antonakos’s artwork is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery, and other major institutions, and has been examined in many catalogues and publications. He had executed more than 50 public works installed in major cities around the world, and, in 2011, received lifetime achievement awards from the National Academy of Art and the Greek American Foundation.

    He was born on Nov. 1, 1926, in the Greek village of Agios Nikolaos, Laconia, where his family said he often watched the sun rise. At the age of 4, he moved to New York with his family, who included his parents, Thomas and Evangelia Gregory Antonakos, his older brothers, Bill, Peter, and Tony, and an older sister, Kanella. They lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and then in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where he attended junior high and high school. After serving in the Philippines during World War II, he returned to Brooklyn, where he attended community college and became an illustrator for advertising agencies.

    In the 1950s, influenced by the Abstract Expressionists, Mr. Antonakos decided to concentrate on  art and showed in group exhibitions organized by Allen Stone. He began working in neon in 1960. Avoiding representation, illusion, and symbolism, he saw his work as “real things in real spaces.” He used neon and architectural placement of forms.

    His creative output also included artists’ books, reliefs, collages, prints, and an enormous collection of drawings on paper and vellum. A recent series of cut or crumpled gold leaf sheets continued his investigation of light. Among his most important exhibitions, he showed his work at Documenta in Kassel, Germany, in 1977, the Venice Biennale in 1997, and in a retrospective in Athens. His New York dealer was Lori Bookstein Fine Art in Chelsea.

    Mr. Antonakos and his wife, Naomi Spector, came to Hempstead Street in Sag Harbor in the late 1980s after several summers in Greece, where he drew inspiration from his surroundings. He continued that work here, sketching in pencil as he had done at a sun-lit back table there. Models of two complete spaces he conceived in Greece were exhibited at the Drawing Room in 2006. His most recent exhibition there, at the beginning of the year, contained works from the 1960s and 1970s.

     Mr. Antonakos is survived by Ms. Spector and his children, Stephen B. Antonakos, a musician, and Evangelia Mary Spector Antonakos, a mathematician. His children live in New York City, where Ms. Spector divides her time.

    A funeral was held on Saturday, Aug. 31, at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Manhattan. Burial followed that afternoon at Oakland Cemetery in Sag Harbor.