Artist Diane Thodos and her family have made an impact on the cultural life of Chicago for decades. Discover what inspires Diane to create her expressionist art.
By Katie Copenhaver
Diane Thodos: passion for the arts runs in the family
The story of Diane Thodos’ and her sisters’ passion for the arts really started with their mother, Lena Thodos, who lived through German-Italian occupied Greece during World War II and the Greek Civil War which followed. What sustained their mother during those turbulent times was the classic literature of Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus, and other Greek writers. She carried that passion with her when she immigrated to the U.S. and into her college studies, leading to her position as an associate professor of the classics at Northwestern University.
Diane and two of her sisters have made careers in art, each choosing a different means of expression. Diane is a visual artist, Melissa is a dancer and founding artistic director of Thodos Dance Chicago, and Christina is an actress.
Diane reflected on her talented family.
“The three of us are profoundly grounded in the substance of our own expressive make up. It has to come through an art form that has the power to embody that.”
Different art forms have influenced her work. Like her twin sister, Melissa, she studied dance.
“I grew up dancing. My dance background comes out in the artistic figures [in my work].”
Diane was raised in Evanston, Ill., where her Greek immigrant father, George Thodos, was also on the faculty at Northwestern. She benefited from the ethnic and cultural diversity of that town by attending the Martin Luther King Jr. Lab School. She developed a profound sense of what it means to suffer, not only from hearing of her mother’s hardships, but also because she made many Jewish friends who lost parents and grandparents in the Holocaust.
“Their stories are unforgettable. They resonate with me.”
In addition, Diane gained an understanding of African-American culture, which also still influences her.
“There is a profound spiritual and psychological depth in Black America and their art that I relate to.”
Diane admires the work of several African-American artists, including Chicago sculptor Richard Hunt, Chicago painter Kerry James Marshall, and the late painter Charles Wilbert White. Plus, she and Hunt share a love of African tribal art, which they both collect.
Diane attended Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts, and then the School of Visual Arts in New York for her Master of Fine Arts degree. During her undergraduate time, she had the opportunity to study abroad at Atelier 17 studio in Paris with printmaker Stanley William Hayter, who had previously been a teacher of the well-known Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock.
Through her background and schooling, Diane found in Abstract Expressionism and German Expressionism a way to depict her empathy for immigrants, minorities, and oppressed people.
The art of Diane Thodos
Prime examples of her work include the “Spring Series” and “The Wave Dancers”, which are black and white prints depicting powerful female figures in motion.
“They express their will to freedom through dance.”
Her 2016 piece, “The Refugee,” is a portrait of a displaced Syrian in pain. Her current “Skull Series” and previous “The Vomiters” series both offer political commentary.
In Chicago, Diane is represented by the Thomas Masters Gallery, where her most recent show in December 2016, “Relations,” featured her colorful paintings and black and white prints in motion with the figurative sculptures of Ann Rosen. Her previous show at the gallery was “Lyric and Elegy” in 2012.
Thomas Masters spoke about what draws him to Diane’s work.
“What appeals to me most about Diane’s work is that she is really an expressionist. She expresses emotion by reflecting the world around her. I like her honesty and straightforwardness.”
Some of Diane’s notable past exhibitions include “Zoe/Thanatos” at the National Hellenic Museum in Chicago and “The Expressionist Art of Diane Thodos” at the South Shore Arts Association in Munster, IN, both in 2009. She has also had shows at the Union League Club of Chicago, the Koehnline Museum at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, IL, and the Adler Cultural Center in Libertyville, IL.
Diane is represented in New York by the Kouros Gallery, where her “Dithyrambs” show in 2011 drew on her Greek roots, taking its title from the Ancient Greek hymn sung to Dionysos. She is also represented by Paule Friedland/Alex Rivault Gallery in Paris and Traeger Pinto Gallery in Mexico City.
Diane is currently looking forward to a few future collaborations. She and Hunt are planning a joint exhibition similar to the “Relations” show in which Diane’s two-dimensional art and Hunt’s three-dimensional works will be juxtaposed. Another is a multimedia animation project using her visual art, the music of concert violinist David Yonan and her sister Melissa’s dance company. She sometimes feels alone as an expressionist in Chicago, where so much art is Imagist or conceptual, so she is thrilled to find like-minded artists and a means to collaborate with her sister.
Katie Copenhaver is a freelance writer/editor, teacher, and poet. She previously worked for the Chicago Artists’ Coalition and attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she recognized the visual artists she met as her kindred spirits.