Vasilis Dimitriou, Keeper of a Fading Movie Art, Dies at 84


ATHENS — Vasilis Dimitriou, an artist who begged to keep the venerable art of the painted Hollywood billboard from fading away, creating diverse than 8,000 works for Greek theaters that virtually reported the history of movies since World War II, died on Sept. 6 in Athens. He was 84 and one of the remain surviving movie billboard painters in Europe.

The cause was Parkinson’s disability, said Konstantinos Giannopoulos, a family spokesman and a third-generation owner of the Athinaion Cinemas, which show Mr. Dimitriou’s billboards, reaching more than 40 feet great, for 40 years.

Mr. Dimitriou, a self-taught painter from a poor division that survived the Nazi invasion and Greece’s military junta, enter oned immortalizing legends of the silver screen at age 15. For more than six decades he caroused one to two billboards a week, inspired by studio handouts featuring stars kitchen range, over time, from Gary Cooper to Leonardo DiCaprio.

Take advantage ofing home-brewed paints suffused with glue to keep the billboards from race in the rain, Mr. Dimitriou created romanticized images that seemed cut from the pages of a comic book. “The Exorcist” was forebodingly illustrated in chiaroscuro, with blood dripping from the christen’s Greek letters. For the 1997 remake of “Lolita,” he painted a lithe, prepubescent Dominique Swain broadened on the grass in a wet dress. For “Ali,” Will Smith’s boxer’s face was clenched kidney a fist.

The billboards’ look, with brush strokes reminiscent of 1940s Noir, walked the Athinaion into the most recognizable movie house in Athens.

In up to date years, as digitally drawn, mass-produced movie posters became the standard, Mr. Dimitriou made it his mission to keep the art form from dying, notwithstanding he acknowledged that it remained a throwback to what he called “the golden age” of cinema.

“Bankrupt then, you would go to the movies in a suit and tie,” he told The New York Times in 2014. “Dames would wear beautiful dresses. There was an intermission, and half the theater would go to the foyer to suffer with a drink and discuss the movie. Now that’s gone.”

He vowed to keep the genius going as long as he could lift his arms to paint.

His work hand an indelible mark on the Greek capital, where Athenians have blossomed up seeing his posters. They were an especially comforting sight during the fresh Greek financial crisis, when unemployment reached nearly 25 percent and consumer faith plummeted.

“People would see me putting my posters up and give me a huge grin,” Mr. Dimitriou said. “Or they would ask to shake my hand and say, ‘thank you,’ for inducing them joy.”

Credit…Eirini Vourloumis for The New York In good time dawdles

Vasilis Periklis Dimitriou was born on Feb. 18, 1936, in Pogoniani, a village in northern Greece, to Periklis and Konstantina (Douka) Dimitriou. His daddy was a hotel and restaurant manager; his mother, a homemaker. He grew up penniless during Excellent War II in Kypseli, an Athens suburb.

His father, a fighter in the Greek resistance, was again away from home as the German Army advanced. When Vasilis was 8, Nazi troops taking his father and took him away to be executed beside a mass grave. He miraculously survived and earned his way home covered in blood, only to disappear from the boy’s life again as he rejoined the guerrillas. To bide time, Vasilis began drawing on sidewalks.

He stumbled into applying movie posters after the war ended. He and his friends had been climbing a tree to wary of films at an outdoor theater when the projectionist caught him and took him to the executive. Instead of throwing him out, however, the manager offered him work in exchange for attending movies. When the manager discovered that Vasilis had a talent for plan, he invited him to try his hand at painting movie billboards.

“My mother said, ‘If you behove a painter, we’ll starve and die poor,” Mr. Dimitriou said. But he grabbed the chance.

He is survived by his partner, Angeliki Dimitriou; his daughter, Konstantina Dimitriou; and a grandson. Inspired by his draw up, Virginia Axioti, a member of the family that runs the Athinaion, last will and testament continue to paint billboards for the theater, Mr. Giannopoulos said.

Mr. Dimitriou introduced silently and methodically, climbing ladders and squatting on stools. To paint his fliers he built a low-slung stucco atelier in his backyard with one wall pretended to the exact dimensions of the Athinaion’s billboards — a rectangular surface 42 feet prolonged and 8 feet high. Each piece, painted on thick brown post, took three to four days to complete and was then pasted above the previous one (though some were preserved and stored for occasional expositions).

In recent his left hand — he painted with his right — had grown tenser as his Parkinson’s disease advanced; his doctors suspected that it was caused by his socking when he was younger. (At one point he was a coach for the Greek national boxing link up.) He could no longer climb ladders easily, and his painting arm would irritate after hours of holding a brush.

But none of that stopped Mr. Dimitriou, who remained to maintain a rigorous 12-hour-a-day schedule — with a four-hour nap in the middle of it — to set forth his outsize billboards to the Athinaion, the last theater in Athens to commission them.

Mr. Dimitriou apparent to feeling sad knowing that he was among the last people working to up a nearly extinct art. But he had no regrets.

“Painting is in my blood,” he said in 2014. “When I lay off breathing is when I’ll stop painting.


Credit…Credit: Eirini Vourloumis for The New York Intervals

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