Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Painting 'was his breath'

Ted Giavis died Saturday at 88. He painted the Meteora monastery in 2000.

Ted Giavis died Saturday at 88. He painted the Meteora monastery in 2000.

PALM HARBOR — In 1997, Ted Giavis showed up on a list of the top 12 American realist artists, just six spots down from Norman Rockwell.

The seascapes in his living room show why the University of Brighton School of the Arts put Mr. Giavis on that list. Tauntingly real, they are what he saw.

Tall, green blades of grass. Shadows on mountainsides. Hundreds of individual rocks.

Mr. Giavis died on Saturday, three days after breaking his arm in a fall. He was 88.

He grew up in Lowell, Mass., the son of a Greek grocer. As a child, he once fell from a horse and badly broke a leg. He took refuge in drawing.

The Army quickly spotted his talent, and ordered him to draw on company time. Mr. Giavis happily obliged, painting portraits of generals and filling up sketch books with scenes from Guam and Japan in World War II. He drew soot-stained military planes, rutted streets where villagers lived and bombed-out landscapes. Another illustration depicted a lone soldier reading a letter in his barracks surrounded by the gear of his buddies beneath bunks or hanging from hooks to take advantage of every inch of space.

After the war, Mr. Giavis worked for the Boston Globe, then the Rahl Studios in New York, supplying commercial art for Fortune 500 companies.

He wielded his brush like a powerful magnet, attracting every particle of life through its fibers. He painted gleaming trucks and swimming pools and loaves of bread. Sometimes, his work landed on magazine covers.

He met a woman named Theano 15 years his junior and asked her out. They later married.

If he saw her running a vacuum cleaner, he would take it from her and finish the job. "I felt like a kept woman," said Theano Giavis.

Mr. Giavis worked nonstop — up to two days without a break — as deadlines approached.

"It was hard making friends because the artwork came first," said Mrs. Giavis, who also watched the money after learning that she was the better bookkeeper.

A high point came in 1960, with a two-page Goodyear advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post. Mr. Giavis re-created trucks in a parade surrounded by a throng of townspeople.

The University of Brighton's art school would cite the illustration 37 years later, when it ranked Mr. Giavis No. 8 on its list of the top 12 American realist artists. Mr. Giavis was thrilled when he found out. (C.G. Evers, famous for drawing battleships, came first. Norman Rockwell was No. 2.)

"He said, 'You don't know what this means,' " Theano Giavis recalled.

Mr. Giavis had an impish side, as his niece learned when as a child she led a seance in Mr. Giavis' Connecticut basement.

"We tried to bring back Alfred Hitchcock," recalled Denise Warner, 47, who said her uncle reminded her of the actor Walter Matthau. When Mr. Giavis learned what the children were doing, he switched on the intercom system and spooked the party with his best Hitchcock impersonation.

Mr. Giavis retired at age 70, and moved to Palm Harbor seven years later. He and Theano regularly played gin rummy with friends. When the conversation lulled, he filled it with a line from Oklahoma:

"Everything's up to date in Kansas Ciiiity …"

Without deadlines, he painted what he wanted. Scenes from the New Hampshire coast line, featuring giant outcroppings of rock. The Meteora monastery atop a cliff in Greece. At least five paintings of the Pony Express.

He showed many of the works in 2005.

"They were just glorious," said Billie Poteat, the supervisor at the Tarpon Springs Cultural Center. "Everybody who came in was just amazed. His attention to detail was just staggering."

The small room he used as a studio looks like the center of an explosion. Paintings lean back to back against a wall.

For Mr. Giavis his paintings were never quite finished.

"He couldn't stop," said Varnavas Zagaris, a friend of Mr. Giavis'. "It was his breath."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2431.

. Biography

Ted Giavis

Born: Feb. 24, 1920.

Died: Sept. 27, 2008.

Survivors: wife, Theano; son Andrew; sister Catherine; brother Vasilos.

Painting 'was his breath' 09/29/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 30, 2008 7:17am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bucs' Vernon Hargreaves: 'I'm not making any plays'


    TAMPA — Eli Manning gathered his receivers together on the sideline during the Giants' Week 4 game against the Bucs and told them he planned to target the weakest link of the secondary all afternoon.

    Patriots receiver Chris Hogan gets position in front of Bucs cornerback Vernon Hargreaves for a 5-yard touchdown pass in New England’s win on Oct. 5.
  2. Suspect in Maryland office park shooting is apprehended


    EDGEWOOD, Md. — A man with a lengthy criminal past who was fired from a job earlier this year for punching a colleague showed up for work at a countertop company on Wednesday and shot five of his co-workers has been arrested, authorities said. Three of them were killed and two critically wounded.

    Workers from the Advanced Granite Solutions in Maryland console each other Wednesday after a shooting there killed three people. Officers said the attacker fled and also shot a man in Delaware.    as police and Emergency Medical Services respond to a shooting at a business park in the Edgewood area of Harford County, Md., Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017.  A gunman opened fire at the office park killing several co-workers and wounded others, authorities said.  (Matt Button/The Baltimore Sun via AP) MDBAE105
  3. Lightning's J.T. Brown to stop anthem protest, focus on community involvement

    Lightning Strikes

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Lightning wing J.T. Brown will no longer raise his first as a protest during the national anthem before games.

    J.T. Brown says he will work more with the Tampa police and groups that serve at-risk young people.
  4. The two Ricks tangle at what may be final debate


    ST. PETERSBURG — In what was likely the last mayoral forum before the Nov. 7 election, Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker started out small, discussing neighborhood issues like recycling and neighborhood funding. They ended tangling over familiar subjects: the future of the Tampa Bay Rays, sewage …

    Ex-Mayor Rick Baker, left, and Mayor Rick Kriseman, right, debated familiar topics. The Times’ Adam Smith moderated.
  5. Tampa Chamber of Commerce announces small business winners


    TAMPA — The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce selected the winners of the 2017 Small Business of the Year Awards at a ceremony Wednesday night at the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. More than 600 attendees celebrated the accomplishments of Tampa Bay's small business community.

    Vincent Cassidy, president and CEO of Majesty Title Services, was named Outstanding Small Business Leader of the Year by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.