There is so much to keep up with when talking to Thanassi. He is a Provincetown bon vivant of the first order. Like Beyoncé, or Rihanna, he only goes by his first name. His stories are endless and dramatic. Growing up in Concord, Massachusetts. Mensa. West Point. Nuclear fission. How three of his paintings hung in the White House. That time he met Margaret Trudeau. And the most important story of all: how he started painting. It’s probably the only story that matters, because the work he’s concentrating on now, he says, began at the age of three, on the beach, by his grandmother’s side.
His studio is located in an outbuilding behind the gallery on Commercial Street that bears his name. It’s reminiscent of a curiosity shop, or a roadside museum dedicated to contemporary art, archeology and human oddities. Clutter piled upon clutter, bric-a-brac heaped upon knickknacks that spans centuries. Harpoons and vases and lamps and pottery shards and Venetian masks all compete in the shadows and the dusk.
And then there are his paintings. Canvas after canvas, one after the other, like his stories, all shapes and sizes. Areas of blue and green and blue/green, and occasionally buff, dominate. A line that could have been inspired by the horizon or a distant line of surf cuts the composition in two. An underpainting with layers of thin coats of paint gives an atmospheric and tranquil quality to the work.
Over his lifetime, Thanassi has studied at the Museum School in Boston, with 20 different painters by his count, but he says he always comes back to the same three subjects: these minimalist depictions of Herring Cove Beach, Long Point Light, and an unmoored dory, sometimes floating, sometimes beached, but always upright.
“The painting exists on its own,” he says, “but it’s not as important as the feeling.” Thanassi wants people to come home from work, kick off their shoes, and look at the painting until the feeling of being at the beach comes through.
To paint, Thanassi first goes to the beach to meditate. Then, in front of his easel, he breathes out, releasing the picture onto the canvas. “The dory is me,” he explains. “The lack of a mooring line is my freedom. It is my peace and tranquility. All of that stuff in my studio? It goes away, like all of the things in life that go away and all that’s left is…” It all becomes clear. The paintings are metaphors. The paintings repeated over and over is his mantra, repeated to induce peace, tranquility, and enlightenment.
Thanassi Gallery, 234 Commercial Street, Provincetown • 508-487-0233