Demetrios photographed at Melbourne's docklands 8 October 2002. He lives with his partner Lee-Anne (also an artist) and "the Hubster", the pet budgie.

the Hubster

Demetrios Vakras was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1962. He has been painting with oil paints since 1977 and has never wavered from his elucidation of the bizarre, fantastic and surreal. He is self-taught and his earliest influence was the work of the surrealists: Dali, Magritte, Bellmer.

Vakras' current imagery of dismembered human forms recombined with animal skulls, jaw and pelvic bones, stem from his earlier so-called apocalypse series. In these earlier paintings the individual is imprisoned by, and part of, the machinery purpose-created to ease existence, machinery which for the term of an individual's existence requires constant maintenance against its dissolution by entropy.

In his current works the philosophical line has been largely abandoned. Although the pictorial elements remain the same they generally serve no purpose other than the fantastic. Forms metamorphose into unlikely recombinations. He sees veristic illusionist fantastic art as an ongoing theme in western art which includes within its historical repertoire Hieronymous Bosch, Grunewald, Blake, Fuseli, the symbolists, the surrealists, the artists of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism,...etc.

Illusionist fantastic art predates surrealism. Surrealism is now part of the inheritance of fantastic art to come.


Although my early art was influenced by the surrealists it has continued to diverge from traditional surrealist principles. I reject the idea that random accidents make for good art (essentially Lautreamont's famed encounter of an umbrella with a sewing machine on an operating table). Unless these accidents are refined and articulated they remain accidents. This therefore takes my work out of the surrealist ambit. My art is closer to what is called fantastic art rather than surrealist. I suspect it would be best described as being closer to a form of 19th century symbolism which however has learnt the lessons of 20th century surrealism - a kind of "surrealised symbolism".
"Man (or woman) it's cold!!" 

Demetrios grimacing on a late Chicago morning as the temperature hovers at around 3 degrees Celcius (or 38 F), with the wind making it all that much colder, 27 October 2002.

It only gets this cold in Melbourne sometimes, in the middle of winter, in the dead of night!!

But what would the point be of visting anywhere if it was the same as home!

(Demetrios was in Chicago to attend the opening of Echo Gallery's  Halloween Exhibition 2002 in which some of his works were featured, along with works by Dan Ouellette Matt Lombard, and many others.)


Surrealism in Australia tends to be disparaged. Criticism generally dismisses it with contempt. Take as an example this excerpt from a review in the Sydney Morning Herald 23/10/1993 by Age art critic Robert Nelson: "It must be the year of the surrealist Phoenix...I hope it does not sow a generation of unconscious painters."

I have never known of the unconscious to paint....! This was supposed to be a review on a monograph on Australian surrealist artist James Gleeson...instead it was a personal attack on the artist because, as the critic made obvious, he despises the genre. 

...This predisposition to stilted criticism is not limited to any one "art reviewer". Other critiques demonstrate just as emphatically the shortcomings of the intellect behind the critique. For instance the reviews by the Australian's art critic, Robert Rooney (again on Gleeson's work*), made constant references to science fiction:

" while some of his images might seem to be Alien-like, he is not an illustrator in the science-fiction or related genres." (W.E. Aust. 24-25/9/1994) 

... which sounds much like what he had written 3 years earlier: "I heard them dismissed as being too much like science fiction illustration"(W.E.Aust. 26-27/10/1991). 

Even in reviewing another surrealist artist's work, in this instance the work of EM Christensen, Rooney wrote: " the science fiction illustrations her paintings sometimes resemble." .(W.E.Aust. 19-20/8/1989)... Either Rooney attends such exhibitions (in 1989, 1991, 1994) with (coincidentally) the same people or those that he "heard" dismissing the art as science fiction are an invention. I have been to several Gleeson exhibitions and never heard any such comments.

It is worth remarking that:

A/ Gleeson's repertoire was already established with paintings like Citadel (1945) and Agony in the Garden 1 (1947) - which makes a 5 and then 7 year old Giger (born 1940) an unlikely influence!

B/ Both Rooney (a practicing "artist") and Gleeson were represented by the Melbourne gallery Pinacotheca... One suspects Rooney felt compelled to review the works by another artist practising a genre he was obviously largely ignorant of, so that he could promote the profile of the gallery which represented him.... 

By describing as "science fiction" or alluding to its appearance as "science fiction" any art of the imagination is reduced to low brow populist illustration - ephemera. I suspect the fear is that great art is elitist - that is, very few have the talent to produce it. Most post-Duchamp garbage is "egalitarian" - anyone can be an artist by labelling anything art and simply calling themselves an "artist". "Art" then is expression unencumbered by technique, ability, or even the need to say anything at all..... It is all about pretensions to grandeur.

*note: James Gleeson is pretty much the only artist of the imagination whose work is reviewed by the mainstream Australian media and is Australia's only "successful" artist of the genre. Hence reviews on him are plentiful. 


An aspect of art appraisal that fascinates me is the categorisation of any work by an unfamiliar artist as being similar to, influenced by, or in imitation of, the style of another. In days past the only surrealist artist popularly known in Australia was Dali. Consequently my work was "like Dali's"! Now I'm apparently just like Giger*!(* mispronounced by anglophones as "Geiger"!)And this is not limited to the general public's perception of art...As a case in point, Robert Hughes (former art critic for Time magazine), in his book titled The Art of Australia, 1966, dismisses the work of James Gleeson (again) as nothing more than the work of a Dali imitator: "James Gleeson worked closest to the accepted idea of surrealism - that is to say, he imitated Dali so closely that he became a pasticheur." Gleeson is nothing like Dali. He is the only Australian artist who instead of being constrained by the Australian landscape used it to create a world unlike any other created by any surrealist.... Gleeson's error, it would appear, is that he did not illustrate Australian folk-tales....

This is the great tragedy of Australian art: it is the artists who pander to the national psyche... and illustrate national folklore and myths that are the ones acclaimed and celebrated. Art, like sports, must serve the national interest to succeed.... Essentially it is national propaganda that of the Boyds et al, which is therefore celebrated.

....... As Jeffrey Makin, art critic of the Herald Sun recently wrote in his obituary on Arthur Boyd:
"Boyd, more than any other Australian painter peopled our outback with accessible motifs that helped form our national psyche and self image...he will be sorely missed." (Herald Sun 28 April 1999)
So "Australian" was Boyd that he lived in London....not Australia when he died...
This is, I suppose, symptomatic of a nation with no identity which, in endeavouring to create an identity, celebrates populist and mindnumbingly obvious ho-hum symbols.
My view is hardly unsupported:

"The late 1940s and on into the 1950s saw the perennial testing by Australian artists of themselves on the European [British] scene...Drysdale and Nolan (and subsequently Arthur Boyd) in particular were exhibiting their Australian imagery and achievement on the international stage and, for better or for worse, not without success. For others, not so stridently identifiable in their Australianness, this was not always the case."p. 219 A Story of Australian Painting. Mary Eagle & John Jones, Macmillan Australia.
Gleeson's work was never "Australian" enough...his paintings sell for around thirty thousand Australian dollars. The very "Australian" Boyd, however, sold his works for well over five HUNDRED thousand Australian dollars...Ironically Boyd's works are worthless internationally.
On 21 June 2000 the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, made a speech at an Australia Council opening. He quoted from a report which studied how to best promote the arts in Australia. The following is part of the transcript:

"...the report found [that] the great majority of Australians saw the Arts as an opportunity to express...what we think it is to be Australian, what the essence of Australianism is and the values that we hold as Australians. And that very strong identification between the Arts and our national identity is always something that I believe has resonated very strongly in the Australian community." (my italics)

The  great tragedy is, that realising that they are merely Englishmen (& women) displaced , Australians have tended to try to create an identify separate from England. The landscape then becomes an obvious motif as a point of difference.

It is not coincidental therefore that artists such as Nolan, Boyd, Drysdale, are ethnic English, who went to their motherland at the conclusion of the second world war where they were celebrated as greats simply because their Australian landscape did not look English...and who upon their return were celebrated as greats in Australia on the basis of this recognition in England. Australia has always looked to the "superior" dictates of its ethnic motherland...

When given the choice, Australians voted to keep the Queen of England as their own head of state in the recent referendum of November 1999.

And if art is merely the vehicle for expressing myopic parochial and nationalistic visions then it is no different from the art of Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany, or the state sponsored art of Saddam Husein's Iraq.

 At this stage however, it is worth pointing out that the current trends in Australian art are also dictated by art fashion. New York is almost as influential as London once was. To be cultured is to be aware of the current art fashion trend. And so, like the Pokemon phenomenon amongst their children, the adult connoisseur, not to appear a moron amongst his/her peers, can name all the Pokemon characters.... metaphorically speaking. And the last thing you would want to do is discredit your well-earned reputation, by praising the work of an unknown artist.

It does, however, remain a prerequisite in Australian art that artists still somehow demonstrate their "Australianness", as the crisis in identity is not an issue yet resolved in this country.