Harris Varsakis was born in Athens, Greece in 1947. He was the youngest of 3 brothers and the quietest one. From a very young age he started drawing and painting. In his teenage years he started travelling the Greek islands, searching for inspiration and adventure. On one of his trips, he discovered Skiathos and he fell for the mixture of green nature, couleurs locales and a quite bohemian still type of tourism.
During the years of the Greek dictatorship (Junta of 1967-1974) he left Greece and established himself in Amsterdam, following the traces of his brother Theodore, who invited him to come and join him together with several other Greek friends. Here he met Marijke, his Dutch wife. She turned out to become his muse for the rest of his life. They had their first daughter in 1973. Harris was then painting in Amsterdam, while his wife worked to support their family. As this was not how he felt their life should be, he decided to open a shop in his beloved Skiathos. He established his shop named Galerie Varsakis, in a beautiful old building right behind the main church.
The remarkable thing is that Harris never sold his art, except for one piece, when he needed money. In his gallery he sold antiques, mostly carpets, weavings, icons, wooden artefacts and later also Greek handmade jewellery.
His paintings only served as decorations. No matter how often people showed interest to buy one, he never wanted to sell.
In 1981 his second daughter was born. By then the shop started to do well, as tourism in Skiathos ignited under the influence of charter flight companies. In the eighties and nineties business flourished and all was good. He would live in Skiathos in the summers and in Amsterdam with his family in the winters. Once the children were grown-up, his wife joined him and their life became like that of the migratory birds, only opposite. Winter in the North, summer in the South of Europe.
In 2010 he decided to add a permanent art expo for his paintings on the first floor of his shop. A few years later he decided to make reproductions on canvas, so people who were amazed by his artwork could finally take a piece home with them.
A true gentleman
In 2018 he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. After his treatment was not very successful, he passed in Amsterdam on 19-7-2019. He felt it was a bit too early, but that it was ok. He felt accomplished and whole and left life with the dignity that was so characteristic to his persona.
Harris was very beloved in Skiathos. Often named a true gentleman, very kind, friendly and calm. Although his death ceremony took place in Amsterdam, where his body left him, and he left his body, his soul can be found in the gallery, where his paintings with their stories can be viewed.
The themes, the colours and the details he has added make his artwork totally unique. Through the years he evolved and his style became more refined and more characteristic.
His work can be divided into 4 periods.
1- the psychedelic phase, heavily dominated by the colours of that era, many red and brown tones, simple, and sometimes morbid themes. You can strongly feel the late sixties and early seventies.
Oil paint on canvas, ofther applied in tick layers, either with a brush or
2- the classic mythology phase. The paintings have single themes, and here his very unique style is maturing. He starts to use the gold leaf, and the transparency that allows for so many details to blend in.
The paintings are made on canvas, which he coated with gold leaf. Then he would first draw the bigger image, the main theme with oil paint. Gradually he would add more layers, creating the shiny 3-d effect that is so characteristic for his work.
3- his angry phase. Still using mythology, but now using the mythology as a metaphor for what is happening in the present time around him. He was against globalization, capitalism and the immense power of the banks. Also politically he is very outspoken.
Anger, injustice and compassion for the working class and humanity can be found in his work during this episode.
4- his romantic phase. He turned the page when he came to realize the anger that had oozed out of him, had also damaged himself. He distanced his art from his political believes and focussed on the beauty in the world and inside of himself. The most gentle and sweet paintings he created date from this period.
The collection of his artwork consists of around 80 paintings. Each would take months to complete. He would paint for hours and hours, absent to the outside world, captured in his dreamy mind where images, concepts and believes battled to be let out free on the canvas.
Many artists have inspired him during his painting career. Some of the main artists are Salvador Dali, Maurits C. Escher, Jheronimus Bosch, Vincent van Gogh and even Edvard Munch, just to name a few.
Harris would never copy, but liked to play with the impact of their artwork, and used a similar concept to honour the very artists who inspired him. Some examples:
1- Odysseus and the Sirens inspired by Salvador Dali
2- Orpheus inspired by Jheronimus Bosch.
3- Three Moires and the Scream By Edvard Munch