During her long and productive career as an artist, Lillian mastered many techniques, media and styles from oils to pastels and watercolours, from painting to appliqué and collage, and from landscapes to still-life, interiors and iconography.
She was born in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, USA to Greek parents who had recently emigrated from the Peloponnese. Her initial art training was in New York in the 1950s at Pratt Institute and the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. After graduation, she travelled and studied extensively in Japan, France and Greece before returning to New York to produce many large interiors with nudes.
In 1970 she moved to England and made this country her adopted home. In London the focus of her work shifted to fabric appliqué and during this period she produced many wall hangings and tapestries for private individuals, churches and public spaces as well as garments for the world of show business. When, in 1972, she married the writer Robin Amis, her skill in appliqué was used to stunning effect on her own wedding dress which was subsequently exhibited at the V&A museum in London.
After their marriage, Lillian and Robin moved to the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. This marked the beginning of her long and fruitful association with the English garden whose profusion of colour reinforced her already strong love of pattern. The watercolours produced during this period quickly translated into designs, and formed the basis of a tapestry needlepoint workshop formed in partnership with Kaffe Fassett. The work produced from Kaffe’s and Lillian’s designs and stitched into tapestries won many awards and was widely exhibited in such places as the V&A Queen’s Jubilee exhibition, the Royal College of Art and ‘Threads of History’ at Courtauld House.
In the 1980s, the floral watercolours inspired further areas of applied design including a range of fabrics and wall paper for Designers Guild, ceramics for Habitat and Royal Doulton, and cards for Elgin Court. In the 1990s, Lillian returned for a sojourn to her native Massachusetts, and during that period produced a series of landscapes inspired by the marshlands and tidal estuaries of the coastline.
Lillian’s work now began to be more and more influenced by the icons of Greece and Russia and for several years, devoted herself to learning the techniques of iconography in order to penetrate its secrets and sharpen her own painting technique. This gradually led to a series of works which combined spiritual iconic images with images of the world.
With all this behind her, when asked, towards the end of her life, what her next step would be, she replied ‘To review my past history as an artist and to draw from each period the most important aspects which can still feed my current work, and to return to these subjects in order to perfect them’.
This is exactly what Lillian accomplished when, in the final year of her life, she produced a series of eighty works on Mary Magdalene, which she felt was the culmination of her artistic legacy. Although unable to paint due to a shoulder operation, Lillian used collage to combine her past artwork with other images: ‘As the series evolved I began to feel that these works were the target to which all my years as a painter were pointing – that all the techniques and methods I had explored formed the means by which I could best express this subject [Mary Magdalene]’.
Some of the results of Lillian’s seventy years of remarkable productivity are shown on this website and we hope that you enjoy sharing in her artistic legacy.
- 1950-1953 Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York, Department of Art and Design.
- 1953-1956 The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York City. Graduated with honours in 1956 (B.A degree in Fine and Graphic Arts)
- 1957-1958 Studied woodblock printing and calligraphy in Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan, with T. Yoshida and T. Tokuriki (Zen Flesh, Zen Bones)
- 1959 Studied and travelled in France, Germany, Switzerland
- 1982-1995 Studied iconography and Byzantine mosaics in Greece.
- 1965 Louis Comfort Tiffany Award in painting, New York
- 1977 New York Art Directors Association Gold Award
- 1986 ArtQuest Finalist, California
- 1986 Hunting Group, Mall Galleries, London, UK
- 1990 Greek Cultural Centre, Boston, Massachusetts
- 1993 Copley Society, Boston, Mass. Awarded Artist status
- 1973/4 Art in Needlework Exhibition, Celanese House, London. First prizes in two categories (tapestry needlepoint and applique)
- 1972-79 Awarded several apprenticeship grants from the Arts Council (UK) for tapestry design and fibre art, and for establishing and maintaining the Weatherall Workshops for Tapestry Design in the Forest of Dean, Glos.
- Victoria and Albert Museum, UK (tapestry hanging commissioned for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Exhibition, 1977)
- Our Lady of Ransome Church, Rayleigh, Essex, UK
- International Atomic Energy Commission, Vienna, Austria
- Sisters of Mercy Convent, Brentford, Essex, UK
- Guildford Council Chambers, UK
- National Gallery of Art, Victoria, Australia
- Liberty’s of London
- Temple Newsham, Leeds
- College of St. Mark and St. John, Plymouth
- Exeter University, Exeter
EXHIBITIONS – ONE WOMAN SHOWS
- 1961 – 2000 USA
- University of California School of Architecture, Berkeley, CA.
- Robert Sabersky Gallery, Los Angeles
- New York SIX Gallery
- Robert Schoelkopf Gallery, New York
- Royal Athena Gallery, New York
- Drew University, Madison, NJ
- Churchill Gallery, Newburyport, Mass.
- Maliotis Cultural Center, Hellenic College, Brookline Mass.
- Atlantic Gallery, New York
1972 – 2002 ENGLAND
- Liberty’s of London
- Gloucester Museum and Art Gallery
- Lincolnshire Arts Centre
- Packhorse Gallery, Bath
- Ernest Cook Gallery, Cirencester Workshops, Glos.
- General Trading Company, London
- Crispin Hall, Street, Somerset
- Ebury Gallery, London
- Yew Tree Gallery, Derbyshire
- Stroud Festival,Glos.
- Gallery 10, London
- Copernican Connection, E. Yorkshire
- Century Galleries, Henley-on-Thames
- St. Giles Church, Oxford
- Salisbury Cathedral, Salisbury, Wilts.
- Penn Club, London
- Parish of St. John with St. Andrew, London
- Marian Study Centre, LSU, Southampton
- Hellenic Centre, London
- Art Garden Gallery, Bristol
- College of St. Mark and St. John, Plymouth
- University of Exeter
1979 – 1986 SCOTLAND, WALES, EUROPE
- Edinburgh Festival, Scotland
- The Gallery, Cardiff, Wales
- Amerika-Haus, Munich, Germany
- Kinsthandlung, Hanfstaengl, Munich, Germany
- Designers Guild, Paris, France
- Ina Boerse Gallery, Laren, Holland
EXHIBITIONS – GROUP SHOWS
1960 – 2002 USA AND ELSEWHERE
- San Francisco Museum of Art,
- DeYoung Museum
- California Palace of the Legion of Honor
- New York University
- Elaine Benson Gallery, Long Island, NY
- Coach House Gallery, Channel Islands
- Atlantic Gallery, New York, NY
- The English Gallery, Peterborough, NH
- Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, MA
- San Francisco College of Art, California
- The Copley Society, Boston, Mass.
1972 – 2002 ENGLAND & ELSEWHERE
- Revival of Art in Needlework, London
- V & A Museum, Queen’s Jubilee Exhibition
- Royal College of Art, London
- British Genius, London
- Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire
- British Crafts Centre, London
- Design Centre, London
- Rooksmore Gallery, Bath
- Beaux Arts Gallery, Bath
- Camden Art Centre, London
- Royal Academy Summer Show
- Fulham Gallery, London
- Royal West of England Academy, Bristol
- Print 86 The Barbican London
- Mall Galleries, London
- Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour, London
- Nina Zborowska Gallery, Painswick, Glos.
- Fiery Beacon Gallery, Painswirk, Glos.
- Coombe Farm Gallery, Devon
- Galerie Paul Vallotton, Lausanne, Switzerland
- Design Workshop, Elsa Williams School of Needleart, USA
- Lecturer, Gloucester College of Art, Cheltenham, Glos. Gawthrope Hall, Burnley, Lancs, Drew University, Madison, NJ, Lansdown, Stroud College of Art, Glos, Field Study Centre, Slapton, Devon, Dartington Hall Programme, Dartington, Devon
- Originated and administered a tapestry studio with Kaffe Fassett (Weatherall Workshops_ Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, from 1972 to 1979, maintaining a staff of 3 – 6 apprentices and several outworkers.
ARTICLES AND PUBLICATIONS
- US Art News, Arts Magazine, Who’s Who in American Art.
- UK. The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Times, London Evening Standard, Vogue Magazine, Good Housekeeping Magazine, Vanity Fair, Brides, Illustrated London News, Crafts Magazine, Gloucestershire Life, Cotswold, Life, Arts, Review, Lonton Portrait, Greek Review, Who’s Who in Art, International Design Yearbook, Sunday Express, The World of the Makers (Edward Lucie Smith), The Sign, The Quaker Journal, Resurgence Magazine
Lillian Delevoryas is one of the most varied and eclectic painters of her time. The whole of her lengthy career spanning 60 years has been devoted to a journey towards a moment that she herself describes as one of ‘surprise and delight’. Her chosen method has been a dedication to absorbing influences from the astounding number of sources which she encountered during her travels both in the world at large as well as in the world of art and of the spirit.
Lillian was born to Greek immigrant parents in Western Massachusetts in 1932. At the age of 17, she began her studies in New York just at the point when the city was replacing Paris as the world centre of art. People like Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko were showing experimental work just a few miles away from her art colleges (Pratt Institute and Cooper Union). But Lillian and a few fellow students resisted that revolution and set themselves to learning the hard way – by copying the masters – both traditional and modern. By scrutinising the paintings she loved in the museums, and by analysing how they were created, she was able to practice her skills and train her hand to execute what her eyes and mind perceived.
In the 50s, after graduating from art school, the next step in her artistic journey took her to Japan (when her first husband was posted to Korea by the Army). There she studied calligraphy and wood block printing with Toshi Yoshida and Tomi Tokuriki, and acquired a way of a novel ‘non-Western’ way of seeing that was to reveal itself in her later work. On her return to New York in the 60s she created her earliest major works – the New York Studio Series – an exploration of structure and of light – both real and reflected. These works combined several influences, including Matisse and Picasso, as well as revealing an unexpected element of the Vorticism of the early Duchamp – all of which resulted in an unique personal vision. Throughout her long life, these early paintings have continually served as a source of inspiration – the same themes surfacing again and again in different mediums and sizes.
One of the biggest lessons Lillian learned in her Japanese sojourn was that the distinction, often made in the West, between ‘art’ and ‘design’ was a false one. As a result of this discovery, in the late Sixties, she turned from painting to textile art. Her work in fabric appliqué brought her to England in 1970 where she was commissioned to design hangings for luxury Mayfair apartments, for aristocrats and costumes for performers like David Bowie. Her garments were featured in the pages of London Vogue, and her self-designed wedding dress is now representing that era in the V & A Museum.
In 1972, when she married writer/philosopher Robin Amis, they left London to find more space for their work and ended up on the borders of Wales in the Forest of Dean. After a long absence from painting, Lillian again took up her brushes, this time inspired by the flowers in her garden. As with the influences of her Japanese sojourn, the English garden proved to be the next step forward in her journey. The Matisse influence re-emerged, more as a sort of complementary dialogue with him than a mimicking of his light and colour. Hilary Spurling, an expert on Matisse, now hangs a Delevoryas alongside an original Matisse in her home because she reckons that Lillian’s work is one of the few images that can successfully complement him.
By the 1980s, Robin’s interest in the early fathers of the church led him to the monasteries of Mount Athos in Greece. During his visits to the monasteries, Lillian used her time (as a woman she was barred from the Holy Mountain) to study Greek iconography and the art of the ancient Middle East. Working within that tradition over the next several years, she produced beautiful icons, as well as publishing a book, Visual Meditations based on St Gregory of Nyssa’s work, The Life of Moses.
Her Greek journeys produced another unexpected change of direction. While travelling, she found it easier to carry an iPad rather than carrying a lot of painting equipment. Back in her studio in Bristol, work on the iPad opened up a whole new way of working which revived her interest in textiles, her feel for things oriental, and the vivid colour of Matisse, resulting in a synthesis of original images reminiscent of Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo.
Another development in her work happened by a fortuitous coincidence. While working on the iPad, she hit a wrong button and everything changed from positive to negative – including the colours. This ‘happy accident’ had the effect of transforming her way of seeing colour, and as a result Lillian revisited a lifetime of images from her artistic past (as well as some new ones) to explore and pursue this startling departure in her work.
Necessary surgery removed the precise control she had always had in her brush hand and so, in her 80s, she turned, like Matisse, to collage. She continued to find the energy to keep working and creating new and exciting pictures. She produced more than fifty images on the Expulsion from Paradise series, which led her to consider other and more recent political expulsions. Then the theme of redemption, implicit in the Expulsion, led her to a consideration of role and significance of Mary Magdalene. While that particular impetus was largely spiritual and intellectual, Lillian, continued to explore techniques, searching for new ways of seeing, as well as the means to express them in collage. She went right on searching, almost to the day of her death, for her ‘moment of surprise’ or revelation.
As her audience, we have been, and still are, privileged to share her journey of spiritual discovery and join in her visual pilgrimage, searching for the epiphany, the breakthrough to new dimensions, the ‘moment of surprise and delight’. Even now, after her death in 2018, we can see that the work of Lillian Delevoryas still has the power to lead us to new ways of appreciating, exploring artistic technique, and novel ways of seeing. Through Lillian’s work we can experience delight in our world and receive sudden perceptions not just about beauty but also about what may lie in other dimensions. Lillian Delevoryas, as she always did, goes on taking us from the ‘how’ to the ‘wow’. We are all compelled to join her pilgrimage of delight.
Don Carleton, Bristol, 2018
Sophia Amis (or Lillian, as she is more generally known) was born in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, to Basil and Sophie Delevoryas, Greek immigrants from the village of Lagadia in the Province of Arkadia in the Peloponnese. She was the only daughter amongst four brothers – John, Ted, Nicholas and Mark.
Lillian left Chicopee Falls at the age of 18 to study art in New York, where she attended Pratt Institute and Cooper Union, graduating with honours in 1956 with a degree in Fine Art. After travelling to Japan and France she returned to New York, where her work was widely exhibited.In 1970 Lillian came to England, where she began design work in the field of appliqué embroidery. It was here that she met her late husband Robin (George) Amis, the writer, philosopher and poet, and together they founded the Weatherall Design Workshops, a centre for artistic and spiritual training. In the ensuing years Lillian became known in the fields of both painting and the textile arts; throughout her life she continued to experiment in various techniques and media.
Lillian has one son, Nicholas, and several step-children: Robert, Diana, Freya and Peter. She lost her beloved husband in 2014, and in the 3 years that followed, she completed her artistic life with two major collections: the Expulsion from Paradise series and the Mary Magdalene series.
Lillian approached her passing with the same grace, courage and attention to detail she gave to life – she even wrote the first part of this eulogy.
I met Lillian four years ago and that meeting changed my life. When I first phoned her, to get hold of some books published by Robin, it was three days after his death. Despite the fact that she had just lost her beloved husband she was gracious, generous and helpful – the needs of a fellow seeker were more important than her personal grief. Lillian’s support and encouragement of those around her brought out the best in everyone she met. She had the gift of true friendship, and through this gift she brought me to Orthodoxy and faith in the light of Christ, for which I shall be forever grateful.
We worked together on producing her first book, Visual Contemplations, which was inspired by her faith and the work of Saint Gregory of Nyssa, and which she published at the age of 83. We also re-edited and published one of Robin’s works, a translation and commentary on the writings of Saint Gregory Palamas, Holy Hesychia, and published a calendar of her last great artistic endeavour, which was inspired by Saint Mary Magdalene.
Her energy was indefatigable: in the last year of her life she completed the Mary Magdalene series of 85 pictures, which she regarded as the culmination of her life’s work. She also had three major exhibitions, exhibiting works from her Expulsion from Paradise series in Bath; a retrospective of her work with the Bovill and Walton gallery in Suffolk; and a very succesful exhibition of the In The Library series in Bristol. Her final exhibition was at home, for the West Bristol Arts Trail, following which her energy levels slowly ebbed away.
Lillian lived her life according to Dostoyevsky’s maxim, ‘Beauty will save the world’. And she died as she had lived. In notes about the death of her mother she wrote that in watching her mother die, “the heavenly and the earthly began to interpenetrate, the Kingdom of Heaven was suddenly very close. She released me from the fear of death. This is what she wanted … no sadness … no sorrow … no mourning.” Those of us who were privileged to watch Lillian die have all been touched by her desire to enter this last adventure in full awareness. She faced death with the faith that she would be united with our Lord, Jesus Christ, and reunited with her beloved husband. May we all face our earthly end with that same courage, conviction and calm acceptance.
Lillian expressed her art not only through her painting, but also through her life and family and friends, and ultimately in the manner of her passing. There are many who, like me, will continue rejoicing in her life through the friendships formed because of her. Lillian loved many and was loved by many more. She was an inspiration to all who knew her and although her absence will be sorely felt, her life and love will live on through her work and the ripples of love she has bequeathed us all.
May her memory be eternal!