The loss of painter Bill Komodore leaves a large void in Dallas. Bill was my teacher, and he was an artist. But more than anything, Bill Komodore was a storyteller. He would share his unique personal history with all of those around him. He would tell stories of his early youth spent in German-occupied Greece where he and his friends would break into parked Nazi Tanks to steal whatever they could find to make crude explosives to destroy them. Later, when Komodore received a hero’s award from the Greek government for these actions, he received it reluctantly. For Komodore, he was only exhibiting normal adolescent destructive tendencies.
After struggling in New York as an artist and father, Komodore achieved critical success with a group of paintings that were seen to be inline with the Op Art Movement. He landed a blue chip dealer and exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art and The Whitney. His newfound fame, however, could not keep him from returning to his love of myth and figure. It was this return to figuration that lost him his dealers and support in New York, which he referred to as being “black-balled.” It would have been a simple thing for Komodore to continue making the popular paintings and remain in the spotlight, yet he had to sacrifice all of that to dedicate his painting to what he felt strongest about: storytelling. Fortunately for us, this led him to Dallas and to teaching at Brookhaven College and then Southern Methodist University.
Teaching at SMU, he was able to share his love of myth with students over decades. It is hard to forget his chuckles and the sparkle in his eye when he would begin to tell you one of his many stories in an effort to make a critical point about a work in progress. There were so many stories. There was the time when he was a waiter and he spilled drinks on Jack Ruby’s girlfriend shortly before the Kennedy assassination, a slip that managed to land mention of him in the pages of the Warren Commission. Or the story about the rotting lobster in a bucket, and how he kept getting rehired as a waiter because of an old stereotype that held that Greeks made good waiters. (Come to think of it, he might be the reason why we don’t hear that one anymore.)
There was the story about his early days in New York when he had a studio next to Jackson Pollock’s girlfriend, Ruth Kligman, and a drunken Pollock would often mistakenly bang on Komodore’s door looking for her. Then there were his studies with Mark Rothko, Hans Hoffman, David Smith and George Rickey. And, of course, there were always the stories taken from his beloved Greek myths; Orpheus was one of his favorites among many, many stories.
Bill was a great artist, but it is Bill’s stories that I will miss most. Now, instead of sitting and listening to my teacher’s stories, I will have to conjure his spirit and share my own stories with my daughter, stories of the great Bill Komodore, as I’m sure many of you who know him have found yourselves doing this past week. Take heart, in our stories Komodore has become a myth and a legend. He will be greatly missed, but not forgotten.
Photo by Teresa Rafidi