Remembering Bill Komodore: War Hero, Artist, Teacher, Storyteller

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

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Comments

  • Teresa

    Thanks Josh for your words. I know very well how important was for you and how closer you were to you him. What a great loss! He will be missed a lot.

  • I enjoyed reading it. He touched so many lives and will be greatly missed.

  • Ashley goode

    Nicely put- couldn’t have said it better. Way to go Josh.

  • I’m still in the Rockies where we’ve been for several weeks and just got the sad news about the loss of a colleague and longtime friend, Bill. Each day I see the oil portraits in the painting he gave us as a wedding gift over twenty-five years, we will treasure it more. Farewell old friend and thank you.

  • Amy Ahluwalia

    Very sad to learn of the loss of Professor Komodore. Thank you for sharing such wonderful highlights about his life. I did not know him well and never had him as a professor; however, he always had a kind word to say and was such a warm and comforting presence at Meadows. I’m sure he will be missed by many.

  • It is with shock and profound sadness to hear of the passing of a great great painter and human being.Bill will always be the special person who made such a deep impact on my painting.We are so fortunate to have known him in our lifetime.Sincere condolences to Shannon.

  • Bill Komodore was spectacular professor. I was a student in one of the last classes he taught. I remember him telling us the story of Orpheus and other Greek myths, but I only knew the stories of his lifetime from others around SMU– he was so humble about his accomplishments. He was and always will be a kind of legend at SMU.

  • Patrick Schneider

    Bill was a human in the greatest sense. The story I most remember from him started as a story I heard from a friend. My friend told me that as a boy in Greece, Bill had gone through a neighborhood rite of sorts. He had one arm tied behind his back and had to fend off some of the local toughs. When I told this story to Bill, he said that he did not recall the event, but quite enjoyed it, and wished I’d continue to tell the story. He will be greatly missed. There are a lot of future students who really missed out on a one of a kind person.

  • Elizabeth

    Bill was one of my professors at SMU, the first to encourage me in the arts. I am today pursuing my education in the arts at Savannah College of Art and design, something I never would have thought possible before I met Bill. He used to call me Paris Hilton in class, and tease me about my toe rings, always asking if it meant I was married. I googled him today in my drawing class, wanting to show a friend the artwork of this amazing guy I had once studied with, only to find he had passed away. I don’t know that this is the place, but I just wanted to express how grateful I am for having known Bill. So sad I wasn’t able to tell him.

  • burqa

    This is a dreadful loss.

    Yes, Bill Komodore was a magnificent teacher and artist.
    I was fortunate to have had 3 of his classes in the mid-70s when he was artist in residence at Mary Washington College (now the University of Mary Washington), in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He let me sit in during others because I wanted to paint and wanted to learn so much.

    A highlight of every class would be, some time during the semester, he would give his address on kitch.
    “What is kitch and what is art?” was the subject and it was funny, instructive and thoughtful.
    He helped me to lay a solid foundation for the fine art I have done since.
    He was always curious about how things worked or were built.
    Komodore took what he had learned in medical school about how the human eye and brain work to receive and transmit images, and applied it to his Op Art work.
    He encouraged me to study the same, and also to study how paint is made and the various properties and characteristics of various pigments and why they are that way.
    We had to learn a few carpentry skills to make our own stretchers and stretch our own canvas.
    Mr. Komodore also had a way of being challenging about art. It is serious business and takes dedication and just what do you have to say, hmm?

    A favorite time during class at night was during a break. We would step out on the wide balcony and he would point out all the constellations in view and tell you the ancient Greek stories about them.
    Yes, he was a storyteller all right. He had some good ones about seeing some of the biggest rock acts of the late 60s, but wasn’t familiar with any of their music.

    The portion in the piece about Komodore leaving New York rings true. I know I discussed it with him and asked about some of the major dealers. I wanted to know all about the scene, you know? I figured if a painting was good, and people wanted to buy it, then dealers would want it, regardless of the subject matter or style. Just as long as it was good, right?
    He set me straight on that one.
    Otherwise, he didn’t care to talk about it much.
    But he didn’t abandon the Big Apple. In the mid-70s he was going back and forth regularly.

    Back in ’77, as I recall, MWC had a nice retrospective of his work, going back to drawings he did at Tulane. They brought in “Thousands” and a bunch of other Op Art pieces.
    I got to be there when they were uncrating everything and Mr. Komodore told me how he made certain things, what this work was about and how it had to be hung.
    Then, before the show opened, he gave a talk for all the students in his classes in the galleries where the work was displayed.
    He recalled The Responsive Eye show caused quite a stir and he was interviewed by Walter Cronkite on TV that night about it. But he also said that at the point, since it was all done, the real movement was over. He said people kept wanting to recreate that initial thrill, but that it was just repetition now.
    The painting I saw him doing that struck me was some landscape painting he did.
    Komodore also gave a nice charcoal drawing of the railroad bridge at Fredericksburg to the Central Rappahannock Regional Library, where it still hangs. About 8 or 10 years ago I told them what they had, and they had no idea. They just thought it was a pretty picture of the bridge, so they kept it.
    I think Bill Komodore would have liked that.

    He was a great one who touched so many in a positive way as an artist, a teacher, a raconteur. Bill Gus Komodore will be missed, but not forgotten.