A very large group of Project Drawings from the late 1960s through the early 1970s charts Antonakos's thinking through the Direct Neons and on into installations of greater scale, his Walls and Rooms.First shown in Athens, the Walls investigated both bold and subtle variations of almost "syntactical" relationships between the neon forms "drawn" on the colored surfaces.
Born in Agios Nikolaos in southern Greece, he immigrated to the US with his family at the age of four and lived in New York City thereafter.
After serving in WWII he established his first studio in the 1950s in New York City's fur district, a fertile neighborhood for the found objects and found materials of his early large Assemblages, Constructions, and "Sewlages" (sewn fabric collages) through that decade, when he worked also as a commercial artist.
Seeing the neon signs in these Manhattan streets night after night released his intuition of the medium's untapped flexibility.
The same holds for the many Travel Collages produced from the late 1970s through 2001.
Throughout the 1970s, medium-scale two- and three-dimensional variations of his geometric vocabulary were strategically positioned on white walls in formal dialogue with their sites' ceilings, floors, inside corners, and outside corners.
Known as the Direct Neons, these works were exhibited extensively in galleries and museums across Europe and the US.
As ever, new work was conceived for each venue's particular sites.
He called neon "a paradise" he wished to "control" in his own new way, with abstract geometric forms in space.
Concentric neon circles and squares appeared first, notably in the transitional and Pillow Drawings, exhibited first at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, are distinguished by the intense engagement of the hand: cutting, adding, sewing, stuffing, drawing, layering, and combining materials in ways that clearly predict his constant practice with drawings and collages through the following decades.
The subsequent role of works on paper in forming Antonakos's development cannot be over-emphasized; he drew almost every day.
The physicality of these compositions and of the cuts and tears and layering in his collages through the years, make them not images, but objects.