Gregory Kondos, Doctor of Fine Arts

Nearly six decades after renowned landscape painter Gregory Kondos ’51, MA ’57 (Art) earned his master’s degree from then-Sacramento State College—and 65 years since he completed his undergraduate studies—his alma mater is honoring him with a special degree.

Sacramento State and the California State University Board of Trustees will confer an honorary doctor of fine arts degree on Kondos during the College of Arts and Letters graduation ceremony on May 21.

“You are one of the greatest painters of all time, a man I admire,” President Robert S. Nelsen told Kondos during a celebratory reception at the University’s Julia Morgan House.

“There are special days, days that matter, and those days are very often when we honor someone who does things we never dreamed could be done. (Gregory Kondos) has touched our hearts through his art. He’s made it so that we see the Delta in a new way and feel at home there,” Nelsen said.

Kondos, at 93, paints nearly every day and usually has several canvases underway. He once had five art studios: on a mountainside in France, in Santa Fe, N.M., and, in California in Pacific Grove, south of Clarksburg and at his home in Sacramento. Now, he works exclusively in the downtown Sacramento townhouse he shares with his wife Moni Van Camp.

Kondos is one of Sacramento’s most prominent artists and one of the world’s foremost landscape painters. His work hangs in galleries, museums, and private collections throughout the world. His public art installations include the 570-foot-long glass mural River’s Edge and the 12-foot-tall oil painting Sutter’s Gold, both at Sacramento International Airport. His oil-on-canvas Clarksburg River Mansion is on display at Sac State’s Harper Alumni Center.

He continues to paint his favorite locales, primarily the Sacramento River Delta, the American Southwest, Yosemite, France and Greece, his parents’ homeland. Almost always, there is a touch of blue—his signature color.

He had a museum show in Shanghai, China when he was 87. In 2013, the Crocker Art Museum honored him with a solo retrospective to celebrate his 90th birthday.

He has a lifetime achievement award from the Florence Biennale in Italy and was elected to the New York-based National Academy, an honorary association of American artists. The art gallery at Sacramento City College, where he taught for 27 years, bears his name.

And this summer, he’ll be one of the first to receive a star on Sacramento’s Walk of Stars.

Kondos grew up in Sacramento from about age 3, when his parents moved the family from Massachusetts, and he served four years in the Navy during World War II before returning to his hometown for good.

“My father greeted me at the bus station,” he recalls. “He said, ‘What are you going to do now?’ ‘I’m going to go to school,’ I said. He still couldn’t speak English. I said, ‘Dad, I want to be an artist.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Go for it.’ Those words made me who I am today.”

Kondos was a student at Sacramento State College when the school was in its infancy and holding classes in rented quarters at Sacramento Junior (now City) College on Freeport Boulevard. By the time he completed his master’s degree in 1957, Sacramento State was a decade old and fully settled at its permanent site on J Street.

At Sac State, Kondos studied art alongside Wayne Thiebaud, and the two became lifelong friends. Both went on to teach at the junior college and, in 1960, Thiebaud became an assistant professor at UC Davis.

Thiebaud and Kondos were among a group of Sacramento artists who in 1958 founded the city’s first private gallery, Artists Cooperative Gallery, which later became Artists Contemporary Gallery. Before then, artists showed their work mostly in bars and drive-in movie theater lobbies.

As for his honorary doctorate, Kondos says, “I’m flattered. I was a born teacher. I was always one to pursue questions and, finally, in my old age, I’ve picked up the word ‘mistake,’ and dwell on that. It takes making mistakes (in my paintings) to find an answer. If you deny a mistake, you haven’t learned anything. Through mistakes, I feel that I’ve become who I am.”

Story by Dixie Reid