Vasilis Dimitriou, the Artist Who Carried on the Lost Art of Hand-Painted Movie Billboards, Has Died at 84

He painted original movie posters for Greek cinemas for nearly 70 years.

Vassilis Dimitriou creating one of his hand-painted movie poster billboards for the Athinaion cinema in Athens. Photo courtesy of the Athinaion.
Vassilis Dimitriou creating one of his hand-painted movie poster billboards for the Athinaion cinema in Athens. Photo courtesy of the Athinaion.

Vassilis Dimitriou, master of the dying art form of the hand-painted movie poster, died at 84 on September 6. The Greek artist, who created over 8,000 works for movie theaters over a career that spanned nearly seven decades, was ill with Parkinson’s disease.

A self-taught painter, Dimitriou got his start in cinema at just 15—a theater manager who had caught him watching films without buying a ticket learned of his artistic talent and put the young boy to work. Sent to the workshops of established movie poster artists, Dimitriou began to master his new trade. He didn’t put down the brush until he retired last year.

“My teachers were the masters of the workshops where I worked. I watched and learned,” Dimitriou, who was known for painting in his signature beret, told the Greek Reporter in 2012. I don’t know if going to an arts school would have triggered something else inside me.”

His tireless work creating promotional art for Hollywood films included a 40 year stint at the Athinaion—the last theater in the country to feature original movie art rather than printed posters—creating works on brown paper to affix to its 42 by eight-foot-high billboard.

The Athinaion cinema in Athens hangs a movie poster by Greek billboard-artist Vassilis Dimitriou on April 22, 2015. Photo by Aris Messinis/AFP Photo via Getty Images.

The Athinaion cinema in Athens hangs a movie poster by Greek billboard-artist Vassilis Dimitriou on April 22, 2015. Photo by Aris Messinis/AFP Photo via Getty Images.

To aid his craft, Dimitriou developed his own waterproof paint, protecting his handmade posters from the weather. Most of the time, the new poster was simply pasted atop the old one, the artworks preserved for exhibitions only rarely.

Dimitriou, who boasted of having painted his favorite actor, Clint Eastwood, more than 50 times, recognized that his work hearkened back to the golden age of cinema. “Back then, you would go to the movies in a suit and tie,” he told the New York Times in 2014. “Women would wear beautiful dresses. There was an intermission, and half the theater would go to the foyer to have a drink and discuss the movie. Now that’s gone.”

Athens's Athinaion cinema, featuring artworks by Greek billboard artist Vassilis Dimitriou, on April 22, 2015. Photo by Aris Messinis/AFP Photo via Getty Images.

Athens’s Athinaion cinema, featuring artworks by Greek billboard artist Vassilis Dimitriou, on April 22, 2015. Photo by Aris Messinis/AFP Photo via Getty Images.

In 2015, Dimitriou began splitting his duties with his successor, 42-year-old Virginia Axioti, who still continues the proud tradition of the hand-painted billboard at the Athinaion. (Axioti’s grandfather and great-uncle founded the theater, which is run by her family to this day.)

Born on February 18, 1936, in the northern Greek village of Pogoniani, Dimitriou was the son of a homemaker and hotelier turned solider and resistance fighter, reports the Times. A survivor of the Nazi occupation of Athens who grew up in poverty, Dimitriou leaves behind wife Angeliki Dimitriou, daughter Konstantina Dimitriou, and a grandson.


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