By Greta Cobar
A visit to Pano’s apartment is a visit to Pano’s museum: all vertical and horizontal surfaces are covered with sculptures, paintings and drawings that he’s been creating for most of his ninety years. Beachhead readers might be familiar with his poetry, which has been published in this paper in the past.
But Pano’s been around since before the Beachhead: moved to Ocean Park in ’63 and moved about 2 blocks South in ’75, when he came to Venice.
After celebrating his 90th Birthday on May 12, Pano continues to do what he’s been doing since the ‘60s and enjoys every minute of it.
“I try to write a poem every week – I like it a lot – I feel really great. You’re revealing your inner self – poetry is more revealing than prose,” Pano said. And he stays on top of his game by attending the Wednesday evening poetry workshops at Beyond Baroque. “I go every week – I get validated and I get immediate approval. I like it if they say it’s good,” Pano said. He has two published poetry books, which he sells for $5 each.
And then he went on to tell me about the difference between the A, B and C parties that he threw in his 5,000 square foot dwelling on Pier and Nielson: “it was like a nightclub, for God’s sake!” That was at night though – in the daytime the place was a real artist workshop, with people renting rooms as day studios and attending the drawing workshop that Pano ran for twelve years. The building was owned by the Southern Pacific Railroad and Pano got evicted when they decided that the building was not earthquake safe.
“Eight percent of artists make it on their work alone – the other 92 percent either have another job or their wife is working,” according to Pano. After getting a Sociology degree from USC and a Masters in Fine Arts from UCLA, Pano “did things to keep the groceries coming in – drove a cab, woodworking, built ceramic bases for lamps.”
“I became an artist for the dentists,” Pano exclaimed, and then went on to tell me how he operated on the barter system, making sculptures of the dentist, his wife and kids in exchange for dental work.
Success as both an artist and a poet did not evade Pano, though. Some of his paintings and drawings have been exhibited in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Pasadena Art Museum.
“Now I appreciate the Emeritus college at Santa Monica City College, where I go weekly for the figurative drawing class,” Pano said.
So where did his fancy Panagiotis name come from? From his Greek parents, of course. Born in Pasadena, Pano was not familiar with the English language or the American culture till he went to school, and that’s when his older brother was like a father to him. When it came up in our conversation that his older brother was killed in combat, in World War II, Pano said: “I can’t talk about it.”
“I wasn’t gonna volunteer,” Pano said about being drafted and being in the service for three years, also in World War II. “I was in the Battle of Bulge – there were more casualties than in any other World War II battle: 17,000 US soldiers in 6 weeks,” Pano told me.
And just like you would ask any other Greek person born in this country, I asked Pano if he ever went to Greece. He said he went and had a good time with his cousins, who were sheep herders in the mountains. That must have been a trip!
“‘How are you’ now means ‘How is your health?’,” Pano told me about being ninety. And then he somewhat summarized his life by saying: “I’ve never had a credit card, I’ve never used a computer. I pinch pennies.”
Pano, thank you for sharing your work and life with me, and thank you for all that you give us all through your poetry and artwork.
Not to Frown
By Pano Douvos
Life is a stage tis said
You cross it fast
Sheet life is no fucking stage
Man it’s for real one time
No trucking back
To pick off bad fruit
No way you should get seconds
Life is no fucking stage
Life is a pair of dice
Dig it snake-eyes for you
And snake-bit no foolin
But not to frown
Pano Douvos was honored for his poetry at Beyond Baroque on August 31, 2014. Friends gathered to pay tribute with stories, music, food and dancing. Douvos read a selection of his poetry; Photo: Dorothy Spirus