fbpx vie magazine subscribe button

Creating Against the Odds

By Anthea Gerrie | Photography courtesy of Nicholas Kontaxis

What Krisann and Euthym Kontaxis always wished for their three boys was a full life that would see them making a contribution to the world and supporting themselves while doing something they loved. Their faith and hopes were borne out: Michael, the eldest, became a filmmaker; and Christian, the youngest, is a medical student attracting attention for his research into COVID-19. But for years, the notion of fulfillment, let alone fame and fortune, seemed an impossible dream for the couple’s middle son, who, at the pivotal time he was starting to walk and talk, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor causing severe developmental damage.

However, at age twenty-four, it is Nicholas Kontaxis who has a higher profile than either of his brothers, wowing the world with paintings and making a living through his art against all the odds. Despite suffering fifty thousand seizures to date, Nicholas has emerged as an internationally collected young artist whose paintings command up to five figures and hang on the walls of celebrities at home in the US and abroad, including those of tennis ace Roger Federer. On the one hand, it seems astonishing for a young man who cannot communicate with his clients through conventional language; on the other, it’s not surprising given the immediate appeal of his dramatic, vibrant canvases, which show a real love of color and an absolute joy in the process of spreading paint.

Nicholas alone is the artist, making it clear what colors he wants to work with on any given day and suggesting to his mother, who says “absolutely, he can communicate” what his finished canvas will represent, giving rise to titles like Hear the Rain and Sandwich Please. But the Kontaxis success story is very much a family affair. Krisann is the ever-present mom charged with everything from nurturing her son’s art to keeping him away from the sugar and carbs that could cause a seizure. Euthym tucks him into bed and rises to give him medication throughout the night. Twenty-seven-year-old Michael and twenty-year-old Christian have become fiercely protective of their brother, who, despite his condition, “really loves all the male energy” when hanging out with them, according to their mom.

Nicholas Kontaxis Art
Nicholas Kontaxis and his mother, Krisann Kontaxis.

None of the lifelong challenges this family was destined to face were evident when Nicholas was born, a sweet baby who did all the expected things at the right time. “He was right on track—he crawled, walked, and at fourteen months was just starting to talk,” says Krisann. But at fifteen months, he had his first seizure. “It was subtle at first, but when it became obvious something wasn’t right, we took him to Boston Children’s Hospital,” says Krisann. Two weeks of tests revealed a tumor so deep in the brain that a biopsy could not be performed. It turned out to be stable and slow growing, albeit highly disruptive.

Since then, Krisann and Euthym have battled to control their son’s seizures—up to thirty a day—against the odds (all the more difficult because Nicholas proved allergic to prescribed medications). His epilepsy, which provokes falls and could cause sudden death, has never been fully controlled, “although the ketogenic diet we put him on immediately helped,” says Krisann.

In 1999, the family moved from the East Coast to California, where Euthym is now the director of the emergency room at Eisenhower Medical Center, in order to be close to a big city for hospital appointments. They frequently make the two-hundred-mile round-trip from their desert home to Los Angeles.

After spending his preschool years in mainstream schools with the support of teaching aides, Nicholas moved to a school with special education classes, “although he was always able to access some mainstream classes, primarily art and the occasional science class in high school, which he seemed to enjoy,” says Krisann. Later, doubts arose about Nicholas’s suitability for a job-share program organized to help prepare students for work. “Because of his seizures, it was clear he could not safely do any of the jobs suggested.”

“His joy in creating and success in making art are a true miracle and a gift from God; we are so grateful.”

A solution surfaced at Opportunity Village in Las Vegas, a facility dedicated to the vocational assessment of young people with special needs. “They have an art lab, and we saw that painting, which Nicholas had been doing in school for ten years, might be something he could do as an adult,” says Krisann. “He had loved color from a young age, so it reinforced a path we were already on.”

To qualify for art-based training, however, Nicholas had to show he could make an income from painting. It was his aunt, Jenni Pulos (Krisann’s sister), who provided the vital validation. “An interior designer, she knew and loved his work and used some of his pieces to decorate a client’s home, which prompted his school to graciously allow him the time and space to pursue his art,” says Krisann.

A home studio was established where Nicholas would continue to paint after the hours he put in at school. He now works there full-time. Krisann furnished the space with plenty of paints and palette knives, which the young artist prefers to brushes. She says, “Now we have a much larger variety of knives, and he also uses hoes and rakes for his large-scale works.”

In 2015, Jenni, an Emmy-nominated producer, organized his first exhibition in LA, which was attended by several of her celebrity connections. Since then, Nicholas has sold more than three hundred canvases, ranging in price from $1,200 to $35,000.

Nicholas Kontaxis Art
The Kontaxis family, including Grandma and aunt Jenni Pulos, celebrate Nicholas’s artwork at the De Re Gallery, formerly located on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. | Photo by Taili Song Roth

He is also getting commissions. The first was from Kaiser Permanente hospitals in California; a buyer for the organization saw his work at an LA show to which he had submitted forty paintings and sold all but four—the first of nine straight near sell-out exhibitions across the US and another in London. The Kaiser commission is a commanding seven-foot-by-three-foot canvas; another giant mural was commissioned for the Desert Jet Center terminal at Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport in Coachella Valley. Nicholas’s other corporate patrons have included Adidas and the Los Angeles Chargers.

While Nicholas clearly considers big to be beautiful, many of his most charming canvases are small but perfectly formed. “He often makes eight-by-ten-inch ‘experiments’ from which he pulls the colors for larger works,” says Krisann, who invests the proceeds of his sales into new paints and tools as well as the considerable level of ongoing care he requires.

She says parental hopes for Nicholas’s future at birth were not diminished by his devastating diagnosis. “Our goals for all three boys were essentially the same—to have high morals, be good people who are kind and giving, have a good work ethic, enjoy what they choose to do, and support themselves.

“We always treated Nicholas the same, even when his ability to accomplish the latter seemed a reach.” She seems to exude gratitude from every pore when she adds, “His joy in creating and success in making art are a true miracle and a gift from God; we are so grateful.”

— V —


Learn more about Nicholas’s work at NicholasKontaxis.com.

Anthea Gerrie is based in the UK but travels the world in search of stories. Her special interests are architecture and design, culture, food, and drink, as well as the best places to visit in the world’s great playgrounds. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, the Independent, and Blueprint.



Read Responsibly

VIE Magazine August 2020 Art & Culture Issue, Nathan Alan Yoakum Art
VIE Magazine - Architecture & Design Issue - July 2020
VIE Magazine - Decor and Home Issue - June 2020
VIE Magazine May 2020 Entertainment Issue, Leslie Odom Jr
VIE Magazine - April 2020 Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine March 2020 The Fashion Edit, VONDOM, Alys Beach Fl, Digital Graffiti, Tres Chic, isidro dunbar Modern Interiors, Digital Graffiti Festival
VIE Magazine February 2020 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Travel Issue - January 2020 - Tanzania Safari Cover
VIE Magazine - Women's Issue - December 2019 - Tina Brown Cover
VIE NOV19 Goodness Issue
VIE Magazine, September 2019 Art & Culture Issue, Paul Hanninen
VIE Magazine - August 2019 - The Architecture and Design Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2019 - The Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - June 2019 - Fashion Edit
VIE Magazine - May 2019 - Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine - April 2019 - The Health & Wellness Issue
VIE Magazine - Special Entertainment Edition - March 2019
VIE Magazine February 2019 Luxury Homes & Technology Issue with Robbie Antonio of Revolution Precrafted
VIE Magazine - January 2019 - Southern Sophisticate Issue Cover
VIE Magazine - Special Anniversary Travel Edition - December 2018
VIE Magazine - The Goodness Issue - November 2018
VIE Magazine - The Art & Culture Issue - October 2018
VIE Magazine - Home & Garden Issue - September 2018
VIE Magazine - August 2018 Animal Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2018 Architecture & Design Issue - Subscribe to the magazine!
VIE Magazine - June 2018 Travel & Tech Issue
VIE Magazine - May 2018 Couture Issue
VIE Magazine - The Culinary Issue - April 2018 Cover - Chef James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst
VIE Magazine - The Entertainers Issue - March 2018
VIE Magazine - February 2018 Destination Travel Issue
VIE Magazine - January 2018 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine, The Sophisticate Issue, December 2017
VIE Magazine - November 2017 Art & Culture Issue
VIE Magazine - October 2017 Home & Garden Issue
VIE Magazine | September 2017 | The Stories and Storytellers Issue
VIE Magazine - The Adventure Issue - August 2017
VIE Magazine - July 2017 - Art & Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - The Voyager Issue - June 2017
VIE magazine 2017 March-April Cover South Walton Fashion Week
VIE Magazine - January/February 2017 - The Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Nov/Dec 2016 The Sophisticate Issue
christian siriano vie magazine september october 2016 vie magazine
the modern minimalist issue
Summertime!
the culinary and couture issue march april 2016 vie magazine
the voyager issue alys beach vie magazine january february 2016
cultural issue vie magazine november december 2015
home and garden issue vie magazine september october 2015
the art and style issue vie magazine july august 2015
the wedding issue 2015 May June vie magazine
the food and fashion issue vie magazine march april 2015
the travel issue vie magazine january february 2015
the music issue vie magazine 2014 november december
The Animal Issue vie magazine september october 2014
the home and garden issue vie magazine july august 2014
the wedding issue vie magazine may june 2014
emeril lagasse food and fashion vie magazine
the men's issue january february 2014
the music issue november december 2013 vie magazine
the home and garden issue 2013 october september
the wedding issue vie magazine july august 2013
the artist issue may june 2013 vie magazine
the food and fashion issue march april 2013
the men's issue january february 2013 vie magazine
The Holiday Issue
the love issue july august 2012
the all american summer may june 2012
the entertainment issue march april 2012
the fashion issue vie magazine winter 2011
the home and garden issue vie magazine fall 2011
the anniversary edition vie magazine summer 2011
the wedding issue vie magazine spring 2011
vie magazine the holiday issue 2010 Dec
vintage swimsuits vie magazine 2010 Fall
judith march designer vie magazine summer 2010
wedding giveaway vie magazine spring 2010
holiday gift guide vie magazine winter 2009
emarketing explosion vie magazine fall 2009
tribute to mother's day vie magazine summer 2009
james and robert redford vie magazine spring 2009
zz top vie magazine fall winter 2008
project dreams vie magazine new york fashion week
Sign-up for VIEmail

Sign up for VIEmail

X

A LIFESTYLE