J. Steven Manolis on the cover of Where Magazine Miami. He is standing in painting studio at Manolis Projects.

The American Dream

“The American Dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success in a society where upward mobility is possible for everyone. The American Dream is achieved through sacrifice, risk-taking, and hard work, rather than by chance.” Adam Barone, Investopedia

Humble Beginnings

Steven Manolis is the embodiment of the American Dream, rising from humble beginnings from a Greek and Swedish immigrant family from Huron, South Dakota, to achieve many pinnacles of success. Manolis knew that he wanted to be an artist by age 8, but his Greek Grandfather forbade it because all artists that he had known in Greece were communists.

So, at age 10, after watching the New York Yankees on his Grandfather’s TV, and inspired by his love for the team, he pronounced that he would become a businessman in New York City.

Steven was the oldest of five children. When he was 10, his mother was institutionalized with schizophrenia. The care of his younger siblings largely fell on Steven’s shoulders- cooking, ironing, helping with schoolwork, and cleaning the house. He did all of this while maintaining perfect grades in school. His father only remarried when Steven was 18 years old.

If You Work Hard

At age 13, Manolis had a part time job as golf caddy, allowing him to learn and master the game. He became the State Junior Champion in Golf in 1965-66. He was also a Varsity three Sport Huron High School Letterman 1964-66 (Football/Quarterback; Basketball/Guard; Track/Sprinter). Manolis was also named first team Class A, All State Basketball Team in 1966 and was the leading Class A scorer in basketball in the state of South Dakota. He also graduated Suma Cum Laude.

Manolis loved music and the Beatles so in 1963 at age 15, he co-founded “The Torres,” a rock and roll band with his friend Fritz Leigh. By age 18, the band was playing to packed dance halls every weekend and all summer through the 5 State Midwest Area. By the time he was 18, he was financially independent from the money he earned with the band. He used his savings to put himself and his siblings through college and help with the family expenses. He was co-lead singer and guitar player until he graduated from college in 1970. “The Torres” were inducted into the South Dakota Midwest Hall of Fame in 2011.

J. Steven Manolis Lead singer of The Torres, at rehearsal.

A Patriot and an Army Veteran

At the University of South Dakota, Manolis became an Army ROTC Lieutenant, Artillery (Air Defense) and received the Distinguished Military Student Award in 1970. After graduation, he joined Eastman-Kodak where he received a six-month training in photography. This training would become important in learning how to compose pictures and later, paintings.

Manolis was called into active duty in January of 1971. Manolis was actually happy to be able to serve the country that welcomed his immigrant family. He is very much a patriot and a believer in defending the American Dream. In September of 1972, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. army.

Nothing is Impossible

Next, he began to work on his dream of becoming a businessman in New York City. He was accepted to the MBA program at the University of Chicago, making him the first South Dakota student ever admitted to this prestigious program, where he excelled.

When he told his classmates that his dream was to work at Solomon Brothers, they all told him that it was impossible because because he did not come from a prestigious background of Boarding Schools and an Ivy League college. Manolis had no idea that he had such a deficit or that these were important things. After a few days of deep despair and depression, he figured out a strategy.

He went to the Solomon Brothers’ office in his newly purchased business suit and tie. He politely explained to the receptionist that he had no appointment, but that he would like to speak to a manager for 5 minutes sometime during that day, when they had the time. He asked if he could wait quietly in the reception. He sat in the waiting room from 8:00AM until 2:00PM.

At 2:00PM, a Manager took pity upon the young Manolis and agreed to see him. Manolis presented the manager with his other high paying, prestigious summer internship offers. Manolis told him that he would work for free for three months in order to prove his worth and promised to be the first one to arrive and the last one to leave. They accepted his offer.

At 2:00PM, a Manager took pity upon the young Manolis and agreed to see him. Manolis presented the manager with his other high paying, prestigious summer internship offers. Manolis told him that he would work for free for three months in order to prove his worth and promised to be the first one to arrive and the last one to leave. They accepted his offer.

In 1980, J. Steven Manolis was made the youngest General Partner in the history of Solomon Brothers. He Co-Pioneered Mortgage Securitization which ultimately became the largest corporate fixed income market in the world. His discipline and hard work had paid-off.

J. Steven Manolis studies a finished painting, Water's Edge to make sure he is truly finished with it.

Pursuing His Love of Art

But, his love of art had never waned. He started collecting art privately and devoted his philanthropic efforts towards the Arts. He joined the National Academy of Design in 1987 and became Chairman of the Advisory Board of the National Academy in the mid 90’s. In 2006 he was awarded, along with Wolf Kahn, the annual Man of the Year Award. In 2007, Steven retired from the National Academy, and became a Trustee and Development Director of the Vermont Studio Center, where he served until 2016. He was also a Trustee of the Emily Mason Wolf Kahn Foundation from 2007-2014.

Private Painting Lessons from Wolf Kahn

Manolis started taking private art lessons from Wolf Kahn in 1984 until 2013. Wolf painted in oils and pastels. Manolis chose to master watercolors in order to find his own voice and medium. Today, Manolis uses watercolor techniques with acrylic paints in order to create large canvases.

Manolis had to keep his art “career” private from his Wall Street practice. He was in the closet while working on Wall Street. He came out of the closet on 9/27/2014 with a solo gallery exhibition in the Hamptons at the Chase Edwards Gallery.

Meteoric Rise Art Career

Bruce Helander, art critic and artist, would go onto write an essay titled the “Rocket Man” detailing Manolis’ art career and his meteoric rise from that moment in 2014. Manolis’ paintings also caught the eye of renown art critics Donald Kuspit and Anthony Haden-Guest, both of whom have written numerous articles about his work.

Since 9/2014-12/2019, Manolis has had 3 solo museum shows, 16 solo gallery shows, and 16 group shows. His work is now exhibited in 15 corporate installations. He also has over 360 new private collectors.

REDWORLD- His Life Philosophy

Naturally, Manolis’ philosophy of life is that everything should be done passionately, full on-all-in! He believes that if you follow your dreams and have a lot of discipline and drive, you can achieve anything- the American Dream. He calls this, living in REDWORLD. This is how he has lived his life. He created a series of paintings called Red World to depict this philosophy of life.

Manolis- His Art

Manolis is an abstract expressionist artist who paints about his relationship with the world, nature, and the universe. He uses color fields and geometric abstractions to convey his messages. He paints about the beauty and grandeur of the universe and nature.

In spite of having a childhood full of adversities that could have felled lesser men, J. Steven Manolis is a man filled with optimism and who looks for the beauty in life. Beauty, to him, is life affirming. Life is filled with possibilities, not limitations.

His Own Path

It is no surprise that Manolis did not follow the traditional modern artist’s path where you attend art school and then apply to an artist colony or residency program such as the Vermont Studio or the MacDowell Colony. He learned his craft through private lessons with a master. He also had a prior career before becoming a full time artist

Red World Glaze-Self Portrait painting. Acrylic on Canvas. Red abstract expressionist painting with red colorfield and geometric abstractions. Concentrics,pyramids, and other symbols.