Michael E. Economos, former MICA instructor known for figurative realism paintings and 9/11 portraits, dies

Michael E. Economos, who was a Maryland Institute College of Art instructor for five decades and whose own paintings were defined by figurative realism was also known for his 9/11 portraits, died of cancer Nov. 3 at York Hospital in New York City. The White Hall, Baltimore County, resident was 85.

“Michael was a stalwart in the painting and drawing department at MICA for many years,” said Fred Lazarus IV, who was president of MICA from 1978 to 2014. “He pushed his students hard, but got tremendous results from them. He was just a tremendous teacher.”


Paul Moscatt, who taught painting and drawing at MICA from 1967 to 2000, and had been department chair from 1979 to 1981, first became acquainted with Mr. Economos when both were students at Yale University.They later became colleagues and shared a West Franklin Street studio in Baltimore.

“Michael’s students responded very positively to him. He was a very strong teacher and I remember him doing very large anatomical drawings for them and he drew those figures right out of his head. He was a great draftsman,” Mr. Moscatt said. “He always thought I was a little too easy on the students. He was intense, but he cared.”


Michael Emmanuel Economos, son of Michael Economos, an industrial painter, and his wife, Marsula Economos, a homemaker, was born in Athens, Greece, and spent the World War II years with his mother and brother on Mykonos, a small Greek island, in the Aegean Sea.

After the war, he moved with his family to Worcester, Massachusetts, where he graduated from Worcester High School in 1955 and subsequently earned a bachelor’s degree in 1961 and master’s degree in 1964, both in fine art from Yale University. Earlier, he had obtained a certificate from the Worcester Art Museum School, and after leaving Yale was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship in printmaking.

While a student in New Haven, he served in the Navy Reserve for six years.

“We both came from immigrant families, his was Greek and mine was Sicilian,” recalled Mr. Moscatt. “He played the guitar and I played the mandolin. He was also a dancer, and as a son of Greece, did all of the Greek dances. His sister said he danced like a Greek sailor.”

His early teaching career included drawing and printmaking at the New York Institute of Technology and at Yale.

In 1964, he joined the MICA faculty and commuted twice a week from his home in New York City to conduct drawing and painting classes. He later moved to a Victorian rowhouse in Charles Village and later to White Hall, where his artist wife, Barbara L. Economos, kept horses and painted professionally under her maiden name of Barbara Marcus.

Mr. Economos enjoyed a long dual career as an educator and professional artist. His works can be found in numerous collections, including the Yale Museum, University of Michigan, University of California, Goucher College, Towson University, Chase Manhattan Bank, and the private collections of former Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller and Najla Hosmon, former minister of culture in Beirut, Lebanon.

“Teaching is a dignified profession: You’re still in contact with your work. But you tend to be fragmented,” Mr. Economos explained in a 1970 interview with The Sun. “As the artist, you have to put your foot down and concentrate on your work. This is one of the things I, as a teacher, try to make them [students] understand.”


“In his life drawing classes, he asked us to build him a stand and mirrors for models so the students could draw them from a different perspective than just flat,” Mr. Lazarus said.

“At one point, Michael Economos was placed among the super-realist painters,” wrote Sun art critic John Dorsey in 1989. “He was also referred to, in on past review, in terms of Andy Warhol (because of his pop subject matter), abstract expressionism (his overall style of painting) and baroque art (his painterly brush stroke, among other things).”

In a Facebook tribute to his old friend, Mr. Moscatt wrote: “A consummate professional artist and teacher, he can be ‘Mr. Severe,’ critical, demanding, deadly serious and then turn around and do a hilarious standup routine.”

“As a graduate student, he was asked by a professor, ‘What is the definition of blue?’ His answer: ‘The color of your eyes.’ This was not anticipated as well as Michael’s talent for doing flawless voice impressions and imitations of friends and innocent bystanders alike. Perhaps in this day, to be an artist, one needs to have a sense of humor,” he wrote.

Mr. Moscatt wrote that “painting is the mother of all arts.”

“In Michael’s development this seems to be born out. At Yale, it was an impassioned brush stroke, a spatial exploration in large black and white DeKooning-esque paintings.”


In the 1960s, Mr. Economos was creating sculptures.

“He created formidable sculptures working with a range of materials, polyester, body filler, wood and metal,” Mr. Moscatt wrote. “The image of woman and esoteric anatomical symbols grew to major proportions and at a time moved and rotated on a central axis.”

In 2002, he and his wife joined together and created “The Face of Courage,” a powerful and emotional project of painted portraits of the fallen first responders who arrived on 9/11 after the World Trade Center in New York was attacked. The exhibit toured extensively throughout the nation.

“In my career as an artist, I have never felt a more meaningful mission than painting the portraits of these great men,” Mr. Economos said in a 2003 interview with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “As I painted them, every feature, every facial nuance, gave me the feeling that in some way I was resurrecting them for all time.”

Thirty three other professional American artists, including Mr. Moscatt, volunteered to help the couple with the project. Of the 60 portraits, the couple completed 23 of them.

The New York City Fire and Police departments asked the families of the responders whether they wanted a free portrait of their loved ones, and if they did, they were to send in photographs.


“We got envelope after envelope,” Ms. Economos said in the interview. “I cried with every single one, they were so heartfelt.”

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Mr. Moscatt said in a telephone interview: “Michael did 14 portraits and I did two. It was a very strong show and after it closed in New York City, the portraits were given to their families.”

Mr. Economos retired from MICA in 2014, but continued painting at his home in White Hall and at his summer country home in Newport, Vermont.

His wife of 33 years died in 2004. She was 50.

“Michael was devastated when Barbara died,” Mr. Lazarus said.


A memorial gathering and reception for Mr. Economos will be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Gallery of Manor Mill, 2029 Monkton Road, Monkton.

Mr. Economos is survived by his brother, Nickodemus Economos of Atlanta; a nephew; and a great niece and nephew. An earlier marriage to Nancy Hagin ended in divorce.