Driving along Route 58 into Bethel, you might happen to glance at the houses along the way and be surprised to see a full-size homage to Picasso that graces the front on an entire garage.
The artwork looks perfectly at home in it’s suburban surrounding, a charming and whimsical addition to the neighborhood. It is only upon further inspection that it becomes obvious that it isn’t just the garage that has become the canvas of Daniela Kamiliotis. If fact, just about everything in her path undergoes the same fate.
Kamiliotis started painting seriously when she was two years old. By the time she was five, her grandmother had taken her to an art club in Romania where she started painting in oils with guidance from artists many decades older. “She brought me there and said, 'You will learn from them'.”
Looking at Daniela’s body of work over her lifetime, her auspicious beginnings come as little surprise. Her current occupation as Senior Vice-President of Ralph Lauren’s Women’s Collection might be the envy of many a creative mind, but not just anyone could fill her delicate gold shoes.
“He (Ralph Lauren) is such a nice person. He has done so much to support my creative expression,” she said, explaining that her job entails collecting fabrics, vintage clothing, all things that might inspire Lauren’s own creativity.
Kamiliotis own creative expression seems to know no bounds. She expresses herself whenever and wherever she possibly can. To Bethel’s benefit, her garage painting was part of a celebration for her 25th wedding anniversary. “I was doing it for a party, my friends were coming, it was spontaneous, to commemorate 25 years of a happy life, and 26 years in America,” she said.
Other outside walls, and even inside the garage, are blessed with Matisse inspired dancers. And inside the house, well, it is hard to know where to begin. It is instantly clear that Kamiliotis’s mind is a busy place indeed.
Her husband Thanos beamed with pride as he showed off the home where his wife has covered every wall space with her own perfect sketches of the human figure, masterfully done paintings, intricately-detailed painted floors and furniture. An ordinary door has been painted as a Renaissance tapestry. A wall in a bedroom is papered with letters from her parents. Her studio is a veritable explosion of fabric, paint, and props of every sort.
Every empty space becomes a canvas, a background, a stage, or a frame.
As a child, Daniela’s parents were actors in the theatre and while they swayed her from acting, her love of the theatre resulted in receiving a Master’s Degree in set and costume design. Her first degree was awarded by the Academy of Art Nicolae Grigorescu in Bucharest.
Born in Romania, she spent much of her youth in the “deep study” of art. She won awards and came to America on a scholarship in 1981, when she was only in her 20s. Her destiny proved itself early in that visit, when she met and worked with the Tony Award winning costume designer Theoni Aldredge. She only stayed in America a few weeks but in that time she had not only met her future collaborator but also her future husband.
But not so fast.
Daniela returned to Romania and continued to develop her career, including designing in the Mhat Stanslovski Theatre in Russia and receiving scholarships in London and Paris.
Over the next six years, the political climate changed in Romania and she sought asylum in the United States. Daniela is quick to inform that even though a dictator was in power, she was always treated well and had many opportunities. “But to come to the U.S...” she smiled, a twinkle in her eye. “It was a bad time in Romania. We had the arts, but we had no freedom of spirit.”
“You don’t understand what it means not to be free,” she said. “Here in America, being free is like an expression. But as an artist I wanted to be able to express myself.”
Once she defected from Romania, she did not return for 20 years.
Daniela returned to the states in 1986, where she resumed working for Aldredge on such Broadway shows as “Oh Kay” directed by David Merrick, “Nick and Nora” directed by Arthur Laurence, and “The Secret Garden” directed by Marsha Norman. She also worked with Aldredge on “Romeo and Juliet” in Washington, and many additional European credits as well. One of her favorites was designing the costumes for Othello in France, in the Italian Opera Open Air Theatre.
Back in the states, she again met Thanos, whom she had met six years before. He remembered her well, including what she had been wearing when he met her. They were married a year later.
“I am very happy now, with my work and my art,” she said, sitting on the deck overlooking classic summer Connecticut greenery. Both she and Thanos hope no one will complain about the garage. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we started a trend?”
It is easy to imagine it would.
A book entitled "A Perfectly Kept House is The Sign of A Misspent Life", byRandolph Carter, published by Rizzoli in 2011, features more about Kamiliotis's life and work.