Yannis Pappas was born on March 13th, 1913 in Constantinople, son of surgeon Alexandros Pappas and Eleni F. Fotiades. In September 1922, following the disastrous Asia Minor campaign, his family relocated to Athens, after a short sojourn on Corfu. In 1929 he completed his secondary school education at the Third Athens Gymnasium and was awarded the Baccalauréat at the Institut Français in Athens, where he was taught by Octave Merlier.
In 1930, after passing the entrance examinations, he enrolled in the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Concurrently he also entered the Paris Law School where he studied for two years. Between 1930 and 1932, he was a student at the atelier of Professor Jean Boucher. He then rented his own studio, where he remained until 1939. He continued his studies at the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts and at the School library, the Museum of Casts and the Louvre, and exhibited at the Salon d’ Automne.
Between 1935 and 1938 his output included the bust of painter Andreas Vourloumis, a full-length statue of sculptor Christos Kapralos and a full-length statue of painter Yannis Moralis. In 1937 he was awarded the gold medal at the Paris International Exposition. In 1939 he completed his model for a full-sized statue of Adamantios Korais and exhibited it in Paris. He returned to Greece in order to fulfil his military obligations. He completed his statue of Adamantios Korais in marble - commissioned for the island of Chios.
In 1940 he was awarded the Sculpture Medal in the last Pan-Hellenic Exhibition before the war. On October 28th he was called up and served at the front lines with the rank of private. In April 1941 he returned from the front. During the years of Occupation he worked, as best he could, at his studio in the district of Zographou.
In December 1944 he enlisted in the Greek Royal Navy and served as a sailor in the Alexandria Naval High Command. He remained in Alexandria until 1951, studying the monuments of Egyptian art in Cairo and Upper Egypt. In 1949 he crafted a bronze statue of an athlete for the community stadium of Alexandria (Greek Consulate in Alexandria). In 1950 he had his first one-man exhibition in Alexandria and between 1950 and 1951 crafted a bronze memorial statue of philanthropist Mikes Salvagos for the Greek School of Commerce of Alexandria.
In 1952 he returned to Athens, where in 1953 he was elected professor of the Sculpture Workshops at the Athens School of Fine Arts. In 1954 he became Vice Director of the School for a term of two years. In 1955 he was commissioned to sculpt the memorial to Baron Tossizza for the town of Metsovo, as well four herm columns for the estate of Philippos Argentis on Chios. Between 1957 and 1959 he sculpted the Memorial to the Fallen for the village of Neochori on Chios, a statue of Petros Protopapadakis for the island of Naxos and the monument for Stephanos Delta for the Athens College.
From 1959 to 1969 he served five consecutive two-year terms as Director of the Athens School of Fine Arts. During this period the School developed into a model Institution. The central building of the School was renovated, as well as its underground areas, where the Applied Workshops were established. Workshops were inaugurated for Portable Icons, Art and Mosaics, Decoration and Stage Design, Ceramics, Plaster Technique, Bronze Casting and Engraving, Typography and the Art of the Book. A library room was established. The artistic branches at Delphi, Hydra, Mykonos and Rhodes were renovated, and a branch began operating at Methymne on Lesvos.
In 1960 Pappas held a one-man exhibition of Paintings at the "Armos" Gallery. He crafted the statue of philanthropist Afentakis for the island of Kimolos. Following a Pan-Hellenic competition he was commissioned to sculpt of a full-size memorial statue of Eleftherios Venizelos for Athens. In 1961 he held an outdoor Sculpture exhibition (Doxiades Technological Institute). In 1962-63, after winning the competition, he was awarded the commission to create a statue of Eleftherios Venizelos for the city of Herakleion, Crete. In 1964 he sculpted the statue of Loukis Akritas for the town of Morfou in Cyprus and one of Alexandros Papanastasiou for the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Between 1966-67, Pappas sculpted a relief pediment frieze for the façade of a building on Panepistimiou Street, the statue of Nikolaos Plastiras for the town of Tavropos, Karditsa, as well as a statue of an athlete for the Greek Community of Antafagasta, Chile.
Between 1968 and 1974 he crafted the memorial of the Merchant Marine for the town of Ermoupolis on the island of Syros, the bust of Ioannes Sykoutris (for the district of Nea Smyrni) as well as a statue of Archbishop Chrysanthos of Trebizon (for Komotini); and a statue of Liberty for the Stanford University (California). He presented a major exhibition of his painting at the "Ora" Gallery. In 1971 he completed and placed the statue of Eleftherios Venizelos in Athens (Parko Eleftherias – Freedom Park).
In 1972 Pappas was elected corresponding member of the Académie Française.
In 1975-76 he organised an Exhibition of Sculpture and Painting at the Library of the Athens College on the theme of "Children and Youth". He sculpted the bust of Homer Davis for the Athens College, of Andreas Michalakopoulos for the city of Patras, of Achilleas Tzartzanos for the town of Tyrnavos and of Ioannis Kapodistrias for the Panteios School. In 1976 he exhibited his sculpture and drawings at the "Argo" Gallery and sculpted the bust of N. Louros (Alexandras Maternity Clinic).
In 1977 he held an exhibition of paintings on "Views of Aegina" at the "Ora" Gallery. He completed and placed the marble statue of Eleftherios Venizelos in Thessaloniki.
In 1978 he resigned the chair of Sculpture at the Athens School of Fine Arts. The Ministry of Education awarded him the title of Honorary Director of the School. He represented Greece at the Venice Biennale with works of sculpture and painting. In 1979 he crafted a full-size statue of Evangelos Papanoutsos.
In 1980 he was elected a regular member of the Athens Academy.
Between 1981 and 1991 his completed commissions included the following works: A marble statue of Eleftherios Venizelos (in the precinct of the Greek Parliament Building), an equestrian statue of Georgios Karaiskakis; a statue of Evangelos Averoff-Tossizzas (for the town of Metsovo); additionally, for the entrance of The Onasseio Cardiology Centre, reliefs of the donors, a monumental epigraph of the Hippocratic Oath and, in the atrium, an eight-metre bronze column with gilt decoration. He also sculpted the statue of Pantelis Prevelakis (for the Rethymno Town Hall) and his grave memorial at the chapel of Saint John in Rethymno; a statue of General Makrigiannis (in the district of Makrigianni); a statue of Ion Dragoumis (Makedonomachon Square, Thessaloniki); a statue of Odysseus Elytis (Dexameni Square); a statue of Charilaos Trikoupis (for the precinct of the Greek Parliament Building).
In 1992 the National Gallery organised a retrospective of his work. Also taking place simultaneously were an exhibition of his drawings and smaller sculptures and an exhibition entitled "The workshop and a model" at "Gallerie 3".
In May 1999 he held an exhibition of his paintings at the Benaki Museum, where, during the same year he contributed to the exhibition of Fayum-inspired portraits.
He has translated writings by painters and sculptors from the original English, French and Italian into Greek; they are included in the publication "Κείμενα για την Τέχνη" ("Writing on Art") (Nefeli Editions, Athens 1993), as well as poems, prose and essays: F. Nietzsche, "Κείμενα" ("Writings"), (Athens 1998), L. Pirandello, "Δεκαεπτά Διηγήματα" ("Seventeen Short Stories") (Σύλλογος προς Διάδοσιν Ωφελίμων Βιβλίων – The Association for the Promotion of Useful Books, Athens 2000), and Italo Svevo, "Μια φάρσα επιτυχημένη" ("A Successful Prank") (short stories, Poreia Editions).
Other works include: "Σχέδια και ζωγραφική του Χειρουργού Αλέξανδρου Παππά" ("Drawings and painting by Surgeon Alexandros Pappas") (Athens 1983); "Κείμενα" ("Writings") (The Educational Foundation of the National Bank of Greece, Athens 1994); "Μικρή συλλογή" ("A small collection") (Athens 1999) and three illustrated volumes with his entire artistic oeuvre: "Σχέδια, 1930-1965" ("Drawings, 1930-1965") (Athens 1990); "Ζωγραφική" ("Painting") (L. Braggioti Editions, Athens 1998), and "Γλυπτική" ("Sculpture") (Adam Publications).
This text is reprinted from the catalogue to the exhibition "Είκοσι τέσσερις γλύπτες τιμούν τον δάσκαλό τους. Αφιέρωμα στον γλύπτη Γιάννη Παππά" ("Twenty-four sculptors honour their teacher. An exhibition dedicated to sculptor Yannis Pappas"), The Educational Foundation of the National Bank of Greece, The Eynardos Mansion, April 3rd-May 7th 2002, Athens 2002.