Having studied for five years at the Medical School of the University of Athens (1946-1950), he quit his studies and turned to the School of Fine Arts. After preliminary work at the Panos Sarafianos studio, he studied at the School (1950-1955) under Umvertos Argyros, Yannis Pappas and Yannis Moralis. At the same time he worked as an assistant to Yannis Tsarouchis on his various commissions for stage designs, making some of the sets himself.
From 1956 to 1960 he lived in Rome and then, till 1967, in Paris. He returned to Greece but political conditions forced him back to Paris in 1969. His work on Emigrants, a milestone in his career, led him to Berlin where he worked for nearly two years on a scholarship from D.A.A.D. (1973- 1975). In 1976 he settled permanently in Greece, in 1975 having been elected Professor to the Seat of Painting of the Architectural School of the National Technical University, where he taught until 1996. In 1981 and 1989 he was invited to teach at the Sommerakademie of Salzburg.
He began to exhibit in 1958, presenting his first solo show at the Zygos gallery, which was the first solo exhibition of abstract art in Greece. Many solo exhibitions followed, both inside and outside Greece, among which were the retrospectives at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 1972, the Karl Ernst Osthaus Museum in Hagen in 1991, the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Berlin in 1992 and the National Gallery of Greece in 1999. At the same time he presented his work at Panhellenies, group and international exhibitions, such as the Documenta of Kassel in 1977, the Europalia at Brussels in 1982 and the Venice Biennale in 1988.
One of the most illustrious representatives of the “Sixties Generation”, Vlassis Caniaris has focused his interest on an inquiry into the role of art in relationship to life. Drawing his inspiration from social and political conditions and abandoning traditional painting on a canvas practically from the start, he has based his work on the doctrines of new realism, arte povera and the art of the object and using his own personal style has created constructions of real materials, setting up “spaces” with puppets and objects and has thus produced environments, presenting his speculations in entities such as Walls, using plaster, barbed wire and carnations, “Gastarbeiter-Fremdarbeiter”, “Helas-Hellas”, and “North-South”. Since 1981 he has also been experimenting with a white role of paper through which he gives form to the concept of the Eventual Painting.