Saturday, March 27, 2010

(Social) Realism: United States

Winslow Homer (1836 – 1910)
Winslow Homer (February 24, 1836 – September 29, 1910) was an American landscape painter and printmaker, best known for his marine subjects. He is considered one of the foremost painters in 19th century America and a preeminent figure in American art.

William Aiken Walker (1839-1921)
William Aiken Walker (1839-1921) is an American artist who was born to an Irish Protestant father and a mother of South Carolina background in Charleston, South Carolina in 1839. In 1842, when his father died, Walker's mother moved the family to Baltimore, Maryland, where they remained until returning to Charleston in 1848. [...] He is best known for his paintings depicting the lives of poor black emancipated slaves, especially sharecroppers in the post-Reconstruction American South. Two of his paintings were reproduced by Currier and Ives as chromolithographs. Walker continued painting until his death on January 3, 1921 in Charleston, where he is buried in the family plot at Magnolia Cemetery.

John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925)
John Singer Sargent (January 12, 1856 – April 14, 1925) was an American painter, and a leading portrait painter of his era. During his career, he created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings. His oeuvre documents worldwide travel, from Venice to the Tyrol, Corfu, the Middle East, Montana, Maine, and Florida.

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859– 1937)

Henry Ossawa Tanner (June 21, 1859–May 25, 1937) was an African American artist best known for his style of painting. He was the first African American painter to gain international acclaim.Tanner’s non-confrontational personality and preference for subtle expression in his work seem to belie his difficulties, but his life was not without struggle. Although he gained confidence as an artist and began to sell his work, racism was a prevalent condition in Philadelphia, as massive numbers of African Americans left the rural South and settled in Northern urban centers. Although painting became a therapeutic source of release for him, lack of acceptance was painful. In his autobiography The Story of an Artist’s Life, Tanner describes the burden of race:

"I was extremely timid and to be made to feel that I was not wanted, although in a place where I had every right to be, even months afterwards caused me sometimes weeks of pain. Every time any one of these disagreeable incidents came into my mind, my heart sank, and I was anew tortured by the thought of what I had endured, almost as much as the incident itself."

In an attempt to gain artistic acceptance, Tanner left America for France in the winter of 1891. Except for occasional brief returns home, he would spend the rest of his life there.


Joseph Henry Sharp (1859–1953)
Joseph Henry Sharp (27 September 1859 – 29 August 1953) was an American painter and a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists, of which he is considered the "Spiritual Father". Sharp was one of the earliest European-American artists to visit Taos, New Mexico, which he saw in 1893 with John Hauser when he visited in 1893. He painted American Indian portraits and cultural life, as well as Western landscapes. President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned him to paint the portraits of 200 Native American warriors who survived the Battle of the Little Bighorn. While working on this project, Sharp lived on land of the Crow Agency, Montana, where he built Absarokee Hut in 1905. Boosted by his sale of 80 paintings to Phoebe Hearst, Sharp quit teaching and began to paint full-time.

In 1909 he bought a former chapel in Taos to use as a studio, near the house of the artist E. Irving Couse. In 1912 he and his wife moved to the area full-time. He built a house with studio near the chapel. Both artists' homes and studios are part of the Eanger Irving Couse House and Studio—Joseph Henry Sharp Studios, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jerome Myers (1867 - 1940)
Jerome Myers (March 20, 1867 - June 19, 1940) was a U.S. artist and writer. Born in Petersburg, Virginia and raised in Philadelphia, Trenton and Baltimore, he spent his adult life in New York City. Jerome worked briefly as an actor and scene painter, then studied art at Cooper Union and the Art Students League where his main teacher was George de Forest Brush. In 1896 and 1914, he was in Paris, but his main classroom was the streets of New York's lower East Side. His strong interest and feelings for the new immigrants and their life resulted in hundreds of drawings, as well as paintings and etchings capturing the whole panorama of their lives as found outside of the crowded tenements which were their first homes in America.

George Luks (
1867 - 1933)
George Benjamin Luks one of a group of American painters popularly known as the Ashcan school because of their realistic treatment of urban scenes.
Born in a coal-mining region of north-central Pennsylvania, Luks studied first at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, and later in Germany, London, and Paris. Returning to the United States in 1894, he became an illustrator for the Philadelphia Press. During that period he met the painter and teacher Robert Henri and the newspaper illustrators John Sloan and William J. Glackens. Luks went to Cuba in 1895 as a correspondent artist for the Philadelphia Bulletin during the Cuban struggle for independence from Spain. After returning to the United States, he worked as a cartoonist, drawing the popular Hogan's Alley for the New York World. Between 1902 and 1903 Luks lived in Paris, where he not only continued his art studies but also became increasingly preoccupied with the depiction of modern city life. When he returned to New York City, he settled in the bohemian enclave of Greenwich Village and began to paint realistic pictures of New Yorkers; notable examples from this period are The Spielers (1905), possibly his best-known work, and The Wrestlers (1905).

John French Sloan (1871 – 1951)
John French Sloan (August 2, 1871 – September 7, 1951) was a U.S. artist. As a member of The Eight, a group of American artists, he became a leading figure in the Ashcan School of realist artists. He was known for his urban genre painting and ability to capture the essence of neighborhood life in New York City, often through his window.

'The idea of taking up art as a calling, a profession, is a mirage. Art enriches life. It makes life worth living. But to make a living at it—that idea is incompatible with making art.'
The Gist of Art (1939)

Everett Shinn (1876 - 1953)
American painter, illustrator, designer, playwright and film director. He studied industrial design at the Spring Garden School in Philadelphia from 1888 to 1890. In 1893 he became an illustrator at the Philadelphia Press. Simultaneously he attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, where he met Robert Henri, John Sloan, William J. Glackens and George Luks. Their style of urban realism prompted him to depict the bleak aspects of city life. In 1897 Shinn moved to New York and produced illustrations for several newspapers and magazines, for example Mark Twain (March 1900; see Perlman, p. 80), a frontispiece for The Critic. He also drew sketches for a novel by William Dean Howells on New York; although the novel was not published, Shinn’s drawings brought him national recognition.

Robert Spencer (1879 - 1931)
Robert Spencer was born in Harvard, Nebraska, in 1879, but his father's job as an itinerant clergyman meant the family moved often. They finally settled in Yonkers, NY, where he graduated from high school, and putting aside his plans to study medicine, enrolled at the National Academy of Design in New York City to pursue art. There he met fellow artist Charles Rosen, another important Bucks County painter who moved to the area in 1903. Spencer studied with the legendary painter William Merritt Chase, as well as with Robert Henri, leader of the influential Ashcan School of painters, who became known for their unsentimental depictions of the back alleys and barrooms of New York City.

Robert Spencer was one of the most important painters associated with the Pennsylvania Impressionist art colony in Bucks County, but stylistically his work differed strongly from that of most of his New Hope colleagues. Instead of painting scenes from nature, Spencer made his reputation with skillful, evocative views of everyday life, often depicting the mills, tenements, and factories of New Hope and surrounding areas. He also made many paintings of the street life and waterfronts of New York City and France, and toward the end of his life experimented with modernist ideas as well as his own peculiar brand of history painting.

Edward Hopper (1882 – 1967)
Edward Hopper (July 22, 1882 – May 15, 1967) was a prominent American realist painter and printmaker. While most popularly known for his oil paintings, he was equally proficient as a watercolorist and printmaker in etching. In both his urban and rural scenes, his spare and finely calculated renderings reflected his personal vision of modern American life.

George Wesley Bellows (1882 - 1925)
George Wesley Bellows (August 12 or August 19, 1882 - January 8, 1925) was an American painter, known for his bold depictions of urban life in New York City, becoming, according to the Columbus Museum of Art, "the most acclaimed American artist of his generation".

William Victor Higgins (1884 - 1949)
William Victor Higgins (June 28, 1884-August 23, 1949) was an American painter and teacher, born at Shelbyville, Indiana. He studied at the Art Institute in Chicago and at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. In Paris he was a pupil of Robert Henri, René Menard and Lucien Simon, and when he was in Munich he studied with Hans von Hayek. He was an associate of the National Academy. He moved to Taos, New Mexico in 1913 first time and joined the Taos Society of Artists in 1917.

John R. Grabach (1886 - 1981)
John Grabach established himself as an accomplished member of New Jersey's art community. He was born March 2, 1886, in either Newark, New Jersey or Greenfield, Massachusetts.
Grabach's artistic ambition began at the early age of five. He idly picked up a piece of tailor's chalk and drew the outline of a bird on the glass. Pleased with the result, he drew another, then others, until every window displayed a flock of birds. Following that exercise, Grabach began copying pictures from a variety of sources in an attempt to learn the forms, lines, and techniques of those before him. At the age of eleven, he received his earliest art training when he met another artist, Albert Dick. Three years later, an artist by the name of August Schwabe introduced Grabach to the Newark Sketch Club, where he had the opportunity to sketch live models and gain knowledge through observation of the more experienced artists surrounding him in the studio.
In 1904, following his eighteenth birthday, Grabach began work in the machine room of a silverware manufacturing company. While working in Newark, he commuted to New York, where he was enrolled in night classes at the Art Students League and studied under Kenyan Cox, George Bridgman, and Frank Vincent Dumond. Following the completion of his education at the Art Students League, Grabach made the decision to devote all of his time to the filed of art. In 1935, he accepted an instructional position at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts, where he would go on to educate and tutor over eight thousand art students.
Grabach died in March of 1981. However, his artistic and educational contributions to New Jersey continued long after his death. His paintings captured the despair and evoked the raw emotions millions experienced during the Great Depression. His work of the early 20th century transcends its time and tells a story to this day. In his own words, 'Art is the artist's expression in what he sees, and his attempt to communicate that feeling to others.'

James Chapin (1887-1975)
An outstanding portrait and figure artist, James Chapin first studied at New York’s Cooper Union and the Art Students League. He then completed his artistic education in Belgium at the Antwerp Royal Academy. Winning major awards at both the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and at the Art Institute of Chicago helped to launch Chapin’s career as a major painter. His first experiments with original lithography were made in the early 1930’s. Altogether, Chapin created about thirty works of art in this medium.
James Chapin was a full member of the Society of Independent Painters of America. He also held the post of Professor of Portraiture at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Today many museums, such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Newark Museum and the Encyclopedia Britannica Collection, own examples of his original lithographs and paintings.

Norman Percevel Rockwell (1894 – 1978)
Norman Percevel Rockwell (February 3, 1894 – November 8, 1978) was a 20th-century American painter and illustrator. His works enjoy a broad popular appeal in the United States, where Rockwell is most famous for the cover illustrations of everyday life scenarios he created for The Saturday Evening Post magazine over more than four decades.

William Gropper (1897-1977)
As a life-long labor activist, William Gropper, created some of the most powerful social realist proletarian artwork during the U.S. Great Depression. Youngstown Strike, above, was inspired by the "Little Steel" strike in 1936-37 by workers at the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company, Youngstown, Ohio. The strike, which eventually led to the formation of the CIO, involved violent confrontations with police guards. One clash resulted in two deaths and many injuries to the strikers and their families. Gropper visited Youngstown during the strike and also published and article and a series of sketches depicting it in The Nation.

Interestingly, the Youngstown painting is not of events at the 1937 strike, but of a remarkably similar earlier Youngstown steel strike. In 1916, thousands of workers stuck for higher wages and improvment of factory conditions. As in the 30s, violence between strikers and guards resulted in the shooting deaths of three strikers and dozens of injuries. Gropper and other social realists of his time would often use the ghosts of past events in their work to explain exploitation of labor and the false promises of the unrepentant ruling class.

Gropper was born in 1897 into poverty on the lower East Side of New York. His mother worked as a seamstress, an occupation he would depict in his work many times. Gropper quit school at 14, worked twelve hour days and took art classes at night, being very influenced by Robert Henri and George Bellows of the Ashcan School. He would find work as a young adult as an editorial cartoonist, contributing to many mainstream as well as socialist newspapers and magazines. Gropper travelled the world to document the times with paintings, sketches, lithographics and murals. He visited Russia in 1927 with writers Theodore Dreiser and Sinclair Lewis, toured the Heartland in the 30s for a series of paintings on the Dust Bowl, cover the United Nations charter conference in San Francisco for Freiheit and the New Masses in the 40s, and in Europe, saw the devastation and chaos wreaked by World War II.

Gropper's often satirical work got him into trouble with authorities more than once. In the 1950's, labeled a subversive artist, Gropper was subpoenaed to testify before the McCarthy committee. He refused to appear. A blacklisting resulted, galleries stopped exhibiting his work, bad publicity, intimidation, and threats followed. It was during this time, 1953-56, he created his "Caprichos" series of lithographs, such as "Piecework", shown right. The bold, sharp contrasts and disjointed figures in the Caprichos reflect his anger, frustration and dismay for his experience and for a society that could produce McCarthyism. His bitterness never led him to stop producing art, he went on to have numerous gallery shows and would regain his stature as one of America's most important artists of his generation.

Ben Shahn (1898 – 1969)

Ben Shahn (September 12, 1898 – March 14, 1969) was a Lithuanian-born American artist. He is best known for his works of social realism, his left-wing political views, and his series of lectures published as The Shape of Content. Although Shahn attended New York University as a biology student in 1919, he went on to pursue art at City College in 1921 and then at the National Academy of Design. After his marriage to Tillie Goldstein in 1924, the two traveled through North Africa and then to Europe, where he made "the traditional artist pilgrimage." There he studied great European artists such as Henri Matisse, Raoul Dufy, Georges Rouault, Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee. Contemporaries who would make a profound impact on Shahn’s work and career include artists Walker Evans, Diego Rivera and Jean Charlot.

Shahn was dissatisfied with the work inspired by his travels, claiming that the pieces were unoriginal. Shahn eventually outgrew his pursuit of European modern art; he, instead, redirected his efforts toward a realist style which he used to contribute to social dialogue. The 23 gouache paintings of the trials of Sacco and Vanzetti communicated the political concerns of his time, rejecting academic prescriptions for subject matter. The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti was exhibited in 1932 and received acclaim from both the public and critics. This series gave Shahn the confidence to cultivate his personal style, regardless of society’s art standards.

Ben Shahn’s social-realist vision informed his approach to art. Shahn’s examination of the status quo inspired his creative process. Although he often explored polemic themes of modern urban life, organized labor, immigration and injustice, he did so while maintaining a compassionate tone. Shahn identified himself as a communicative artist. He challenged the esoteric pretensions of art, which he believed disconnect artists’ and their work from the public. As an alternative, he proposed an intimate and mutually beneficial relationship between artist and audience.

Shahn defended his choice to employ pictorial realities, rather than abstract forms. According to Shahn, known forms allow the artist “to discover new truths about man and to reaffirm that his life is significant.” References to allegory, the Old Testament, humanistic content, childhood, science, music and the commonplace are other motifs Shahn draws upon to make the universal personal for his viewers. Wit, candor and sentimentality give his images poignancy. By evoking dynamism, Shahn intended to inspire social change. Shahn stressed that in art, as in life, the combination of opposing orders is vital for progress. His hope for a unity among the diverse peoples of the United States relates to his interest in fusing different visual vocabularies.

Raphael Soyer (1899 – 1987)
Raphael Soyer (1899 – November 4, 1987) was a Russian-born American painter, draftsman, and printmaker. Soyer was referred to as an American scene painter. He is identified as a Social Realist because of his interest in men and women viewed in contemporary settings which included the streets, subways, salons and artists' studios of New York City, although he avoided subjects that were particularly critical of society.

Raphael Soyer Subway Platform

Philip Evergood (1901–1973)
Philip Howard Francis Dixon Evergood (born Howard Blashki; 1901–1973) was an American painter, etcher, lithographer, sculptor, illustrator and writer. He was particularly active during the Depression and World War II era.
"He maintained a socially conscious attitude in his art for the remainder of his career, and was in fact considered to be something of a maverick. He was a figurative painter when much of the art world placed greater value on abstraction, and he was a moralist when moralizing was not considered an option for serious painters. His best-known works are gritty, populist images of contemporary life, and are full of vitality and imagination. A blend of reality and fantasy gives his paintings an appealing, cartoonish quality, and his incisiveness as a social critic emboldens his work. His art is founded on contradiction: sophisticated intent is matched by intentionally crude technique, and tawdry overstatement is balanced with delicate lines.",1.0&wid=400&cvt=jpeg

Millard Owen Sheets (1907 – 1989)
Millard Owen Sheets (June 24, 1907 – March 31, 1989) was an American painter and a representative of the California School of Painting, later a teacher and educational director, and architect of more than 50 branch banks in Southern California.

Millard Sheets The High Street

Millard Sheets The Cotton Pickers

Millard Sheets Angels Flight 1931

Joseph John Jones (1909–1963)
Joseph John Jones (1909–1963) was a 20th century artist: painter, landscape painter, lithographer, and muralist. TIME magazine followed him throughout his career. Although Jones was never a member of the John Reed Club, his name is closely associated with its artistic members, most of them also contributors to the New Masses magazine. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, April 7, 1909. Self-taught, he quit school at age fifteen to work as a house painter, his father's profession. Jones worked in his native St. Louis, Missouri, until age 27, then spent the rest of his life based in or around New York City.

Jones' experiments in painting won him a series of prizes at the St. Louis Art Guild exhibitions. Following these came a commission to paint a mural at the KMOX radio station and a solo exhibition by the guild. In 1933, ten patrons led by Elizabeth Green in St. Louis formed a "Joe Jones Club" and financed his travel to the artists' colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts. While some critics have considered his early paintings as typical of the Midwestern Regionalist style exemplified by the work of Thomas Hart Benton, others have stated that he was in fact "anti-Regionalist." By then, Jones had only from magazines; art historian Andrew Hemingway surmises that Jones absorbed Modernist and Cubist ideas also from paintings. Upon his return to St. Louis, Jones lived in a houseboat.

In August 1935, Jones painted a mural series at the Commonwealth College at Mena, Arkansas.
Of the "revolutionary element" his early work, Jones wrote to Green, it is "not warped to bias to any party" except for the "militant struggle of the working class," which he contrasted to artists who believed in the Communist Party. Perhaps Jones' first appearance in New York came with his painting "Wheat" at the Whitney Museum's Second Biennial of Contemporary American Painting (1934–1935).

In 1935, TIME magazine ran its first story about Jones: "Housepainter" (June 3, 1935). It reported that Jones had contributed a painting to the "Sixteen Cities Show" in Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art, whose autobiography read, "Joe Jones. Born St. Louis, 1909. Self-taught." By this time, Jones had become a Communist... Back in St. Louis, Jones promoted such thinking in his art classes at the St. Louis Artists Guild. In response, the city's Public Safety director had Jones removed.

When Jones came to New York, a symposium by the New Masses celebrated his arrival on February 2, 1936. Participating were Louis Bunin (puppeteer), Stuart Davis (American Artists' Congress), Joseph Freeman (literary critic and founder of the New Masses), William Gropper (fellow painter and cartoonist), Jerome Klein (critic of the New York Post, and Roger Baldwin (chairman).

TIME reported on both of these one-man shows in New York, first at the ACA Gallery in 1935, followed by the Walker Gallery in 1936. The first show included the paintings We Demand, Garbage Eaters, Demonstration, The New Deal, and the shocking American Justice. The second show included We Demand, Garbage Eaters, Demonstration, and his latest, Threshing No. 1.

TIME reported in 1937 that the Metropolitan Museum of Art had acquired at least one Joe Jones painting as part of (then) 85 paintings of living American artists.
In 1938, TIME was still classing his work as "proletarian" in an article on "Art: Year." and a second article on Baltimore's first exhibition of "Labor in Art" at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
New Jersey

By 1951, for a new show in New York, TIME was reporting the "angry man calms down." The paintings on exhibit showed "delicately colored, wiry-lined pictures of beaches, towns, and harbors... without a park of sorrow or anger in them." Jones (then, 42 years old) did not want to "sit on top of a reputation," had lost interest in Communism, and removed "class war" from his paintings. He became interested in delicate lines and low-toned colors, a reaction against "the preoccupation with light and shade that has victimized Western art since the Renaissance." By this time, he saw paintings as "space, not objects" and sought humanism not in subject but "of the line." By this time, he was already residing in Morristown, New Jersey.

By 1952, TIME had cited him as one of 48 artists whose 250 paintings had been commissioned by Standard Oil of New Jersey. TIME mentioned Jones with other of the 48 artists by name: the other two were Peter Hurd and Thomas Hart Benton.

For May 1961, Jones painted The Faraway Places for a TIME cover story in its Modern Living section on travel. TIME announced his addition to "the small group (about 80 men over the past 38 years) who have painted a TIME cover." According to a Letter from the Publisher, Jones, who had done little foreign travel, "riffled through scads of travel photographs" and produced a work depicting a girl from Tahiti, cliffs near Beirut, a Greek island, and a Portofino harbor.
For December 1961, TIME used one of his paintings for their annual Christmas issue. (Jones based the painting on "impressions of the seasonal scene in Atlanta.")

Jones died the week prior to April 19, 1963, as reported by TIME, 54-years-old, of a heart attack in Morristown. Of his early, radical work, the magazine cited American Justice with the corpse of a half-naked black woman who has been raped and lynched against a background of quietly chatting Ku Klux Klansmen. For his later, "softer Japanese-like style," it cited his December 1961 cover and a mural of Boston Harbor in the dining salon of the S.S. Independence.

Bernece Berkman (1911-1979)
A native of Chicago, Bernece Berkman studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and also privately with Todros Geller and Rudolph Weisenborn. She later attended Hunter College in New York and studied under the direction of artist Stuart Davis at the New School for Social Research. Her works are included in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh and Seattle Art Museum.

The Ashcan School
The Ashcan School, also called the Ash Can School, is defined as a realist artistic movement that came into prominence in the United States during the early twentieth century, best known for works portraying scenes of daily life in New York's poorer neighborhoods. The movement is most associated with a group known as The Eight, whose members included five painters associated with the Ashcan school: William Glackens (1870-1938), Robert Henri (1865-1929), George Luks (1867-1933), Everett Shinn (1876-1953) and John French Sloan (1871-1951), along with Arthur B. Davies (1862-1928), Ernest Lawson (1873-1939) and Maurice Prendergast (1859-1924).

Walter Stuempfig (1914 – 1970)
Walter Stuempfig (January 26, 1914 – November 29, 1970) was an American artist and teacher. He was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania to a moderately wealthy family. After graduation from the Germantown Academy, he enrolled as an architecture student in the University of Pennsylvania. In October 1931 he transferred to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where his instructors included Henry McCarter, Daniel Garber, and Francis Speight. From 1932–1966 he exhibited regularly at the Pennsylvania Academy's Annual Exhibitions. In 1935 he married Lila Hill, a sculptor who had also studied at the Academy.

Stuempfig was a prolific painter whose works number over 1500. His paintings sold steadily; purchasers from his first solo show in New York in 1943 included the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. He painted figure compositions, landscapes and architectural subjects, still lifes, and portraits; all in a style of romantic realism that fell outside the artistic mainstream of his time.

Ralph Fasanella (1914 – 1997)
Ralph Fasanella (September 2, 1914 – December 16, 1997) was a self-taught painter whose large, detailed works depicted urban working life and critiqued post-World War II America.

Ralph Fasanella was born to Joseph and Ginevra (Spagnoletti), Italian immigrants, in the Bronx, New York, on Labor Day in 1914. He was the third of six children. His father delivered ice to local homes. His mother worked in a neighborhood dress shop drilling holes into buttons, and spent her spare time as an anti-fascist activist.

Fasanella spent much of his youth delivering ice with his father from a horse-driven wagon. This experience deeply impressed him. He saw his father as representative of all working men, beaten down day after day and struggling for survival. "Fasanella later said that the compositional density of his pictures was influenced by the experience of helping his father deliver ice, which involved removing all the food from customers' refrigerators and arranging it in neatly ordered stacks."

Fasanella's mother was a literate, sensitive, progressive woman. She instilled in Fasanella a strong sense of social justice and political awareness. Fasanella began accompanying his mother when she worked on anti-fascist and trade union causes. Fasanella also helped his mother publish and distribute a small Italian-language, anti-fascist newspaper to help support the family.

Joseph Fasanella abandoned his family and returned to Italy in the 1920s. This increased the influence Fasanella's mother had over young Ralph, but it also led to some behavioral problems.
Fasanella served two stints in reform schools run by the Catholic Church for truancy and running away from home. He later said he was sexually abused ("used as a girl") by the priests. These experiences instilled a deep dislike for authority and reinforced Fasanella's hatred for anything which broke people's spirits. Fasanella later depicted his experience in reform school in a painting titled Lineup at the Protectory 2 (1961). The melancholy image features rows of boys standing at attention, watched over by scowling, ominous-looking priests. Fasanella quit school after the sixth grade.

During the Great Depression, Fasanella worked as a textile worker in garment factories and as a truck driver. He became a member of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 1227 while working as a machinist in Brooklyn. He became strongly aware of the growing economic and social injustice in the U.S., as well as the plight and powerlessness of the working class.

In late 1930s, Ralph Fasanella volunteered to fight in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, an American paramilitary force fighting to support the Second Spanish Republic against the successful fascist rebellion led by General Francisco Franco.

After the Spanish Civil War, Fasanella returned to the United States, where he began organizing labor unions. Fasanella joined the UE staff in 1940. He organized a Western Electric manufacturing plant in Manhattan, a Sperry Gyroscope factory, and a number of other electrical equipment and machine plants in and around New York City. One of his later paintings shows a union organizing committee meeting being held in a UE hall. It was during a UE organizing drive in 1940 that Fasanella first began to draw. Fasanella married Matilda Weiss in 1943. The short-lived marriage ended in 1944.

In the mid-1940s, Fasanella began to suffer from intense finger pain caused by arthritis. A union co-worker suggested that he take up painting as a way to exercise his fingers and ease the pain.
In 1945, Fasanella persuaded the UE to organize painting classes for its members at a local college. He was one of the first members to sign up for classes.

Fasanella became consumed by art, and left labor union organizing to paint full-time. To pay the bills, he bought a service station and worked there.

Fasanella's painting focused on city life, men and women at work, union meetings, strikes, sit-ins and baseball games. He quickly developed a style which spoke to workers and the poor through the use of familiar details. Fasanella improvised a quasi-surrealist style, depicting interiors and exteriors or past and future simultaneously. He painted canvases as big as 10 feet across because he envisioned his paintings hanging in large union meeting halls.

" 'I always felt embarrassed by the whole thing,' he said, 'but I had to do it.' " Fasanella's art was highly improvisational. He never planned out works, and rarely revised them. He said of his 1948 painting May Day, it "just came out of my belly. I never planned it. I don't know how I did it." His first solo show was at the ACA Galleries in New York City in 1948. One of his first sales was to choreographer Jerome Robbins. In 1950, Fasanella married Eva Lazorek, a school teacher. They had a son, Marc, and a daughter, Gina. Fasanella's opinionated, leftist-oriented artwork caused him to be blacklisted among art dealers and galleries during the McCarthy era. His wife supported him by teaching school. Fasanella's work, however, remained largely unknown for nearly 30 years. While he was acknowledged within labor and leftist circles, his art remained more of a popular curiosity.

Jack Levine (1915)
Jack Levine (b. Boston, Massachusetts, January 3, 1915) is an American Social Realist painter and printmaker best known for his satires on modern life, political corruption, and biblical narratives.

Jack Levine Birmingham '63 1963

Jack Levine Medecineshow 1955

Elizabeth Catlett Mora (1915)
Elizabeth Catlett Mora (born April 15, 1915) is an African-American sculptor and printmaker. Catlett is best known for the black, expressionistic sculptures and prints she produced during the 1960s and 1970s, which are seen as politically charged. Catlett was born in Washington, D.C., the youngest of three children. Both of her parents were teachers. She attended the Lucretia Mott Elementary School, Dunbar High School, and then Howard University where she studied design, printmaking and drawing. In an interview in December 1981 in Artist and Influence magazine, she stated that she changed her major to painting because of the influence of James A. Porter, and because there was no sculpture division at Howard at the time. She received her BS cum laude from Howard in 1935. She then worked as a high school teacher in North Carolina but left after two years, frustrated by the low teaching salaries for black people. While living and working in Harlem, New York, she was briefly married to Charles White. In 1947, she married Mexican artist Francisco Mora, and made Mexico her permanent home, later becoming a Mexican citizen. They have three sons, including film director Juan Mora. Her granddaughter, Naima Mora, was the Cycle 4 winner of the America's Next Top Model television show. Catlett's sculpture, "Naima", is of Naima as a child. Since retiring in 1975, she continues to be active in the Cuernavaca, Mexico art community.

Charles Wilbert White (1918–1979)
Charles Wilbert White (April 2, 1918–October 3, 1979) was an American artist born in Chicago. He was known for his WPA era murals. White was married to famed sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett briefly.

Charles Wilbert White The Contribution of the Negro to American Democracy

Wayne Thiebaud (1920)
Wayne Thiebaud (born November 15, 1920) is an American painter whose most famous works are of cakes, pastries, boots, toilets, toys and lipsticks. His last name is pronounced "Tee-bo." He is associated with the Pop art movement because of his interest in objects of mass culture, although his works, executed during the fifties and sixties, slightly predate the works of the classic pop artists. Thiebaud uses heavy pigment and exaggerated colors to depict his subjects, and the well-defined shadows characteristic of advertisements are almost always included in his work.

Wayne Thiebaud Free Way Traffic 1983

Leon Golub (1922 - 2004)
Leon Golub (January 23, 1922 - August 8, 2004) was an American painter. He was born in Chicago, Illinois, where he also studied, receiving his BA at the University of Chicago in 1942, his BFA and MFA at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1949 and 1950, respectively.

Leon Golub White Squad V 1984

Max Ginsburg (1931)
Born: Paris, France, 1931
High School of Music and Art, New York, NY (1945-1949)
Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, BFA (1949-1953)
City College of New York, New York, NY, MA (1960-1963)
Studied informally with Abraham Ginsburg over many years
High School of Art and Design, New York, NY (1960 -1982)
School of Visual Arts, New York, NY (1984 -2000)
Art Students League, New York, NY (1997-2000; 2008-2011)


Mark Vallen (1953)
Born in Los Angeles California in 1953, Vallen has been creating images for as long as he can remember. By 1971, at the age of 17, he had already published cartoons in the Los Angeles Free Press newspaper. In the same year he published his first street poster, a pre-Watergate artwork titled, Evict Nixon! He studied art at the prestigious Otis Parsons Art Institute of Los Angeles, where he was influenced by the great African American social realist, Charles White. But despite his schooling the artist considers himself to be largely self taught.

He forged a style shaped not so much by how others painted, but what they painted. Vallen has a firm commitment to figurative realism, and he's derived inspiration from the rich heritage of artists working as social critics and documentarians. His influences range from Goya and Daumier, to the German Expressionists and Mexican Muralists.

World (Social) Realist Art (Index of Countries)
This blog page is part of an ongoing project by artist and part-time lecturer Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin ( to explore Realist / Social Realist art from around the world. The term Realism is used in its broadest sense to include 19th century Realism and Naturalism as well as 20th century Impressionism (which after all was following in the path of Courbet and Millet). Social Realism covers art that seeks to examine the living and working conditions of ordinary people (examples include German Expressionism, American Ashcan School and the Mexican Muralists).

Click here for (Social) Realist Art Definitions, World (Social) Realism and Global Solidarity, Art and Politics, Social Realism in history and Country Index.

Suggestions for appropriate artists from around the world welcome to

1 comment:

Daniel said...

Thank You for your gallery of American Artists. But why no Thomas Eakins ?