Editor's note: The following 2004 Foreword and essay were reprinted December 20, 2004 in Resource Library with permission of the Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia. The texts are contained in a fully illustrated exhibition catalogue published in connection with the exhibit The Spirit of the Modern: Drawings and Graphics by Maltby Sykes. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or wish to purchase a copy of the catalogue, please contact the Georgia Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:


The Spirit of the Modern: Drawings and Graphics by Maltby Sykes

January 15 - March 20, 2005



(above: Maltby Sykes (American, 1911-1992), Untitled (Xochimilco), 1948. Lithograph, 6 x 11 3/4 inches (printed by George C. Miller). Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia; museum purchase with funds provided by the bequest of Leighton Bellew. GMOA 1997.99)


The Spirit of the Modern: Drawings and Graphics by Maltby Sykes opens at the Georgia Museum of Art on January 15 and will be on view until March 20, 2005.

During his long and successful career, which included painting, printmaking, teaching, and writing, Maltby Sykes was a tremendous asset to the cultural life of the southeastern region. As a teacher for over three decades, Sykes influenced and inspired numerous students. (left: Maltby Sykes (American, 1911-1992), Hill Town, c. 1953. Pastel, 11 x 14 inches. Sketchbook done in the south of France. Maltby Sykes Estate)

In 1941, Maltby Sykes was invited to join the art department at Auburn University to replace an instructor who had been drafted into the military. Later, Sykes himself was drafted in 1943 and joined the Air Force. Two watercolors, Guam (1945) and Early Chow (1945), depict war activity in the Pacific. These works, and other earlier ones related to the American regionalist period, are emblematic of the everyday subjects chosen by American Scene artists. Chow (1944) depicts the reality of wars hard times by picturing three hungry service men seated before a simple meal, devouring it as if it were grand cuisine. Service Shoes (1944) is a still life of worn work boots that could be equally at home worn by a soldier or on a farmhand.

The legacy of Maltby Sykes's work on paper is one similar to many of his colleagues who began artistic careers during the Depression and World War II. As an innovative and experimental printmaker, he sought expanded possibilities for lithography and intaglio and established new standards for these media. Through his assistantship with Wayman Adams, Sykes met master printmaker George Miller, who had printed the works of such notables as George Bellows, John Sloan, and Diego Rivera. Miller was so taken with Sykes's work he offered him a letter of introduction to Diego Rivera.

Sykes was only one of the many talented American assistants employed by the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera in the 1930s. The Alabama artist's early prints and drawings of life in Mexico reflect his fascination with the sum and substance of his experience of a specific place in time. While working with Rivera in Mexico City, Sykes would travel to towns such as Taxco or Cuernavaca. A group of eight lithographs in the exhibition, completed in the 1940s, reflect his affection for the Mexican culture.

After the war, Sykes returned to Auburn University to teach for the remainder of his career, while continuing to work as a successful artist. Energetic Lines (1952) was his first non-representational work. This tangle of lines in bold colors began a 40-year fascination with abstraction. He exhibited widely, and institutions such as the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art acquired his art. Sykes died in 1992.

This exhibition includes 52 works, half of which come from the Georgia Museum of Art's print collection. "Printmaking dominated the artist's career, and his fluidity with the processes of lithography and intaglio warrant this reconsideration of his place among American modernists of the South," says Marilyn Laufer, guest curator. (right: Maltby Sykes (American, 1911-1992), Moon Viewing House, 1969. Color lithograph (bimetal plate) with gold leaf, 30 1/4 x 20 inches (printed by the artist). Collection of Helen and Dwight Carlisle)

The exhibition will be documented in a catalogue with an introduction by museum director William U. Eiland, and essays by Taylor D. Littleton, W. Kelly Mosley Professor Emeritus of Science and Humanities at Auburn University; Romita Ray, curator, Mark and Debra Callaway Department of Prints and Drawings, Georgia Museum of Art; and Marilyn Laufer, guest curator.


Go to:

Foreword to Maltby Sykes catalogue, by William Underwood Eiland, Director

Friendship's Garland: Remembering Maltby Sykes, "A Witness of His Time" by Taylor Littleton


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