Infamous New York: Bosses, Burlesque & Mayhem

by Constance Schwartz



Shahn's art shows a literary flair for satire and character in an issue of the moment: the place for propaganda in art. With a sense of uncompromising realism, his paintings are entirely narrative. He delineates his characters by directing a translation of his easel art into a social instrument. His work is as inspired in structure as in humanistic content. His fine control of placing has benefited from the lessons of cubism and recognizes his knowledge about the advanced forms of contemporary art here and abroad. In 1933 Shahn enrolled in the Federal Government's Public Works of Art Project where he studied mural painting under Diego Rivera. Architecture itself is the focus of Home of the Incurables (page_) that not only displays the title of the building which shows his interest in America's insistent public typography, but also creates mind images of the invisible incurables that never leave this facility.

Based on sound and subtle draftsmanship, wiry sensuous drawing, Philip Evergood's paintings are infused with intellectual power, emotional depth and poetic sensitivity that show a lively mixture of representation and invention within an original range of expressionist distortion. He sought and found his subject matter in the tumultuous helter-skelter of human everyday life. His paintings create a world in which the beauty of nature and of human relationships prevails and through the force of their beauty, dispel war, hatred, greed, opportunism, jealousy, and destruction.[5] His subjects belong to life rather than to a school or ism.

Beginning in the early '30s Evergood became committed to working as a social realist. His real urge to paint America "... evolved when the Depression came, and people were actually sitting on the curb with their tongues hanging out."[6]

During his involvement with the PWAP (Public Works of Art Project), Evergood took to the streets of New York to find subject matter for his paintings. On Christopher and Walker Streets in the 1930s, he spent a night with the homeless Hooverville jungle-dwellers, which affected him for the rest of his life. Here he was moved by the tragedy of the unemployed living in shacks made out of old tin cans and crates, with mattresses for roofs, sitting huddled around a fire of rubbish in the snow and cold. The characteristics of their different races and lives, their despair, were all in their faces. Evergood wanted to make art out of what was not art.[7]

In the paintings Modern Inquisition (page_) and Railroad Men's Wives (page_) there is an overriding sadness that is haunting. The faces are akin to those in a picture album, a narrative of the past that is full of defeat. Vulgar and sensitive, brash and indirect, harsh and playful, astringent, sensual, it is American life in paint with garish color -- a composition indicative of a political cartoon, a diffuse glow of mixed emotion.


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