Saturday, April 5, 2014

Golub, Leon

Interrogation II
Acrylic on canvas
305 x 427 cm
Art Institute of Chicago, IL, USA
-Fair use-

Leon Golub (1922-2004) was an American painter. He was born in Chicago, Illinois, where he studied, receiving his BA in Art History from the University of Chicago in 1942, his BFA and MFA at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1949 and 1950, respectively. In Chicago he became involved with other painters, known as the Monster Roster group, who believed that an observable connection to the external world and to actual events was essential if a painting was to have any relevance to the viewer or society. This is a view that has informed Golub's work throughout his career.

From 1959 through 1964 he lived in Paris, a move occasioned in part by the belief that Europe would be more receptive to his figural style. During this period he switched from using lacquer to acrylics, turned leaving more of the surface unpainted, and began to grind the paint directly into the canvas.

When he returned to New York, the Vietnam War was escalating, and he responded with his two series: Napalm and Vietnam, which are represented in the exhibitions.

In the mid-seventies he was beset with self-doubt. He destroyed nearly every work he produced during this period and nearly abandoned painting. In the late seventies, however, he produced more than a hundred portraits of public figures, among them political leaders, dictators, and religious figures.

In the 1980s he turned his attention to terrorism in a variety of forms, from the subversive operations of governments to urban street violence. Killing fields, torture chambers, bars, and brothels became inspiration and subject for work that dealt with such themes as violent aggression, racial inequality, gender ambiguity, oppression, and exclusion.

From the nineties, his work has shifted toward the illusionistic, with forms semi-visible, and appropriating graphic styles from ancient carvings, medieval manuscripts, and contemporary graffiti. As an older person considering mortality, he moved towards themes of separation, loss, and death. Text appears in many of the paintings and is combined with a series of symbolic references, including dogs, lions, skulls, and skeletons.

He was a leading cultural and civil rights activist in the United States from the early 1960s until his death in 2004. He consistently created works that addressed humanitarian issues. His aggressive images are charged with immediacy and brutality. The evil-doers look out from the painting with shocking intimacy, making the observer privy to their dirty secrets. His work stresses political conscience and has an unswerving commitment to the expression of man's existential relationship to the world.