It’s Day 143 and I’m feeling a little under the weather. Very sore and fatigued. My sinuses feel dry and my ears are popping. Hopefully, my body fights it off and it’s just an allergy thing! I was feeling okay earlier and that’s when I got my painting done. So join me in honoring Irving Kriesberg today!
As a young child Irving Kriesberg would create drawing books filled with images of museum taxidermy he encountered at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. This early experience of biological rendering, combined with an admiration of George Harriman’s innocent playfulness, poetic dialogue and surrealist environments in the comic strip Krazy Kat, made a lasting impression on Kriesberg, who later engaged his own animal imagery by tapping into subconscious memory.
For over sixty years Kriesberg invited viewers to observe what he experienced through
images that, as he described it, “well up behind my eyes”. His work blended the lines between abstraction and representation during a time when mainstream artists had chosen complete abstraction as a means for a more spiritual and absolute style. Kriesberg used the figure prolifically, creating his mystical dreamlike environments out of a process he defined as the spontaneous application of paint. Kriesberg’s animal figurations have multiple intentions and, he steadfastly maintained, his artwork has no allegorical intent. He combined his individual and shared worldly experiences with his fantastical imagination.
Kriesberg’s travels around the world made him aware of ancient spiritual cultures and modern, non-westernized civilizations. After graduating from the Art Institute in Chicago, Kriesberg traveled to Mexico City in 1942. His years in Mexico exposed him to expressive forms of art being made “for the people, by the people”. The emotive, violent murals of Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, as well as the political printmaking by the Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP), an influential print workshop, would be important elements of Kriesberg’s early Figurative Expressionist work. Combining emotive violence with spiritual mysticism from the Old Testament, Kriesberg began to paint poignant figurations. It was also in Mexico that Kriesberg first started to work with clay to create primitive sculptures that recalled ancient relics of the past, a practice he periodically returned to over the next 50 years.
Kriesberg returned to New York City in 1945. Soon after, Kriesberg came to the attention of sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, who introduced Kriesberg to his art dealer, Curt Valentin, the owner of a prominent uptown gallery. Valentin became Kriesberg’s first dealer. He also showed Kriesberg’s paintings to Dorothy Miller, who was the first trained curator at The Museum of Modern Art. Miller included Kriesberg in a 1951 ‘New Talent’ exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art (and again in 1957). His big break came when Miller included him in the landmark 1952 exhibition: 15 Americans at The Museum of Modern Art, the show that significantly substantiated the careers of abstract painters Jackson Pollock, William Baziotes, Clifford Still, Edward Corbett, Richard Lippold, Herbert Ferber, Mark Rothko and Bradley Walker Tomlin. Although there were many seminal Abstract Expressionists shown in this exhibition, Kriesberg was the only Figurative Expressionist to be represented. In 1953, Valentin included Kriesberg in a five-person group show at his gallery, and in 1955 Kriesberg had his New York City solo debut at the Curt Valentin Gallery. After Valentin’s death in 1954, Kriesberg was picked up by Duveen Graham Gallery in New York and later Graham Modern, the forerunner of the current Graham Gallery in New York.
Over the next 50 years, Kriesberg created his paintings, ceramics and sculptures in an idiosyncratic style that continuously evolved over the decades, with images of animals, yearning angels, and huminoid figures predominating. His output ranged from innovative two-sided multi-panel “changeable” paintings to banners for some of the large peace demonstrations held in New York during the 1980s.
Kriesberg consistently maintained that his concerns were painterly and abstract. His figures were meant to project their own identities and
invite the viewer to partake in a world populated by a dramatic labyrinth of colorful characters. His figurations were intended, Kriesberg asserted, to touch the observer deep in the subconscious mind, evoking a sense of the primeval, and tapping a collective sense of an archetypal visual language.
On the other hand, he never denied an implied spirituality in the figuration. These spiritual influences are not limited to one source, but derive from Judaism, Eastern Philosophy and his interest in ancient civilizations. During various periods from the 60s through the 80s, he lived and worked in India and Japan. Although his work sometimes reflected imagery of where he worked, he often described his painting style as one that developed not so much from outside sources as from within.
George Nelson Preston said of Kriesberg, “He has never consciously sought a counter aesthetic through purely painterly means. He has been a leader in innovation through eccentricity of composition and exposition of an internal mental dialect of polarities. The means by which this has been carried out are largely through the presentational motifs of proscenium, setting, and encounter.”
Kriesberg has had over 33 solo gallery exhibitions. He exhibited regularly since 1951 at such venues as Gertrude Kassel Gallery, Detroit, Terry
Dintenfass Gallery, Inger Gallery, Martha Jackson Gallery, Katharina Rich Perlow, Peter Findlay Gallery, and Lori Bookstein Gallery, who presented his most recent one-man show, in 2008. He has been given numerous museum solo shows nationally, including a major career retrospective at the Jewish Museum in 1961, and a second retrospective at The Everson Art Museum in 1980. The Jewish Museum retrospective exhibition and catalog was a joint venture with Graham Modern Gallery.
During his life Kriesberg received two Ford Foundation Grants, two Pollock-Krasner Awards, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, a Fulbright Fellowship, a Guggenheim Foundation Memorial Award and many other honorariums. In addition, Kriesberg held several important teaching positions including Yale University Graduate School, Washington University in St. Louis, State University of New York and Columbia University. Kriesberg’s publications include three books on color and art theory. He also created a number of well received animated short films including Pastoral (1954) with music by Douglas Townsend, and Out of Into (1971) with music by Bulent Arel. Kriesberg has had numerous bibliography references written about him by a wide range of prominent art critics, museum curators and art scholars.
Irving Kriesberg’s paintings are held in the permanent collection of over 60 American art museums, including The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Corcoran Gallery, The Brooklyn Museum, The Detroit Museum of Art, The Kresge Art Museum, the National Museum of American Art, The Butler Institute of American Art, The Birmingham Museum of Art, The University of Michigan Museum of Art, The Dayton Art Institute, The Allentown Art Museum, The Boca Raton Museum of Art, The Rose Art Museum, The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, The Scottsdale MOCA, The Crocker Art Museum, and many other museums.
-Written by Adam Zucker (From www.irvingkriesberg.com)
I really enjoyed today’s painting. I took my fox image directly from one of his paintings because I liked it so much! I haven’t really done that with any of my tributes, but this time I couldn’t help how much I wanted to paint that fox. Well, I hope you enjoy my piece today and I’ll see you tomorrow on Day 144. Best, Linda
Wow, Linda! Thank you for quoting me. It was such a wonderful experience getting to spend time talking about painting with Irving. He was an incredibly prolific painter, writer, and activist. I love your inspired work! Feel free to join the Irving Kriesberg Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/irvingkriesberg. I will repost this on there!
Of course! I loved your interview. I will join the FB page and follow your blog! Thanks for visiting! This project has been insane. 🙂
I’m glad I’ve discovered it 🙂 I am now starting from day 1.
I am also on FB! http://www.facebook.com/dayoftheartist 🙂
I still keep coming back to this post, and your incredible endeavor! Thank you for sharing the work of Irving Kriesberg and your own interpretation of it! We’ve just launched a new website (http://irvingkriesberg.com/) for Irving Kriesberg’s work, as well as a FB page (@irvingkriesberg). I hope you’ll check them both out 🙂
Thank you so much! Your kind words mean a lot to me. I loved this project very much. I just liked the new FB page. 😊