Jack Levine the American Social Realist Painter has died, he was 95. Levine was born in Boston on January 3, 1915 and grew up on the rough, teeming streets of Boston’s South End, a predominantly Irish area of town.In the depths of the Depression, his mother made lunches for the bootleggers in the neighbourhood. Jack’s father put a stop to it. And by the time he was 15, Jack’s draftsmanship rivalled Degas’s. At 20, Jack was hired and fired from the Federal Art Project because he was living at home. In 1936, though his work was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s New Horizons in American Art, he was still receiving nickels and dimes from his mother. He finally found some financial stability when he was drafted into the Army. Assigned to permanent KP duty, he was rescued when his painting String Quartet won a purchase prize of $3,000 from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Discharged after the war, Jack moved to New York and married artist Ruth Gikow. he continued to paint biblical subjects, and also produced Gangster Funeral, a narrative which Levine referred to as a “comedy”. Further commentary on American life was furnished by Election Night (1954), Inauguration (1958), and Thirty- Five Minutes from Times Square (1956). Also in the late 1950s, Levine painted a series of sensitive portraits of his wife and daughter. In the 1960s Levine responded not only to political unrest in the United States with works such as Birmingham ’63, but to international subjects as well, as in The Spanish Prison (1959–62), and later still, Panethnikon (1978), and The Arms Brokers, 1982-83. His long, prolific streak began. His paintings are part of the permanent collections of more than 50 public institutions. He has had over than 30 one-man shows.
A high school dropout, Jack has lectured and taught at museums and art schools all over the world. He is past president of the Academy of Arts and Letters. The concerned satirical bent of his art has always been there. From The Feast of Pure Reason on, he has skewered politicians, the law, the military, racism and corruption wherever he found it.
In 1959 he was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee. President Eisenhower called his Welcome Home a lampoon. It was the hit of the Moscow Exhibition of American Art. His painting Cain and Abel hangs in the Vatican. The pope said his work will always be welcome. He was the subject of a 1979 retrospective at New York City’s Jewish Museum and continued to work through the 1990s.
Levine is survived by his daughter, Susanna Fisher, his son-in-law and two grandchildren.
“I am primarily concerned with the condition of man,” he said in 1952. “The satirical direction I have chosen is an indication of my disappointment in man, which is the opposite of saying that I have high expectations for the human race.” Levine will be remembered for his beautifully rendered depictions of life in 20th century America.
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