JOHN SLOAN was born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania and grew up in Philadelphia. He studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1892, first with Thomas Anshutz, and later with Robert Henri. Sloan's professional career as an artist began as an illustrator for Philadelphia newspapers, the Enquirer and the Press. Moving to New York in 1904, he continued working in commercial art until 1916 when he began a long association with the Art Students League as a teacher. Influenced by Henri and his teachings on realism, a group of eight artists, including John Sloan, rebelled against the National Academy of Design by organizing their own independent exhibition in 1908.
Named The Eight by the press, these artists were a strong force in promoting a bold and unromanticized form of realism. Confusing to some, however, is the so-called Ashcan School of which Sloan was a member and who sought out and painted similar or like themes. The Ashcan School, included at least five and, depending on the historian, sometimes six members of The Eight: Arthur B. Davies (1862-1928), Robert Henri (1865-1929), George Luks (1867-1933), William Glackens (1870-1938), Everett Shinn (1876-1953) and Sloan. Others included in the Ashcan school, but none part of The Eight are Alfred Maurer (1868-1932), George Wesley Bellows (1882-1925), Edward Hopper (1882-1967), and Guy Pène Du Bois (1884-1958). For the record, the two artists from The Eight NOT included in the Ashcan School, for whatever reason, are Ernest Lawson (1873-1939) and Maurice Prendergast (1858-1924). It should be mentioned, Arthur B. Davies, a member of The Eight is not always included in the Ashcan School by all art historians.
Street scenes were a natural subject for Sloan and the New York Realists. His New York paintings feature a capacity for rendering narrative, chronicling life in the form of visual anecdotes. The idea for Recruiting in Union Square was conceived on May 10, 1909 as Sloan noted in his diary, "loafed about Madison Square where the trees are heavily daubed with fresh green and the benches filled with tired 'bums near the fountain is a U.S. Army recruiting sign, two samples of our military are in attendance but the bums stick to the freedom of their poverty. There is a picture in this. . . ." Three days later Sloan embarked on the painting, as his diary entry for May 13, 1909 reads "painted in the afternoon. Started a City Square with Recruiting Service sign displayed among the 'bench warmers'." The title of the work was transposed to "Union Square," though Madison Square was the locale which had originally inspired the subject.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts jurors Elmer Schofield, Robert Henri, Thomas Anshutz, and Charles Hawthorne selected Recruiting in Union Square for exhibition as the result of their studio visit on January 6, 1910. The work was exhibited at the January, 1910 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Exhibition, the 1910 Exhibition of Independent Artists, and numerous other exhibitions during Sloan's lifetime.
Under the influence of Robert Henri, Sloan became interested in formal theories of color and composition. Sloan's diaries first make mention of his introduction, by Henri, to the color system of Hardesty Maratta on June 13, 1909. This system created a highly structured, systematized formula for pigments and tonal relationships. Recruiting in Union Square, however, was painted before he began employing this system. He inaugurated use of the system on the next painting, which he began in the fall of 1909, and relied on it continually throughout his career.
Recruiting in Union Square was painted about six months before Sloan became a member of the Socialist Party. Writing about the painting, he stated, "I saw a free man being tempted into monkey clothes, but my intention ... had nothing to do with the Socialist doctrine-just my natural feeling about human freedom." He reiterated that he felt no social obligation and attempted never to involve art with propaganda or politics, instead using his satirical cartoons and illustrations for political expression. However, on another occasion he stated, in contradiction to this, that there was an element of propaganda in Recruiting in Union Square that caused him discomfort. Although he made a conscious attempt to keep his political beliefs separate from his art, he felt they may have kept him from painting many more city pictures.
While Sloan's work is commonly associated with urban views, he became interested in other themes and locales, producing many landscapes of Gloucester, Massachusetts and Santa Fe, New Mexico, of which he first visited in 1919. In 1920 he bought an adobe house in Santa Fe on 314 Garcia Street where he spent four months each year for 31 years except for the year 1933. In addition to landscapes, there are numerous figurative subjects which comprise a large part of his lifework as an artist as well. Sloan continued painting New York scenes until the late 1940s, but city subjects became less appealing to him and he produced fewer in later years.
VALERIE ANN LEEDS, PhD
In 1937, in an unusual diversion for the artist, who had been participating a variety of WPA projects on and off over the years, Sloan was commissioned to do sixteen etchings for a deluxe edition Of Human Bondage, the best selling novel by British author and playwright William Somerset Maugham. Now quite rare and extremely expensive it was issued in a two-volume set each containing eight original etchings by the artist.(see)
See as well fellow New Mexico artist and city of Roswell native Peter Hurd, a master in the use of tempera in capturing the New Mexico landscape.
It is a well known fact that the vivid desert light of the desert southwest has a long history of captivating artists such as Sloan and Hurd, along with other masters such as Georgia O'Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, Stuart Davis, John Marin, Victor Higgins and Andrew Dasburg. Samples of their works can be seen in the Roswell Museum and Art Center. Interestingly enough, art work housed in a town notorious to most people for the 1947 incident surrounding the mysterious downed object that has become known as the Roswell UFO. To show how small the world is, the artist John Hurd had a very close friend, a well known desert southwest archaeologist by the name of William Curry Holden. Holden was one of the first of two major figures thought to have stumbled upon the so-called craft of an unknown origin associated with the Roswell Incident.
ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT: Continues
Biographical information on the primary contributing author:
Valerie Ann Leeds, Adjunct Curator of American Art at the Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, Michigan and former curator of nineteenth and early twentieth century American art at the Orlando Museum of Art, earned her undergraduate degree in art history from the University of Rochester, and her graduate degree in art history from Syracuse University. Formerly curator of exhibitions at the Tampa Museum of Art, she has lectured and written extensively on a variety of subjects in American art, and also organized numerous exhibitions including the 1994 Robert Henri portrait retrospective. She achieved her doctorate degree from the City University of New York on "Robert Henri and the American Southwest."
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
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