In December I did a quick portrait sketch or collage of 20 different artists and shared a little bit about each one. These are the last five.
Thomas Hart Benton was born April 15, 1889 in Neosho, Missouri (about 75 miles away from me and also happened to die exactly one year before I was born on January 19, 1975.) He was named after his great-uncle Thomas Hart Benton, who was one of the first two senators from Missouri when it became a state. His father was a lawyer and then a U.S. Congressman.
At an early age Benton wanted to be an artist but his father wanted him to study law and sent him to military boarding school. His mother helped send him to the Art Institute of Chicago and supported him financially until he was in his 30's.
He served in the U.S. Navy during World War I and was assigned to create realistic drawings and illustrations of work in the shipyards and life in the Navy. Part of his Navy work consisted of documenting the camouflage patterns on Naval vessels so that they could be identified and ensure that the camouflage was correctly painted.
He taught at several major art schools, including the Art Students League of New York from 1926 to 1935 and the Kansas City Art Institute from 1935 to 1941. While at the Art Students League, one of his students was Jackson Pollock who he became close with and mentored.
Benton made three-dimensional clay models, lighted them like tiny film sets, and then rendered the scene on canvas.
Critics complained his work was too political. He didn't shy away from showing the shameful sides of history in his work such as slave auctions, KKK rallies, and lynchings. He also painted anti-Axis/ant-fascist war propaganda. His views leaned left but he is also known for being very homophobic and that is one of the reasons he left NYC and returned to Missouri.
Thomas Hart Benton was one of the best known American artists of the early and middle 20th century and a leading member of the art movement Regionalism, alongside Grand Wood. He was the first ever visual artist to be on the cover of Time Magazine.
He said of his work, “If it’s not art, it’s at least history.”
Paula Becker was born on February 8, 1876 in Dresden, Germany. She was interested in art at an early age and began to study drawing at age 12.
Her parents wanted her to become a teacher, and told her to abandon her “egotism” in order to carry out her wifely duties. She completed a two year teacher training program and then began to study art full-time.
At age 18, she joined an artist colony in northern Germany. There, she met her future husband, artist Otto Modersohn.
She found inspiration in the works of Cézanne, Gauguin, and van Gogh and developed her style blending French modernism, with its focus on simplification and abstraction, and her Germanic commitment to humanistic ideals.
Her art often featured regular women, frequently painted nude, as they slept, breastfed and gardened. She was first woman to paint a naked self-portrait.
In 1906 alone, the prolific artist created 80 paintings. She died at the age of 31 the following year of an embolism, 18 days after giving birth to her daughter.
Edwin Parker Twombly, Jr. was born on April 25, 1928 in Lexington, Virginia. He was nicknamed Cy after the legendary baseball pitcher, Cy Young. His father Edwin Parker Twombly, Sr., who was also nicknamed Cy, was a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox.
His early interest in art was developed by art-making kits he ordered from the Sears Roebuck catalog.
After being drafted into the U.S. Army he served as a code breaker from 1953 to 1954. During this time he did blind drawings by working after lights out, in the dark.
In 1957, he moved to Rome and remained there for most of his life.
In the creation of his "gray paintings" he sat on the shoulders of a friend who shuttled him back and forth across the canvas, allowing him to make single flowing lines without interruption.
Cy Twombly battled years of criticism for his expressionistic approach to drawing and painting which was dubbed by many as childish doodling. He continued undeterred, finally gaining recognition in the latter half of his 60-year career.
"My line is childlike but not childish. It is very difficult to fake... to get that quality you need to project yourself into the child's line. It has to be felt."
Uemura Shōen was born Uemura Tsune on April 23, 1875, in Kyoto, Japan. She was born two months after the death of her father. She grew up with her mother and aunts in an all-female household. By the age of 12 she was drawing figures and by age 15 she was exhibiting her work and winning awards.
She was sent to the Kyoto Prefectural Painting School where she studied under the Chinese style landscape painter Suzuki Shōen. Suzuki was so impressed that he gave her the first kanji of his own pseudonym of "Shōnen" in recognition of her talent.
Uemura gave birth to a son (the painter Uemura Shōkō) and then later a daughter, never revealing the name of the father(s). It was likely her teacher, Suzuki Shōne. Uemura never married and she raised her children on her own.
A century ago, women in Japan often painted in private or with close friends but did not train in the arts outside of the home. The exceptions were the wives and daughters of painters who were able to study/train at home. Uemura stands out as one of the few female Japanese artists not to come from a family of male artists.
Uemura portrayed ordinary women, either dressed up to go out or pictured in private, domestic moments. She was working at a time when many Japanese artists began producing Western-influenced oil paintings, but she stuck with with traditional mineral pigments and Japanese themes.
She also painted a number of pictures inspired by female characters in noh theater. Such roles were usually performed by men, but Uemura had women recreate the poses for her works. She is respected for her fight for women's rights in Japan and her achievements as a great artist not just a female artist.
She was one of two women appointed as official artist to the Imperial Household and the first woman to be awarded the Order of Culture for her contributions to Japanese art.
“Not once I’ve drawn women thinking they should only be ‘beautiful.’ My wish is to paint gem-like, clear, decorous and sophisticated figures with no element of vulgarity.” -Uemura Shōen
Robert Rauschenberg was born Milton Ernest Rauschenberg on October 22, 1925, in Port Arthur, Texas.
His father worked for the Gulf State Utilities power company. His mother was a devout Christian who made the family's clothes from scraps, a practice that embarrassed her son but possibly influenced his later work with assemblages and collage.
Until he was 13 he planned to become a minister. He then learned that his church considered dancing a sin, and since he liked to dance that ruled out the ministry. He asked for and received a store-bought shirt for his high school graduation present, the very first in his life.
He was drafted at age 16. Refusing to kill, he was put to work as a psychiatric technician in a naval hospital near San Diego. Under the GI Bill he studied in Paris, Black Mountain Collge in North Carolina, and the Art Students League in NYC.
He met artist Susan Weill while in Paris. They married and had a son Christopher in 1951. The following year the two divorced and Rauschenberg began a relationship with the artist Cy Twombly. A year later he was introduced to Jasper Johns and the two became romantic and artistic partners. They lived together for 7 years. During the last 25 years of Rauschenberg's life he lived in Florida with the artist Darryl Pottorf.
Rauschenberg is well known for his "Combines" of the 1950s, in which non-traditional materials and objects were employed in innovative combinations. He was both a painter and a sculptor and the Combines are a combination of both. He also worked with photography, printmaking, papermaking, and performance.
"People ask me, 'Don't you ever run out of ideas?' Well, in the first place, I don't use ideas. Every time I have an idea, it's too limiting and usually turns out to be a disappointment. But I haven't run out of curiosity."