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Leon Golub

American Painter

Leon Golub Photo
Movement: Neo-Expressionism

Born: January 23, 1922 - Chicago, Illinois

Died: August 8, 2004 - New York, New York

Summary of Leon Golub

Leon Golub carried within an unfailing love of people despite his ongoing exploration of the most monstrous scenes of humanity. Still strikingly relevant today, his paintings explore themes of struggle, conflict, and perverse power relations especially in times of war. He was inspired by ancient and contemporary source material alike; a gleaner of information of news stories from popular media, but also a learned classical art historian. Intrigued by the individual, he made portraits of significant personalities, yet simultaneously Golub rejected self-involvement to instead inspire engagement, collaboration, and to situate his art as a call for active resistance against all injustice.

Living in Paris during the early 1960s, Golub and his partner Nancy Spero were confronted by the haunting remnants of the Holocaust. They returned to the United States with an unflinching willingness to confront cultural darkness, only to be eerily greeted by the onset of the Vietnam War. Golub's understanding of the human condition penetrated so deeply that he successfully broke down barriers and transcended boundaries during his own lifetime, for example he was one of only a few white artists invited to be included in the exhibition Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art (1994).

Key Ideas

In tune with his roots, Golub cleverly incorporates his work into the trajectory of European figurative painting. His pictures behold the drama of Expressionism but with unflinching integrity move away from inward angst to explore the same practical, political, and outward reaching worldly goals of the New Objectivity artists (including Max Beckmann, George Grosz, and Otto Dix).
During the late 1940s, 50s, and 60s Golub's work was often spurned and not given due attention because of the American preference for abstraction, and later, for Minimalism. Due to Golub's perseverance, and to that of other individual artists, in the late 1970s, Neo-Expressionism emerged and the revealing power of figuration was once again revived.
Golub makes paintings that also have sculptural, drawing, and tapestry-like qualities and thus challenges the viewer's perception of what makes a painting. Thick paint is scraped and moulded on application and un-stretched and un-framed canvas make the works appear as though works on paper or fabric hangings. As such, by using apparently endless backgrounds, Golub successfully translates ideas and intentions that cannot be easily contained or concluded.
Like his wife and fellow artist, Nancy Spero, Golub believed in absolute equality and the destruction of hierarchy. The duo were aware that together their work was stronger and intentionally worked in parallel to provide the greatest of insights into the human condition. Like two sides of the same coin, Golub investigated male glory, aggression, and violence, whilst Spero focused on the subordination and regenerative powers of women.
Leon Golub Photo

Leon Albert Golub, known as Leon Golub (1922-2004) was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Son of Jewish immigrants from Ukraine and Lithuania, Golub started making art from a young age. He initially intended to become an art historian and attended the University of Chicago where he received a BA in Art History in 1942. In particular, his studies in ancient Greek and Latin greatly influenced his work and would later become visible in his paintings. He drew inspiration from Greek tragedy and mythological scenes, as well as from Roman sculpture. While a student, in 1939, he saw Pablo Picasso's Guernica at the Chicago Arts Club; this image made a great impact on the young artist and powered his passion towards a highly political, and socially engaged creative vision. As he explained: "Guernica was like that. It was an art object that dealt with our world, OK? I was interested in seeing what that world looked like and was to a certain extent politically aware."

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