This book was written and published in collaboration with an exhibition of Goerge Bellow's work in a mueum exhibition. It is beautifully presented with many of Bellow's paintings reproduced in color along with many of his drawings and lithographic prints.
There were numerous strategically placed quotations from Bellows that were insightful and resonated with the various sections into which the book was divided. The introduction begins with "I am always amused with people who talke about lack of subjects for painting. The great difficulty is that you can ot stop to sort them out enough. Wherever you go, they are waiting for you...It seems to me that an artist must be a spectator of life; a reverential, enthusiastic, emotional spectator; and then the great dramas of human nature will surge through his mind."
Mary Sayre Haverstock, the author, covers Bellows from his youth as a second child to elderly parents, his elder sister a grown woman when he is born, to his school days as an athlete who was accomplished in baseball and basketball. Bellows goes to New York City after completion of college in Ohio, and begins study under Robert Henri. Here, he and others form the Ashcan School of NYC painters. He becomes friends and assocaites with artists now recognized for their tremendous contribution to American art, such as Sloan, Marsh, Luks, Henri, as well as writer Eugene O'Neill. Robert Henri would appear to be the strongest influence on the work of Bellows, in his classroom instruction and in his personal relationship with Bellows. His confidence, personal philosophy, artistic philosophy, and technique grows in NYC as reflected in this quote: "My advice is to paint just as you have the confidence to, and keep your ideals aloof to criticize your painting with. Watch all good art, and accept none as standard for yourself. Think with all the world, and work alone."
Bellow's early works in New York City are astounding and lead to the great paintings of boxers and World War 1 atrocities. As you look at his work, Bellow's ability to concedntrate the eye of the viewer into specific focal points through high contrast of dark and light as well as unexpected and sometimes off setting composition is remarkable. 'River rats' from 1906 is an outstanding early work demonstrating incredible dexterity, mastery of the use of darks and lights (lessons from the works of Hals, Rembrandt, Goya, Valesquez), and energetic layers of brushstrokes. 'Club Night', a scene of ugly pug faced boxers emerging from darkness, reminds me of the powerful anti-war works of the later Goya. In fact, the influence of Goya is evident in Bellow's style of composition and even in his subject matter. His refined portraits are serene and beautiful and classy yet his scenes of the brutalitya and force of a man to man struggle are full of dark energy and drama. Compare the faces in 'Club Night' to the dark final paintings of Goya. The great drawing, 'Tin Can Battle, San Juan HIll, New York' shows his superb ability to capture the male body in motion, but more than just the motion of strolling, it is rather the motion of extreme physical effort. Look at the wide stances taken by the Black youths throwing tin cans, almost beyond belief how the male figure is stretched to such extremes in athletic and combative struggles. Bellows won an early award for 'Forty-Two Kids' which is a theme he returns to later with more complex compositions, such as 'Riverfront No. 1'. However, here he shows early his sympthay for the urban poor, the unemployed male masses, the resiliency of youth even in a world of deterministic class structures.
Bellow's scenes of nature are raw, powerful, beautiful but not romantic. 'North Rive', and 'Floating Ice' are examples of this power. Bellows did not romanticize snow. In fact his figures struggle in deep and slushy snow in many of his works, such as 'Easter Snow'. However, like black, white has the ability to focus the eye of the viewer which Bellows seems to see as the goal.
George Bellow's city scenes are favorites of mine.His ability to define essential form and shape with high contrasted blacks and lights is masterful. In harsh light, shadow becomes even darker when the pupil contracts. Bellows captures this, allows it to become the central armature of the paining. In 'Noon' the subway tracks frame the distance looking down a long street, awash with smoke and hard white sunlight.
'Stag at Sharkey's' is one of the greatest American paintings and is reproduced here on the cover in detail and inside in full reproduction of the complete work. The lengthening of the male form in action will always be seen as Bellow's triumpant observation of human movement. Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Goya and others never pushed the male figure to the anatomical and athletic extremes of Bellows.
The book covers the many exhibitions in which Bellows participated, organized, and hung. His awards were numerous even though his work was not without controversy. He loved the public and yet would state 'There is a strange disease in people's minds which makes them imagine tehmselves as arbiters of beauty,and creates a constant and foolish demand that pictures be all 'pretty'. As if Shakespeare had alsways gone around writing love sonnets.' Bellows was familiar with the works of Riis that depicted the urban poor in NYC. He was a supporter of socialist thought and such persons as Emma Goldman. He painted the evangelist Billy Sunday to expose the travesty of these dramatic emotional revivals. Bellows says "Ilike to paint Billy Sunday, not becuase I like him, but because I want to show the world what I do think of him...He is death to the imagination, to spiritualiyt, to art...His whole purpsoe is to force authority against beauty. He is against freedom, he wants a religious autocracy, he is such a reactionary that he makes me an anarchist."
Whether the scene is the urban poor or urban rich or a fist fight or a circus act, Bellows used light and dark as a central organizing factor in his work to superb effects.
Bellows contributed to the World War I efforts with drawnings and prints of atrocities. He becomes more philosophical as he ages and gains experience. He says 'Time is needed to estimate any work of art.' His last paintings are superb, with 'Dempsey and Firpo' a paragon of the the male to male struggle. It is so sad that we lost Bellows at age forty-two to appendicitis complications.
This is an excellent product for any art lover.