"I paint every day. Sometimes I hate painting, but I keep at it, thinking always that before I croak I'll really learn how to do it – maybe as well as some of the old painters." Thomas Hart Benton
A gray day and a feeling of unease as we move forward and begin to deal with the economic fallout of the pandemic. While reading about Jackson Pollock I took a detour over to one of his early influences Thomas Hart Benton a midwestern painter and muralist who became famous as a Regionalist painter, focusing on American people and culture. Reading about his 1930s work made me think about what the artists response to this time will be like.
Benton's main contribution to 20th-century American art might be his thematic emphasis on images of ordinary people and common lore. His expressive realism stands out for its exaggerated curvilinear forms and shapes, and bold use of key colors. By shifting attention away from New York and towards the Midwest, Benton expanded both the scope of possible artistic subject matter, and the potential public for American art.
About the painting from theartstory.com
Commissioned by New York City's innovative and progressive New School for Social Research, Benton's America Today murals joyfully celebrate an America before the full impact of the Great Depression had been realized. Here, a multi-racial labor force - this in itself is modern and utopian image because of heavily segregated labor in America - busily build the city. Emphasis is placed on the producer, rather than on material consumption. Benton pictures high skyscrapers, which were markers of the new modern city, urbanism, and industrialism. The presence of a ship recalls Benton's earlier work for the US Navy, and reminds us of New York's prominence as a port city. Benton applied wood molding to the canvas to separate one vignette from the other, which gives a modern, cinematic quality to the overall composition. (Benton had earlier worked in the film industry as well.) His rapid compositional shifts in depth between the foreground and deep background recall cinematic effects. In addition to Benton's murals, the New School also commissioned the great Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco to paint a suite of frescoes which complement Benton's tribute to the national by focusing on the international. Standing in front of this monumental and brightly colored image, one senses the city humming and pulsating with new energy.
About the Artist from Wikipedia
Thomas Hart Benton (April 15, 1889 – January 19, 1975) was an American painter and muralist. Along with Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry, he was at the forefront of the Regionalist art movement. The fluid, sculpted figures in his paintings showed everyday people in scenes of life in the United States. His work is strongly associated with the Midwestern United States, the region in which he was born and which he called home for most of his life. He also studied in Paris, lived in New York City for more than 20 years and painted scores of works there, summered for 50 years on Martha's Vineyard off the New England coast, and also painted scenes of the American South and West. read more