Thursday, May 3, 2012

Meet "The Reader," A Drama In Lithography

By Stephen J. Gertz

TOBIAS, Abraham Joel (1913-1996). The Reader.
New York: Works Progress Administration, 1935-43.
Lithograph. Image size (21 1/4 x 15 3/4 in; 54 x 40 cm). .

Painter, lithographer, illustrator, and muralist  Abraham Joel Tobias (1913 - 1996) was primarily known for his sculptural paintings of the 1930s, a pioneer in the form.

"[From] 1934-35, Abraham Joel Tobias created and exhibited an extraordinary group of works he called 'sculptural paintings' that integrated shaped canvases and complex framing devices, both conditioned by the imagery they contained. With their complex yet coherent interplay of imagery, construction, and composition, the sculptural paintings are uniquely innovative works within the history of American art" (Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University).

During the mid-1930s through early 1940s, Tobias was employed by the Works Progress Administration, the New Deal program, 1935-1943, that put millions of unemployed laborers, as well as those in the arts, to work during the Great Depression on public works projects. It was during this period that he created The Reader, a stunning composition that highlights, perhaps as no other visual depiction, the intensity of an active reader, deeply engrossed in, and wholly united with, the volume. The reader and book are physically as one and indivisible, and lost to the outside world. At this moment there is nothing more important in the universe than the reader and the book; a holy communion, a prayer meeting. Tobias's use of chiaroscuro effects heightens the drama.

As matted and framed.

"The name Tobias may not ring a bell with most New Yorkers, but tens of thousands of them a day pass one or more of his works huge murals everywhere from Public School 134 on the lower East Side to the lobby of the Domestic Relations Court in downtown Brooklyn…

"Tobias, who was born in upstate Rochester but spent his early years in Scotland before returning to New York at age 8, once said he chose art on his first day of school. The story goes that he was so upset the teacher gave him pencil and paper and asked him to draw her a picture. He did and she praised him so lavishly that he continued to draw for the rest of his life.

"Tobias was one of the first artists to paint on shaped canvasses and to make the frame part of the painting. In the '30s, when he started, that went unremarked, but in the '80s, the techniques caused a stir among art critics.

"He had shown the paintings in 1935 then put them away for more than a half century, until a curator at the Smithsonian Institution heard about them. The Smithsonian bought one shaped like a huge seashell and called his works 'astoundingly different.'

"Forty-four other works, in all sizes and shapes, were exhibited at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

"He refused to sell them, and they are now back in storage" (NY Daily News obit, February 05, 1996).

A print of The Reader is in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Images courtesy of Between The Covers, currently offering this item, with our thanks.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe to BOOKTRYST by Email