John Graham

(c. 1886—1961)

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David Smith (1906—1965) American sculptor

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Russian-American painter and writer on art, born Ivan Dambrowsky in Kiev. His early life is obscure and it is not certain where or even whether he received formal training in art. However, it is evident from his writings that he knew certain members of the Russian avant-garde—David Burliuk, Gabo, Lissitsky, and Mayakovsky—and his early paintings show the influence of Rayonism. Like Kandinsky and Malevich, he later became interested in theosophy. He emigrated to the USA in the early 1920s and studied under John Sloan at the Art Students League. His paintings are eclectic, drawing variously on Cubism, Fauvism, and Surrealism; they sometimes have an engaging eccentricity, but he is more important for his other activities. He introduced Jackson Pollock to his future wife Lee Krasner in 1941, knew many other young artists who later became celebrated figures (Stuart Davis, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, David Smith), and gained a reputation as the mouthpiece of modernism and a link with the European avant-garde. His emphasis on the importance of the unconscious as a spring of artistic inspiration has been cited as a source for the young Abstract Expressionists, and David Anfam writes: ‘On the evidence of his book System and Dialectics of Art, read by the cognoscenti at its appearance in 1937, Graham embodied a fascinating storehouse of ideas and pursuits for anyone eager to escape provincialism’ (Abstract Expressionism, 1990). He collected African sculpture and received European magazines such as Cahiers d'art that were a stimulus to the artists in his circle. In the 1940s, however, Graham repudiated modernism and became immersed in the study of the occult. He spent his final years in London and Paris.

Subjects: Art.

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