John Heliker


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Painter and draftsman. His supple, painterly landscapes, interiors, still lifes, and portraits balance representational elements with abstract design. Difficult to place among twentieth-century artists, he approached his craft with profound understanding of traditional as well as modern painting. Widely acquainted and respected among major New York painters, he also served as an important teacher. Heliker was born in Yonkers, just north of New York City, but grew up on a farm. He left high school in 1923 to spend much of his time copying old master paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Between 1927 and 1929 he studied at the Art Students League, where Kenneth Hayes Miller and Thomas Hart Benton numbered among his teachers. In subsequent years he painted landscapes chiefly, in a somewhat expressionistic style indebted also to the example of Cézanne. He departed in 1948 for an extended sojourn in Italy, the first of several visits. Drawn to light, color, and structure by the visual qualities of that country, for the next several years he emphasized abstract form in reinterpretations of Italian landscape and architecture. In the mid-1950s he developed the soft, suggestive representational approach that thereafter characterized most of his work. Characteristically, he suggested the allure of transient moments by focusing closely on a few compositional elements, while deftly implying the rest. Heliker's masterful drawings represent his sensibility in its purest form. While teaching from 1950 until 1977 at Columbia University, in 1965 he helped to found the New York Studio School, where he later also taught. For many years a summer resident of Maine, he died in a Bar Harbor health center, not far from his Cranberry Island home. Painter Robert Lewis LaHotan (1927–2002), his companion of nearly five decades, favored a delicately nuanced representational style. Born in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, he graduated from Columbia University and taught for more than thirty-five years at the Dalton School in New York. He died in Bangor, Maine.

Subjects: Art.

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