(b Montreal, 27 June 1913; d Woodstock, NY, 7 June 1980). American painter. He was born in Canada, the son of Russian immigrant parents, and grew up in Los Angeles, where he was a schoolfriend of Jackson Pollock. After travelling in Mexico in 1934, studying the work of Orozco and Rivera in particular, he settled in New York and from 1934 to 1941 worked as a muralist on the Federal Art Project. In 1941 he moved to Iowa City to teach at the State University there, and from 1945 to 1947 he was artist-in-residence at Washington University, St Louis.
After leaving New York he switched from mural to easel painting, and during the 1940s his work changed in another fundamental way, moving from social and political subjects to abstraction; by 1950 (when, after travels in Europe, he settled in New York again) he had eliminated all figurative elements from his work. His most characteristic paintings feature luminous patches of overlapping colours delicately brushed in the central area of a canvas of light background (Dial, 1956, Whitney Mus., New York). This manner of his has been described as ‘Abstract Impressionism’ and he was associated with the more lyrical wing of Abstract Expressionism—he was the only member of the group who had already had a successful career as a figurative painter. During the 1960s shades of grey encroached on the earlier brilliant colours and vague naturalistic associations crept in, until in the 1970s he returned to figurative painting in a satirical, garishly coloured, cartoon-like style that has been seen as the source of New Image Painting. His works in this manner included scenes of fantastic social comment, involving, for example, the Ku Klux Klan.
Text Source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)