Friday 19 March 2021

Ben Shahn - part 5

Ben Shahn by Ida Kar
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Ben Shahn was a Lithuanian-born American artist and member of the Social Realist movement. His expressive figurative paintings, murals, and posters were inexorably tied to his pursuit of social justice and lifelong activism within leftist political beliefs. Shahn unflinchingly critiqued the government and society, as seen in his The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti (1931–1932), a painting which condemned the controversial conviction of two Italian-American immigrants who were sentenced to death in 1927. “The artist must operate on the assumption that the public consists in the highest order of individual—that he is civilised, cultured, and highly sensitive both to emotional and intellectual contexts,” he once stated. “And while the whole public most certainly does not consist in that sort of individual, still the tendency of art is to create such a public—to lift the level of perceptivity, to increase and enrich the average individual's store of values.” 

Born in 1898 in Kaunas, Lithuania into an Orthodox Jewish family, he and his family emigrated to New York in 1906. Shahn went on to study at the National Academy of Design in New York and travelled throughout Europe during the 1920s. Upon his return to the United States, he assisted Diego Rivera in 1933 for the painting of his Man at the Crossroads fresco in Rockefeller Center. During the latter part of his career, the artist’s paintings became more symbolic of his own emotional state rather than a description of social injustices. 

Sharing a studio in 1929 with the photographer Walker Evans stimulated Shahn's own interest in photography; he began photographing people and street scenes, first in New York and later around the country. These photographs served as the basis for many of his prints and paintings. A series on his photographs will feature in the back end of these posts on Shahn.

He died in March 1969 in New York City. Today, Shahn’s works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., among others.

For earlier works by Ben Shahn see parts 1 - 4 also.

This is part 5 of a 12-part series on the works of Ben Shahn:

1961 The Rising Gorge by S.J. Perelman
published by Simon and Shuster Books

1961 The Room. Set design for the play "Him"
 gouache, ink, and cut-and-pasted metallic paper on paper 51.1 x 66.5 cm
MoMA New York

1962 American Poetry and Poetics
Doubleday Anchor Books

1962 Kay-Kay Comes Home by Nicholas Samstag
Astor Books

1962 Mosaic
LeMoyne-Owen College, Memphis, TN

1962 The Heron of Calvary, No.3
gouache and gold paint on board 58.5 x 86.3 cm

1963 Arrangement of Letters
silver with gold wash 8.1 x 5 x 4.8 cm
MoMA, New York

1963 Blind Botanist
colour lithograph 67.5 x 52 cm
Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio

1963 Christmas 1963
offset lithograph 50.8 x 66 cm

1963 Letters in a Cube
silver with gold wash 5.2 x 4.8 x 4.8 cm
MoMA, New York

1963 Mask (The Mask of the Women with the Comb)
serigraph 75.6 x 53.3 cm

1963 Maximus of Tyre
(method & size not found)
Smithsonian American Art Museum

1963 Psalm 133
colour lithograph 52.7 x 68.6 cm
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

1963 Television #2
tempera and ink on cardboard 30.4 x 35.5 cm

1963 The Quiet Battle
Doubleday Anchor

c1963 A Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year

1964 I Send You Here a Wreath of Blossoms Blown
offset lithograph 36.8 x 51.4 cm

1964 Love Sonnets:

1964 Love Sonnets
Front Cover

1964 Love Sonnets
End Paper

1964 Love Sonnets
End Paper

1964 Love Sonnets

1964 Love Sonnets

1964 Love Sonnets

1964 Love Sonnets

1964 Love Sonnets

1964 Love Sonnets

1964 Love Sonnets

1964 Love Sonnets

1964 Love Sonnets

1964 Love Sonnets

1965 American Civil Liberties Union

Portfolio of nine photo-offset lithographs 57.8 x 45.1 cm:

1965 American Civil Liberties Union portfolio 
James Chaney
offset lithograph

1965 American Civil Liberties Union portfolio
Andrew Goodman
offset lithograph

1965 American Civil Liberties Union portfolio
Frederick Douglass
offset lithograph 55.9 x 42.5 cm

1965 American Civil Liberties Union portfolio
I Think Continually of those who were Truly Great
offset lithograph 50.2 x 38.7 cm

1965 American Civil Liberties Union portfolio
Martin Luther King Jr. 
offset lithograph

1965 American Civil Liberties Union portfolio
Michael Schwerner
offset lithograph

1965 American Civil Liberties Union portfolio
Thou Shalt Not Stand Idly By
original artwork
gouache on paper 55.8 x 43.2 cm

1965 American Civil Liberties Union portfolio
We Shall Overcome
offset lithograph

1965 Kuboyama and the Saga of The Lucky Dragon:

Front Cover


Port of Departure
The Lucky Dragon sailed from the small port of Yaizu.

The Catch
The fishing master ordered the boat turned east, toward seas around Midway.

The Lucky Dragon
Kuboyama was an ordinary man who measured well against his fellow men.

I Never Dared to Dream
His wife told a reporter, "I have worried about his life from the beginning, but alas, the time seems to have come now."

He who died. Kuboyama's advice was greatly respected, for he had read widely.

Boys' Day. The crew talked about "Boy's Day," when large and colorful paper fish are flown throughout the land.

The Beast. The sailors suspected that they had witnessed a pika-don, or "thunder flash."

The Beast of the Atoll. The few members of the crew who were topside when a huge incandescence arose on the western horizon.

His Tomb. Is the world on a collision course with death, with no hope of a change in course.