Please join us as we honor the following artists who served in the military and made a significant impact on the art world.
RICHARD DIEBENKORN [1922-1993]
Richard Diebenkorn grew up in San Francisco and attended Stanford University, and later the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). Although well established as an abstract painter, Diebenkorn returned to figuration in the mid-1950s. He incorporated the dominant expressive painting style into representational canvases, often landscapes.
In 1966, he moved to Santa Monica and returned to quasi-geometric abstraction, though his work continued to evoke the landscape and the hazy coastal light of Southern California. Like his earlier works, Diebenkorn’s later abstractions allow the accumulated drawn and painted traces of his painstaking process to remain visible.
In 1988, he returned to live in Northern California, where failing health forced him to concentrate on small-scale works until his death five years later.
SAM FRANCIS [1923-1994]
One of the twentieth century’s most profound Abstract Expressionists, American artist Samuel Lewis Francis (1923-1994) is noted as one of the first post-World War II painters to develop an international reputation. Francis created thousands of paintings as well as works on paper, prints and monotypes, housed in major museum collections and institutions around the world. Regarded as one of the leading interpreters of color and light, his work holds references to New York abstract expressionism, color field painting, Chinese and Japanese art, French impressionism and his own Bay Area roots.
He attended the University of California, Berkeley as pre-med student, but was called to military service. He trained to become a pilot until a plane accident during Army Air Corps training (and subsequently progressing illness from spinal tuberculosis) hospitalized him for years (1943–1947). He began painting while lying prone in his hospital bed first in Denver Colorado at Fitzsimons Hospital, and then at Fort Miley Hospital in San Francisco (1945–1947).
After graduating from Cal Berkeley in 1950 with a degree in art, Francis moved to Paris, where he would go on to be named by Time Magazine as, “the hottest American painter in Paris these days.” A transformative period of his career, Francis immersed himself in a study of Monet’s Water Lilies and was influenced by his close friendships with the Matisse family and artists Al Held, Joan Mitchell, and Jean-Paul Riopelle.
SOL LEWITT [1928-2007]
A pioneer in the development of Minimalism and Conceptual art in the 1960s and 1970s, LeWitt was born in Hartford, Connecticut to a family of Jewish immigrants from Russia. His mother took him to art classes at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. After receiving a BFA from Syracuse University in 1949, LeWitt traveled to Europe where he was exposed to Old Master painting. Shortly thereafter, he served in the Korean War, first in California, then Japan, and finally Korea. LeWitt moved to New York City in 1953 and set up a studio on the Lower East Side, in the old Ashkenazi Jewish settlement on Hester Street. During this time he studied at the School of Visual Arts while also pursuing his interest in design at Seventeen magazine, where he did paste-ups, mechanicals, and photostats. In 1955, he was a graphic designer in the office of architect I.M. Pei for a year. Around that time, LeWitt also discovered the work of the late 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge, whose studies in sequence and locomotion were an early influence. These experiences, combined with an entry-level job as a night receptionist and clerk he took in 1960 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, would influence LeWitt’s later work.
In the 1960s, LeWitt embraced an idea that was then radical: that the concept behind a work of art was as important as its physical form. Using only pencil-drawn lines, LeWitt would create an idea for their arrangement to be executed following his written instructions. The idea was paramount. The artist commented, “The idea becomes the machine that makes the art.”
SAM MALOOF [1916-2009]
Sam Maloof is acknowledged as one of the finest woodworkers of our time. As a leader of the California modern arts movement, he designed and produced furniture infused with profound artistic vision for more than half a century until his death in 2009.
Maloof’s work was the subject of a prestigious retrospective at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery in 2001 and is part of their permanent collection. His furniture is in some of the most important private collections in the nation and the permanent collections of the Boston Museum of Art, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and many other fine museums. In 1985 he was named a MacArthur Fellow and later received honorary doctorates from the Rhode Island School of Design and other institutions of higher learning.
JOHN MCCRACKEN [1934-2011]
Internationally recognized artist John McCracken commenced developing his earliest sculptural work while in grad school at California College of Arts and Crafts along with Minimalists John Slorp and Peter Schnore, and painters Tom Nuzum, Vincent Perez, and Terry StJohn, 1964, 1965. Equally well known Dennis Oppenheim, enrolled in the M.F.A. program at nearby Stanford, was a frequent visitor to this more vibrant graduate program.
While experimenting with increasingly three-dimensional canvases, McCracken began to produce art objects made with industrial techniques and materials, plywood, sprayed lacquer, pigmented resin, creating the ever more minimalistic works featuring highly-reflective, smooth surfaces. He applied techniques akin to those used in surfboard construction—popular in Southern California.
Later McCracken was part of the Light and Space movement that includes James Turrell, Peter Alexander, Larry Bell, Robert Irwin and others. In interviews, however, he usually cited his greatest influences as the hard edge works of the Abstract Expressionist Barnett Newman and Minimalists like Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Carl Andre.
ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG [1925-2008]
Image: Rebus, 1955 Combine: oil, synthetic polymer paint, pencil, crayon, pastel, cut-and-pasted printed and painted papers, including a drawing by Cy Twombly, and fabric on canvas mounted and stapled to fabric. Three panels: 96 x 131 1/8 x 1 ¾ inches (243.8 x 333.1 x 4.4 cm) overall. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Partial and promised gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder and purchase. ©Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.
Born in Port Arthur, Texas in 1925, Robert Rauschenberg’s art is characterized by an irreverent and innovative approach to images, mediums, and disciplines. While stationed with the U.S. Navy at Camp Pendleton, San Diego, Rauschenberg was inspired to become a professional artist by his first museum visit to the Huntington Library in San Marino. Following his honorable discharge from the Navy in 1945 and with funding from the G.I. bill, Rauschenberg pursued his art education at the Kansas City Art Institute, the Académie Julian, Paris, and the Art Students League, New York. Beginning in 1948, Rauschenberg enrolled at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, initiating his lifelong collaborations with composer John Cage and choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham.
In 1951, during the artist’s first solo-exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, Rauschenberg’s work was selected by art dealer and World War II veteran Leo Castelli and artist Jack Tworkov for inclusion in Today’s Self-Styled School of New York, also known as the Ninth Street Show. Held at the Ninth Street Gallery, New York, this group exhibition would consolidate the movement that came to be known as the New York School. Beginning in the mid-1950s, Rauschenberg’s Combines revealed his desire to transcend established artistic categories. By bringing the images and objects of everyday life into the arena of abstract painting, he blurred distinctions between painting and sculpture. The iconoclastic spirit of the Combines would become a distinguishing feature of his work.
Throughout his more than sixty–year career, Rauschenberg remained committed to artistic experimentation and collaboration with performers, printmakers, engineers, writers, artists, and artisans from around the world. Winner of numerous prestigious accolades for his groundbreaking work, including the International Grand Prize in Painting at the Venice Biennale in 1964, Rauschenberg is among the most celebrated artists of his generation.
PHIL STERN [1919-2014]
Fascinated by photography after his mother got him a camera in a Kodak promotional giveaway, he swept the floors at a Canal Street photo studio and took photos for the Police Gazette, a pulp magazine with “a readership that required a certain kind of picture,” as he described it to the Times. In 1939, he was hired to shoot for the new weekly photo magazine Friday, for which his first assignment was documenting coal miners in Harlan, Ky. A year later, he joined Friday’s West Coast office in Los Angeles, where his assignments included shooting Orson Welles on the set of “Citizen Kane.”
During World War II, he joined the Army and saw action in North Africa with the 1st Ranger Battalion, in a legendary fighting unit known as Darby’s Rangers. After suffering severe neck and arm shrapnel wounds in Tunisia, he was a combat photographer during the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily for Stars and Stripes, the Army newspaper.
After honing his skills as a combat photographer, he became a renowned photographer for Life, Look and other magazines and was best known for capturing Hollywood icons and jazz legends in unguarded moments. Unlike the movie-studio portrait photographers whose work enhanced the illusion of flawless screen gods and goddesses, Stern typically photographed 1940s and ‘50s Hollywood stars candidly on the set, at home and at private gatherings.
He died in Los Angeles at the age of 95.