Clarke NY Auction - July 28

Hugh Mesibov Memories of the Wartime Shipyard

  • May 12, 2010 12:35

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Mesibov, Dialogue in Armor, 1944, 30 x 24 inches

HUGH MESIBOV, The Wartime Shipyard, Surrealist Works of 1942/45. EXTENDED THROUGH MAY, 27, 2010.

During World War II Hugh Mesibov (born 1916) was a First Class Ship Fitter --- one of more than 18,000 workers employed at the historic William Cramp & Son Shipbuilding Company in Philadelphia. Cramp’s, founded in 1830, had been closed since 1927, but was re-opened in 1941; the USS Miami, a Navy cruiser, was built there. On the last day, when the job ended in 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to the site. Mesibov remembers him waving to the crowd. Roosevelt died later that year, on April 12, 1945.

That day-to-day experience, combined with horrific wartime news, led Mesibov into a surrealist period. These paintings have smooth surfaces and solid blocks of pure color. In desolate and unstable landscapes shifting plots of land threaten to drift into space. They are littered with sharp, twisted shards of metal, and inhabited by grotesque machine-like creatures. These are dangerous post-industrial wastelands.

This work reflects the extremely difficult working conditions of the shipyard. There were real dangers; Mesibov shattered elbow when he fell on a steel deck and he suffered severe hearing loss from the noise. However, there were lighter moments as well. Once, when confronted by a new bulkhead of the ship under construction, he took the initiative. First he caged paint from the welders – they all had different colors so that their welds could be marked and then counted up; they were paid by the number of welds. With supplies and a blank surface Mesibov painted a 40-foot nude on the side of the bulkhead as a crowd of workers gathered and cheered. When he was finished a supervisor came and asked, “Did you do that?” Nervous, but unable to deny his work, he admitted he had. “Good job” said the supervisor.



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  • Susan Teller
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We feature American paintings and works on paper from the 1920s to the 1950s with special interest in the Urban/Industrial Scene, Modernism, Atelier 17, Surrealism, and African American work.

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