Arnold Trachtman’s (1930-2019) vibrant Expressionist views of Boston, Cambridge, and surrounding cities are on view in On the Town, a new exhibition of work by the prolific, though somewhat overlooked artist. Born in Lynn, Trachtman spent most of his life in the Greater Boston area, eschewing the artistic hub of New York for his roots in New England. After serving overseas in the aftermath of World War II and receiving his Masters degree from the Art Institute of Chicago, Trachtman returned to the East Coast to begin a long career of teaching, painting, and activism. Though much of his art was political in nature, Trachtman also continually produced scenes of his immediate world: the bridges, buildings, parks, and squares of Metro Boston. Each of these paintings brim with life, Trachtmans’ keen observations detailing both the notable architecture and colorful characters inhabiting familiar locales, capturing a more personal view of the “town” he called home.
As a child, Trachtman didn’t excel academically, but was painting and drawing constantly. He would eventually graduate from esteemed art schools including the aforementioned Art Institute of Chicago and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, where he would also later teach. Artistically, Trachtman straddled many genres and movements. Though not a graduate of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, as a Jewish artist working in representational figuration in the Boston area during the mid-twentieth century, he is linked to the Boston Expressionists. His commitment to depicting urban life – especially the working-class cities and denizens of Greater Boston - also firmly associates Trachtman with social realism. A dedicated Marxist, he is frequently referred to as a ‘protest artist’ – his works were often politically motivated and confronted social justice issues.
While spanning genres and defying easy categorization, Trachtman’s artwork finds its focus through visual storytelling, whether political or personal. The paintings in On the Town are of the latter sort, expressively documenting the sites Trachtman would have seen, the streets he would have walked, daily. Mostly dating from the 1960s, they are historical snapshots, recordings on canvas of specific times and places deeply personal to the artist. The exhibition is reminiscent of a walking tour through various cities and towns, with Trachtman as a guide, pointing out interesting details that may have gone otherwise unnoticed. Viewing the world through Trachtman’s eyes, his joyfulness in the familiar is apparent – his paintings revel in the color and movement of city life, particularly when depicting the comings and goings of local residents. Trachtman loved his community, and the feeling was reciprocated - when a house fire destroyed much of his early work, local businesses chipped in to help the artist start over.
The works in On the Town celebrate city life and community, illuminating a Boston area of the past through the vision of one of its more unique residents. Trachtman’s paintings tell stories and reveal an artist as deeply invested in his neighborhood as it was in him. On the Town is on view at Childs Gallery January 12 through March 11, 2023.