Mesibov: The Wartime Shipyard, Extended through May 27

  • NEW YORK, New York
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  • May 18, 2010

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Dialogue in Armor, 1944, 30 x 24 inches

Surrealist Works of 1942/45, Paintings and Works on Paper

EXTENDED through May 27, 2010

Link to show:

During World War II Hugh Mesibov was a First Class Ship Fitter at the historic William Cramp & Son Shipbuilding Company in Philadelphia. Mesibov (born 1916) was one of more than 18,000 workers employed at Cramp’s. Founded in 1830 it 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 shipyard 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.

A work by Mesibov from this period was included in the landmark exhibition, Surrealism USA, at the National Academy of Design Museum, NY, 2005.







A native of Philadelphia, Hugh Mesibov attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Barnes Foundation. His work moved from a highly charged urban realism, through Surrealism and the heady days of Abstract Expressionism, into a contemporary abstraction inspired by nature.
    From 1937 to 1941 Mesibov worked on the painting, mural, and printmaking sections of the Philadelphia Works Progress Administration: Joseph Hirsch and Robert Gwathmey were artists friends from this period. In 1941 Mesibov made the mural Steel Industry, for the Post Office, Hubbard, Ohio, under the US Treasury Department. While on the printmaking division of the WPA he was instrumental in developing the carborundum mezzotint technique (with Michael J. Gallagher and Dox Thrash), and the subsequent innovation of color carborundum printmaking. His drypoint, Pieta, 1937, was shown at the New York World’s Fair, 1939. Mesibov’s work from this period reflects social issues of the day and is drawn in a lively and bold style influenced by the modernist works he knew from the Barnes. In 1940 he had his first one-man show, at the Carlin Gallery, Philadelphia.

During World War II Mesibov was employed at the historic William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Company. That day-to-day experience, combined with horrific wartime news, led him into a period of surrealist images. In 2005 his drawing Eye Washing Machine, 1942, was shown in the landmark Surrealism USA show at the National Academy Museum, NY, and the Phoenix Art Museum

Mesibov moved to New York City in 1945. His first New York show was at The Chinese Gallery, 1947, where Milton Avery, Nell Blaine, and Ralph Rosenborg, also exhibited. In this period Mesibov’s work became more abstract, but also more dynamic. As part of the Formations Group, he exhibited at The New School in 1948 and 1949, with friends John Ferron and Boris Margo. Mesibov was a member of The Club with other abstract expressionists just as they were converging into a school; he associated with Franz Kline and Ibram Lassaw in particular. Mesibov had shows at the Morris Gallery, 1955, and Gallery Mayer, 1959. In 1956 and 58 he exhibited at the Artists Gallery, with his friend Richard Pousette-Dart. (As an artist-run gallery it was a novelty at the time.)

    From the beginning of his career Mesibov remained loyal to the landscape. Summer visits to Aspen, Colorado, from 1951 to 1954, resulted in a body of work, mostly watercolors, characterized by a perception of space drawn from the vast American West. These views reveal superb control of the medium and a continued exploration of abstraction. Visits to Monhegan Island, Maine, in 1955 and 1958, produced an intensified expressionism.  On canvas the energy of the Atlantic surf translated into aggressive brush strokes and dramatic color. In 1959 the family moved to Rockland County, NY. There, over several decades, he created an extensive garden; it has been an on-going source of inspiration for his work.

         While in New York City Mesibov had taught art at the Lenox-Hill Neighborhood Association from 1949 to 1957; in Rockland County he taught at the Wiltwyck School for Boys, Esopus, NY, from 1957 to 1966. In 1966 he joined the faculty of the State University of New York, at Rockland; he retired in 1989 and became Professor Emeritus in 1993. 

    Mesibov carved out a significant role in the artistic community of Rockland County. In addition to his teaching activities, he made the mural, The Book of Job, for Temple Beth El, Spring Valley, NY, 1971/72. He is the recipient of the Executive Arts Award for Visual Arts, Rockland Council on the Arts, 1988, and a New York State Council on the Arts Grant, 1995/96. He had a major retrospective at the Rockland Center of the Arts, 1997. His work was featured at the Blue Hill Art and Cultural Center Pearl River, NY, 2003/04, and the Morris M. Pine Library, Fairlawn, New Jersey, 2006.

    In addition, Mesibov has had more than twenty other one-person shows. Among them, the exhibition, Hugh Mesibov: The Wartime Shipyard, 1925—45, May, 2010, at the Susan Teller Gallery, follows Hugh Mesibov, A Ninetieth Birthday Exhibition, 2006, and Hugh Mesibov: recent Monotypes and Watercolor, March, 2002. Also, his work has been included here in Industrial Realism, 1997, American Mural Studies, 1935 to 1962, 2004, and Under the Influence, American Artists Look at Picasso, 2006. A print by Mesibov was included in The American Scene, The British Museum, London, 2009.

    Among the permanent collections with work by Hugh Mesibov are the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York University, and Syracuse University: the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Barnes Foundation, and the Carnegie Library; the Worcester Museum of Art; the Library of Congress; the Art Institute of Chicago and the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Evanston; the Wolfsonian/ Florida International University, Miami Beach; the Museum of Art, the University of Oregon, Eugene; the Newark Museum, New Jersey; the Baltimore Museum of Art; and the British Museum.

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Susan Teller
Susan Teller Gallery

Susan Teller Gallery

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