Jack Tworkov (1900-1982) was a founding member of the New York School and is regarded as one of the great artists, along with Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, Jackson Pollock, and Franz Kline, whose gestural paintings of the 1950s formed the basis for the abstract expressionist movement in America. He was a founding member of The Eighth Street Club.
Born in Biala Podlaska, Russian Empire, in 1900. Emigrates to the United States (1913) with his mother and younger sister, Janice Biala. Studies English at Columbia University (BA 1923) with the intent to become a writer but after experiencing the paintings by Cézanne and Matisse for the first time, becomes determined to study art. In 1923 he began study at the National Academy of Design with Ivan Olinsky followed by briefly studying with Charles Hawthorne. That year he spent his first summer in Provincetown. Returning to Provincetown (1924), studied with Ross Moffett and meets Karl Knaths with whom he shares a love of Cézanne, and who introduced him to the work of Kandinsky, Klee, and Miró. Studies at the Art Student’s League (1925-26) with Guy Pène du Bois and Boardman Robinson. Becomes a United States citizen (June 28, 1928) and exhibits with New England Society of Contemporary Art and Provincetown Art Association. Works with John Dos Passos at New Playwrights’ Theatre, New York. Begins painting year round in Provincetown (1929). Exhibits Societe Anonyme, New York.
Travels to Europe, his first return since emigrating (1933). Begins psychoanalysis (1933). Participates in Treasury Department’s Public Works of Art Project, New York (1934). Marries Rachel Wolodarsky (1935). First child Hermine born (1939). Works in easel division of WPA Federal Art Project (through 1941). Meets Willem de Kooning, their friendship continues through 1950s. First one-man show at ACA Gallery, New York (1940). Second daughter Helen born (1943). Makes automatic drawings in ink a dramatic departure from academic training (1944). During World War II briefly stops painting to work as draftsman; when he resumes, begins experimenting with abstraction based in academia–study of the figure and still lifes. One-man show at Charles Egan Gallery, New York (1947) and makes the decision to exhibit a series of still lifes instead of abstract work. Takes a studio adjoining Willem de Kooning’s at 85 Fourth Avenue; the two artist’s close association, discussion and exchange of ideas factor into both artist’s development in the early 1950’s leading to their mature Abstract Expressionist Style. Tworkov would maintain this studio until 1953. First one-man museum show at Baltimore Museum of Art. Teaches painting at American University, Washington, DC (1948-51). Becomes a founding member of legendary Eighth Street Club (1949).
Participates in the regular discussions and meetings of The Club. Writes historic essay on Chaim Soutine for Art News, draws important comparisons between Soutine and current Abstract Expressionist gesture painting (1950). Teaches at Pratt Institute. Visiting artist Black Mountain College (1952). His paintings tour eight European cities as part of the 1958 exhibition “The New American Painting” organized by Dorothy Miller for the International Program of the Museum of Modern Art. Develops mature Abstract Expressionist style; spontaneous flame-like brushstrokes defined by grid. Exhibits “American Vanguard Art for Paris,” organized by the Sidney Janis for Galerie de France exhibition includes de Kooning, Gorky, Pollock and others (1962). Winner, Corcoran Gold Medal, 28th Biennial Exhibition of American Painting, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (1963). Elected Chairman of the Art Department at the School of Art and Architecture at Yale University. As Chairman Tworkov invited known artists to teach, including Bernard Chaet, Al Held, Lester Johnson, Knox Martin, George Wardlaw among many other. His students of that era were Chuck Close, Jennifer Bartlett, Richard Serra, Nancy Graves, Rackstraw Downes, and Brice Marden. First retrospective exhibition organized by Whitney Museum of American Art tours six major U.S. museums (1964). By late 1960s work moves away from gesture and towards structure and geometry. Becomes Professor of Painting, Emeritus, Yale University School of Art (1969).
Continues to teach around the country as visiting artist and exhibit work in United States and Europe including exhibitions of recent work at Whitney Museum (1971) and Guggenheim Museum (1982). Later works defined by strong line, veiled color, and delicate brushwork that reveal the artist at the height of his maturity. These are contemplative works somehow tender, yet retain the underlying strength and structure so characteristic of Tworkov. Received three Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts Degrees. The Medal for Painting, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (1974). Appointed Andrew Carnegie Visiting Professor of Art, Cooper Union (1975). Distinguished Teaching of Art Award, College Art Association of America (1976). Elected Member, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1981). Remains active artistically, intellectually, and professionally until the last months of his life. Dies in September in his home in Provincetown, MA (1982).