While Otis Dozier was developing a semi realistic style that would earn him a place among the Dallas Nine as one of the greatest of all Texas regionalist artists, he was also teaching a most unlikely pupil and the result would change the face of art in America. Thomas Hart Benton was that pupil. Benton was born in 1889 in a small town in Missouri, but that didn’t stop him from getting a world class education in art.
He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and in Paris, France, before settling in the early 1920s in New York City to begin his career. This was a strange move for an artist who described himself as the “enemy of modernism”, the style that had dominated Western art since French impressionism. Most serious New York artists were modernists, drawing impression from art stretching as far back as the 1886 exhibition of 300 works by Monet, Degas, Manet, Pissarro and many other French impressionists.
Benton, though, was interested in portraying the everyday life of farmers, laborers in the American landscape. He did so in a very dramatic style, but with plenty of realism to make sure his art was accessible to the people he portrayed. Benton spent as much time as he could, crisscrossing the American Midwest, sketching and painting the occasional public mural, which he would do much more later on.
When he was in New York, he taught at the Art Student League, the most influential art school at the time. One of his students was an intense but chronically inebriated young man from Wyoming named Jackson Pollock. Early on, Pollock was a mediocre artist at best. Under Benton’s tutelage, he matured as an artist, even though he once claimed Benton gave him something to rebel against.
Whatever the nature of their relationship, Pollock and his drip paintings were featured in Life magazine in 1949. He was officially America’s first artist celebrity. Pollock’s work and that of his peers who made up the New York school, became known as Abstract Expressionism, which was one of the major art movements of the 20th century. Look for the silkscreen by James Brooks in the gallery titled Concord.
He was an abstract expressionist and friends with Jackson Pollock and his wife, Lee Krasner. In ten short years, a major shift in the focus of art occurred in the United States. And even earlier in Great Britain, artists moved away from the emotional nature of abstract expressionism in favor of a coolly ambivalent style. They adopted hands off processes like silk-screening to separate their work as far as possible from the deeply personal paintings created by members of the New York School. For subject matter they looked at everyday images from graphic art sources like comics and advertisements. Their art became known as pop art short for popular art. The importance of their collective vision cannot be overestimated. It marked the end of modern art and ushered in what is now called postmodernism. The galleries full of their work look for prints by Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, Andy Warhol and Edward Ruscha.