1902 (Iron River, Michigan)
1968 (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
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cubist images, surreal view, genre
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|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Social Realist, Walter Quirt's earliest works were largely political--motivated by Marxian values. Active during the 1930s, his Surrealist paintings were full of social content which encouraged radical social change. In the late 1930s, he became disenchanted with radically left ideas. |
Later he began to experiment with new styles of painting, including figuration, fantasy and abstraction, but always contained his social and personal beliefs. In 1937 he spoke at the Museum of Modern Art Symposium "Surrealism and Its Political Significance." He also wrote an essay "Wake Over Surrealism: With Due Respect to the Corpse" (c.1940, Pinacotheca Gallery, NYC), which contained his criticism of Dali and other Surrealists whose work he felt had degenerated into negativism and decadence.
Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"
|Biography from The Columbus Museum-Georgia:|
|Walter Quirt studied art at the Layton School of Art in Wisconsin from
1921 until 1923 and later at the McDowell Colony in New Hampshire in
1928. (1) He was one of the most vital and active figures of the
New York avant-garde art world of the 1930s. He worked for the
Works Project Administration painting murals in the mid-1930s. |
He later moved to Minneapolis and taught art at the University of
Minnesota from 1956 to 1968. Early in his career, Quirt painted
the social problems of his time in a realistic style. He also
involved himself in left-wing causes by illustrating political
magazines, such as The Masses, and by joining radical artist groups. Quirt was a member of the John Reed Club.
After working with socialist themes for many years, Quirt became one of
the first American artists to experiment with Surrealism. He had
a retrospective exhibition of his work in 1960 through the American
Federation of Arts, and he showed during his career at the Art
Institute of Chicago, Whitney Museum of American Art, Metropolitan
Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, and the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Quirt died March 19, 1968 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Developed in Europe, the movement known as Surrealism included artists
who painted the fleeting images and moments of their subconscious
activity and dreams. By the time the Museum of Modern Art held their
landmark 1936 exhibition on Surrealism, Walter Quirt was already
defining his approach to Surrealism that had been displayed first as
early as 1933. Quirt’s attitude was that Salvador Dali and others
had not taken full advantage of the possibilities that Surrealism
offered, and that artists using free association to explore the
language of emotions on problems the public feels but has not the means
for projecting into actualities was a positive move. (2)
Quirt’s painting reflects a subliminal consciousness that is based in
Hegelian theories of metaphysics and psychoanalysis, and James Joyce
literature. (3) Quirt’s dreams supplied this disturbing
theatrical imagery of interlacing color and distorted clown
figures. Given Quirt’s previous tendency toward social commentary
and the current events of World War II, his paintings could be
interpreted as a discourse on the problems of the era, but more likely
was one such as those described in the early 1940s as enigmatic.
Quirt's style shifted late in his New York career when he abandoned the
social realist politics and imagery that had dominated his early years
as an artist and activist. One possible source for this new
manner of imagery after the social realism that had dominated his
earlier career might have been Roberto Matta’s first one-person
exhibition at Julien Levy Gallery in 1940. Almost certainly,
Quirt would have seen these paintings that incorporated staining,
overlays, wiping, lines of straight and smeared character and
multi-faceted forms. (4)
Many of Quirt’s paintings of this period follow this active and
colorful format. Quirt’s painting shows fragmented, sometimes
“harlequin-esque” figures. In doing so, he makes a uniquely
American Surreal picture that, at the same time, resonates with the
work of many European émigrés who had recently fled to America to
escape Nazi persecution.
1. Some of the biographical information is gleaned from The City as a Source for Artists (New York: D. Wigmore Fine Art Inc., 2001), p. 34.
2. Oliver W. Larkin, Art and Life in America (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, revised edition, 1960), 454.
3. Glenn Wessels, “Surrealism,” Art Digest, October 15, 1934, 17.
4. Jeffrey Wechsler, “Surrealism in America: At Home on the Range of
Possibility, “Surrealism and American Art (Boca Raton, FL: Boca Raton
Museum of Art, 1997), 16.
Submitted by the Staff, Columbus Museum
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