Born in Rochester, New York, Hananiah Harari was a semi-abstract artist who made a living as a painter of high-society portraits and taught painting at the American Artists School, the New School for Social Research, the School of Visual Arts, and the Art Students League. He was also an illustrator and screen printer.
He studied at the Syracuse University School of Art in New York and later in Paris in 1932 with Andre Lhote, Fernand Leger, and Marcel Gromaire. Settling in New York City, he became a founding member of the American Abstract Artists. In the 1930s and 40s, he worked for the New York City WPA Project and was widely exhibited.
A member of the Silk Screen Unit on the WPA, he was taught screen printing by Athony Velonis, but later gave up printmaking to concentrate on painting.
Biography from Papillon Gallery
The following is from Rich Bauer, who credits the Smithsonian website;//nmaa-ryder.si.edu/
A Native of Rochester, New York, Harari began to paint while still a teenager. He studied first at the Rochester Memorial Art Gallery, and from 1930-32 at the School of Fine Arts at Syracuse University. In Paris in 1932, he studied with Fernand Léger, André Lhote, and Marcel Grommaire. Through portrait commissions Harari was able to extend his stay on the city's Left Bank for several years. In Paris, Harari sought out Impressionist and Old Master paintings as well as modern works. He spent a year doing copy drawings from the collections of the Louvre.
After a trip to Palestine, "where visual richness but little hard cash awaited him," he returned to the United States in 1935. Harari settled in New York City, and joined the circle of young abstractionists working on the WPA's mural project under Burgoyne Diller. For Harari, as for a host of others, the WPA experience provided unencumbered time to develop their art "in an environment of purpose and animation . . . ."
After returning to New York, Harari became involved in the vanguard circle of the American Abstract Artists. Never a doctrinaire abstractionist, even in the early years of his career, Harari moved freely between abstraction and a lyrical expressionism that incorporated figurative elements. These are apparent in his Sparklers on the Fourth and Jacob Wrestling with the Angel. Harari was unwilling to relinquish the rich possibilities the natural world offered. Moreover, the strict avoidance of recognizable forms advanced by geometric abstractionist members of the AAA (Ad Reinhardt for one), precluded expression of Harari's irrepressible wit.
Their approach, he wrote, "denied too much of art's potential and too many of its glories; in elevating neatness and order to a high altar, it failed to give adequate weight to the enriching concept of random upset (disorder, derangement, derailment)-a phenomenon abounding in all of life. I could not accept the idea that a formally pure art in and of itself denoted an evolutionary advance over an art of forms rooted in the natural world; to the contrary, I saw the former not leading forward, but, within its logic, veering toward a void."
Within the American Abstract Artists, Harari was by no means alone in his unwillingness to renounce themes drawn from his experience of the world. In a letter to the editor of Art Front , drafted by Harari, and signed also by George McNeil.
Around 1939, Harari became fascinated with William Harnett, and began doing trompe l'oeil paintings. Several of these he also executed according to a Cubist vocabulary. A 1939 painting entitled Man's Boudoir, a trompe l'oeil painting of a table top with the accoutrements of a man's toilette that won the first Hallgarten Prize at the National Academy of Design's 1942 annual, has, as a pendant, a Cubist version of the same subject.
Throughout Harari's work there is whimsy and wit, and an abiding desire to express a joie de vivre. Sparklers on the Fourth was made from sketches done during the summer of 1940 when Harari, his wife, and several friends were celebrating Independence Day. "It was a mild night. The national flag was raised in the center of the lawn. The brilliant lights of the pyrotechnics pierced the darkness and illuminated the flag and my companions, who abandoned themselves to the occasion and engaged themselves in running spontaneously about while holding the blazing sparklers in their hands, thus etching streaks of light against the night. . . . This scene had in it magic and beauty . . . ." In the painting, Harari captures the light that pierced the dusky night. Laying dark pigment over a white ground, he etched into the painting's surface, using the whiteness of the ground to illuminate the nocturnal scene.
In 1943 Harari was inducted into the army, and at that time he ended his association with the American Abstract Artists. An active, early member of the group, Harari's artistic interests after the war no longer coincided with the group's program.
1. Hananiah Harari, "WPA-AAA," handwritten reminiscence of his experience on the WPA provided by Harari, in the curatorial files, National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.
2. Ibid., p. 7.
3. "To the Editors," Art Front 3, no. 7 (October 1937): 20--21.
4. See "Who Killed the Home Planning Project?" Art Front 3, no. 8 (December 1937): 13--15.
5. For illustrations of both versions of Man's Boudoir, see Greta Berman and Jeffrey Wechsler, Realism and Realities: The Other Side of American Painting (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Art Gallery, 1981), p. 173.
6. Hananiah Harari letter to Walter Baum, February 1946, courtesy of the artist, copy in the curatorial files, National Museum of American Art.
Virginia M. Mecklenburg. The Patricia and Phillip Frost Collection: American Abstraction, 1930-1945 (Washington, DC: National Museum of American Art and Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989), pp. 97-101. Copyright 1989 Smithsonian Institution. All rights reserved.
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Hananiah Harari, American painter and illustrator, was born on August 29, 1912 in Rochester, NY. Harari studied first at the Rochester Memorial Art Gallery, and then from 1930-32 at Syracuse University School of Fine Arts. Harari then traveled to France, where he studied under André Lhote, Fernand Léger and Marcel Gromaire. Through portrait commissions Harari was able to extend his stay on the city's Left Bank for several years. In Paris, Harari sought out Impressionist and Old Master paintings as well as modern works. He spent a year doing copy drawings from the collections of the Louvre.
Following a visit to Palestine in 1935, Harari returned to the United States, settling in New York City. He was active in leftist politics, and helped found the American Artists' Union in 1936. In the late 1930's, Harari joined the circle of young abstractionists working on the Works Progress Administration's mural project under Burgoyne Diller. He co-founded the American Abstract Artists. Harari learned a range of engraving techniques at the WPA, silk printing in particular. In 1941, he won the National Academy of Design award.
He worked in both a semi-abstract style, and a precise realist style; inspired by the work of William Michael Harnett, he painted many trompe l'oeil still lifes. Harari executed some pieces in the spirit of 'modern' painters, such as Picasso, but his work, commissioned by private business or advertising companies, answers to a variety of styles, and was never lacking in humor.
Harari would have accepted the label of realist or magic realist-or of the latter-day Pre-Raphaelite. Never a doctrinaire abstractionist, even in the early years of his career, he moved freely between abstraction and a lyrical expressionism that incorporated figurative elements. Harari was unwilling to relinquish the rich possibilities the natural world offered. Moreover, the strict avoidance of recognizable forms precluded expression of Harari's irrepressible wit.
Social and political concerns, and a desire to educate those unfamiliar with modern art, characterize Harari's philosophy about art's significance and potential. Several paintings from the late 1930s and early 1940s reflect his horror at the political oppression and social atrocities taking place in Germany.
In 1943, Harari was inducted into the army, and at that time he ended his association with the American Abstract Artists. An active, early member of the group, Harari had artistic interests after the war which no longer coincided with the group's program. In the 1940s he produced artwork for the covers of magazines, including Fortune. He also contributed cartoons to The New Masses, which led to his being blacklisted in the 1950s during the McCarthy era.
Harari had his first solo show in France in 1933, at the American Club in Paris. His first New York show exhibition took place in at Mercury Gallery, in 1939. In 1997, he was the subject of career restrospectives at the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey, the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, NY and the Dai Ichi Arts in Manhattan. Another retrospective was organized by the Memorial Arts Gallery in Rochester, NY in 1998.
Harari taught at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan from 1974-1990, and at the Art Students League from 1984-1999.
Harari's works can be found in the collections of many major museums including: the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, The Philadephia Museum of Art, the Yale University Art Gallery and The Amon Carter Museum (Fort Worth, TX), The British Museum and the Brooklyn Museum.
He died in Halthorne, New York in 2000.
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