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Maltby Sykes

 (1911 - 1992)
Maltby Sykes was active/lived in Alabama, Maine, Mississippi / Mexico.  Maltby Sykes is known for lithography, mural and easel painting, teaching.

Maltby Sykes

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Maltby Sykes
A painter, print maker, and graphic artist, Maltby Sykes was a long-time teacher at the Polytechnic Institute in Auburn, Alabama beginning 1942.  He was born in Aberdeen, Mississippi and studied at the Art Students League in New York City, and his teachers included Wayman Adams, John Sloan, Diego Rivera, Andre Lhote and Stanley William Hayter.

He was a member of the Alabama Art League, Alabama Watercolor Society, and the Southeastern Art Association. Exhibition venues included many entries in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana as well as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Pennsylvania Academy in Philadelphia.

Peter Hastings Falk, Who Was Who in American Art

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Maltby Sykes
Note from Cynthia Brundage, October 2003:

Auburn was where he taught for 25 years or so and where I studied with him. I have many Christmas cards from him over the years, which he printed from his original work.

I own one of his original prints, Kite.  He gave it to me when I was his student.  Needless to say, it's one of my prize possessions.  I think it is an amazing piece because of the density of the black sections in the piece.  As he told me, this piece was produced during the war when chemicals were hard to come by and he achieved these incredibly velvety black sections by using a rotor tool and going over the section with that tiny edge zillions of times!

Biography from The Johnson Collection
William Paul Maltby Sykes was born in Aberdeen, Mississippi on December 13, 1911, but was raised in Birmingham, Alabama. Sykes encountered his first professional artist, sculptor Gutzon Borglum, while visiting family friends in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Sykes was in his early teens and was very impressed by the respect that Borglum (who later designed Mount Rushmore) demanded. From this early age, Sykes decided to dedicate his life to becoming an artist.

After completing high school in Tuscaloosa, Sykes returned to Birmingham where he met Wayman Adams, the well-known portraitist. The following summer Sykes attended Adams' art school in Elizabethtown, New York and worked as a clerk in exchange for instruction. The two men formed a strong student-teacher friendship, and Adams suggested that Sykes use the name Maltby, instead of William, because it was more unique. In Elizabethtown, Sykes also met printmaker George C. Miller. Sykes was immediately drawn to the process of lithography. Impressed with his young pupil, Miller offered Sykes a letter of introduction to Diego Rivera when he learned Sykes would be traveling with Adams to Mexico that winter. The following year Rivera invited Sykes to work as an assistant for the mural at the Hotel Reforma in Mexico City.

In 1937, Sykes returned to the Northeast and continued to study with Miller and Adams. He painted a mural for a hotel in New Jersey, exhibited paintings at the Ferargil Galleries, and studied with John Sloan at the Art Students League during this time. Sykes soon returned to the South and accepted a teaching position at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) in 1941. With the outbreak of WWII, Sykes halted his teaching and joined the Air Force. In 1945 Sykes was sent to the Pacific where he worked as a military artist recording scenes from the recently secured Mariana Islands. Sykes also produced three lithographs chronicling his basic training, including Chow (1944).

In the fall of 1945, Sykes resumed his teaching at Auburn. Through his friendship with Miller, he was able to secure rare printmaking supplies for his students and himself. After purchasing a printing press in 1950, Sykes introduced a printmaking class into the school's art curriculum. In 1951, he traveled to Paris on the G.I. Bill and studied with Fernand Léger. Sykes also met with intaglio printmaker Stanley William Hayter on this trip, who taught that the direction of the composition should be dictated by the materials and the process of the printmaking, rather than the more traditional approach of manipulating the materials to create a desired image. This surrealist-inspired method and Léger's geometric abstractions shaped the direction that Sykes would take in the coming years. Returning to Paris two years later, he studied with André Lhote, furthering his move towards nonrepresentation.

Sykes became Auburn's first artist-in-residencein 1967. The following year, Sykes traveled with a group of students to Japan to study traditional Japanese printmaking. He spent summers with his wife in Booth Bay, Maine and produced abstractions based on forms from the environment there. In 1977, Sykes retired from the Auburn faculty and was named Professor Emeritus. He exhibited his work widely and notable institutions such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Brooklyn Museum and The Philadelphia Museum of Art purchased his prints for their collections. He suffered a heart attack in 1979 that, unfortunately, brought his prolific career to an abrupt halt. Late in life, he credited the act of teaching with giving him the drive to investigate new and modern ideas. He said, "I feel I would have missed something if I had never started to approach art from a cerebral as well as a retinal concept. So the big influence, I think on my life was just getting into teaching." Throughout the course of his career, Sykes helped turn printmaking into a legitimate art form of its own, not simply a method of copying. He died in 1992 when he was eighty years old.

The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina

Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery

A leader in the development of printmaking in the South, Maltby Sykes grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, where he learned to draw and paint as a youth. He had several important artistic mentors. The first was Wayman Adams, with whom he studied portraiture in 1934 in Elizabethtown, New York. During his stay in New York, Sykes met the lithographer George C. Miller and became his assistant. Upon Miller's recommendation, he went to Mexico in 1936 to work with Diego Rivera on a fresco project for the Hotel Reforma.  He also trained in New York City at the Art Students League with John Sloan and in Paris with Fernand Leger, André Lhote, and the intaglio printmaker Stanley William Hayter. In 1941, Sykes returned to Alabama and joined the staff at Auburn University, where he taught painting and printmaking until his retirement in 1977.

Sykes' career spans more than thirty extremely prolific years, beginning with regionalist subjects in the style of Diego Rivera and moving through surrealism, lunar studies, cubist landscapes, and abstract motifs inspired by the Maine coastline. He began summering in Camden in 1962, returning there, and later to Booth Bay Harbor, for many years. As a result, Maine's harbors and hillsides became an important part of his artistic vocabulary. Although Sykes constantly pushed toward abstractions, nature as a source of inspiration is apparent in his work.

This essay is copyrighted by the Charleston Renaissance Gallery and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission from Hicklin Galleries, LLC.

Biography from Carlisle Gallery
Born William Paul Maltby Sykes in Aberdeen, Mississippi, in 1911, Maltby Sykes enjoyed a long and prolific career as a painter, printmaker, and art instructor.  He studied at the University of Alabama under Arthur Bairnsfather, at the Art Students League in New York under John Sloan, and with Diego Rivera in Mexico, where he served as a mural assistant on four frescoes for the Hotel Reforma in Mexico City.

In 1934, Sykes was given the chance to observe the renowned American printmaker George C. Miller at work in New York, which quickly instilled in him what would become a deep and abiding interest in lithography.  In the early 1940s, Sykes returned to Birmingham, Alabama, and began to establish a name for himself as a portrait painter.  From 1942 to 1977, Sykes taught at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University), with the exception of a two-year stint in the Air Force where he served as an instructor of art and as a combat artist in Guam and Iwo Jima.

In 1967, Sykes became Auburn's first Artist-in-Residence.  Over the course of his career, he garnered numerous awards over the course of his career and his works are included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Air Force Museum in Washington, D.C., the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University, the University of Alabama, and many other institutions. Sykes passed away in 1992.

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About  Maltby Sykes

Born:  1911 - Aberdeen, Mississippi
Died:   1992
Known for:  lithography, mural and easel painting, teaching