(1891 - 1981)
Ben (Benjamin Newton) Messick was active/lived in California, Missouri. Ben Messick is known for regionalist painting, lithographs, teaching.
Biography from the Archives of askART
The following is submitted by Jim Lafferty whose sources include the autobiography of the artist:
Biography from California Watercolor
Washington Messick married Sarah A. Bristow January 2,1889 and from
this marriage a son, Benjamin Newton Messick was born on January 9, 1891 on a farm near Strafford, Missouri. His art talent was apparent from the time he was a child
and later recognized by his commanding officer in World War I.
Little is recorded in his autobiography about Messick's life from his
teen years and service during the War. He enrolled at Chouinard
Institute in the Fall of 1925, and was given a
three-year scholarship by Mrs. Chouinard. In 1925 he won a cash
at the Los Angeles County Fair for a group of pen and charcoal drawings
done in the
parks and streets of Los Angeles. These works give the appearance
of being spontaneous and fluid.
In 1930 Messick
left Chouinard as a full-time student and rented an apartment on West
Eighth Street to use as a studio and living quarters. He had his own
ideas on what he was trying to accomplish in art. "If you should ask
what is the message of my drawings, I should say that they may explain
themselves or may be just a technical exercise."
By the mid
1940s, Messick's position in the art world had been well established as a
teacher, painter, printmaker, writer and critic. Over his life time he
had over 400 shows and exhibitions. Starting in 1939 he produced a
number of stone lithographs that appear to the untrained eye as
original drawings. To Messick the image was the most important aspect of
his lithographs, and his signature in the plate was sufficient. Hand
signing each lithograph did not seem necessary to him. He exhibited
prints widely including the Albany Print Club and the Metropolitian
To further substantiate the authenticity of Messick's
prints the Eclectic Gallery under the authority of the Messick family
posthumously pencil signed each estate-acquired stone lithograph.
Messick had a childhood fascination with the circus and started drawing and
painting the circus in 1935. His circus work, especially his clown
studies, and his lithographs became his trademark work for in the 1940s
and 1950s. A critic for ART REVIEW described his Big Top work this way:
"His circus canvases, however, are his most interesting and show where
Messick's interest lies. His clown portraits are worthy of time and
study because of the endless change he has caught in each face and for
the underlying character that shines through the grotesque paint."
early as 1941, paintings by Messick were exhibiting elements of modernism
in that his brush work was less labored and the style more
expressionist. They often incorporated a degree of mysticism. This is
evident in a series of clown portraits he did on tear-off palette
paper. He called these works his Serendipity paintings.
In art reference literature the artist's birth year is often quoted as 1901. He apparently had made up this date when he was in art school and a lot older than his classmates. Velma Messick discovered the truth when she saw his driver's licence.
Biography from Cline Fine Art
Born: Strafford, MO; Studied: Chouinard Art Institute* (Los Angeles); Member: California Art Club*.
Ben Messick was born in the Ozarks and spent his childhood there. When he was sixteen, he joined the armed forces and was sent to the European battle front. After recuperating from his wartime experiences, he moved to Los Angeles and studied with F. Tolles Chamberlin, Clarence Hinkle and Pruett Carter.
By the mid-1930s, he had developed his own style of painting and became known as one of the West Coast's key Regionalist* artists. While Messick was an extremely competent watercolorist, these works were not exhibited frequently and did not receive the attention given to his oils on canvas. During the 1940s and early 1950s, he taught life drawing at the Chouinard Art Institute and the San Diego School of Arts and Crafts. He was also an instructor at the Messick-Hay Studio in Long Beach. In addition, he produced and exhibited lithographic prints.
Interview with Velma Messick, 1983.
Biography courtesy of California Watercolors 1850-1970,
©2002 Hillcrest Press, Inc.
* For more in-depth
information about these terms and others, see AskART.com Glossary
Benjamin Newton Messick, known as "the American Daumier," painted,
drew, and lithographed Americana as he found it in his hometown of Los
Angeles. A native of Missouri, Messick served in France in World War I
and then moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as an
artist. With humor and compassion he recorded fragments of life
as it was being lived in urban Southern California - robust and earthy
subjects amidst, in is own words, "the streets, parks, Main Street
cafes, polo fields, and beaches."
** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
In the 1940s, he was a
sketch artist for Disney Studios and Metro-Goldwyn Mayer and he taught
at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles from 1943 to 1951. From
1948 to 1953, he also taught classes at the San Diego School of Arts
Messick's vernacular observations are intended to
bring to life the color and the spirit of his times. During the
Depression years, he worked on a number of WPA murals in the Los
Angeles area and did three murals for the United States Treasury
Department in Washington DC. His work has been widely exhibited
and is included in such collections as the Los Angeles County Museum of
Art, the Laguna Art Museum, and the Springfield Museum of Art in
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art
Cline Fine Art files
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