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 Lee (Lowenstein) Loring  (1902 - 1962)

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Lived/Active: New York/Maine      Known for: abstract artwork

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Biography from David Hall Fine Art, LLC:
Lee Loring, 1912-1962

Following is an essay by Paul Richelson, Curator. Fine Arts Museum of the South, Mobile, Alabama, August 9, 1992.

Lee Loring: A Southern Sophisticate

In a period which bracketed World War II, Lee Loring forged a career and an approach to image-making which was at once strikingly independent in the context of American art and at the same time dependent on 20th century European intellectual thought and its well documented effect on artistic creativity in this period.  In retrospect, Loring's work can be essentially divided into three distinct periods whose on-going development was interrupted by his death in 1962 at age sixty.

When Loring left his native Mobile, Alabama and abandoned his family's hopes for him of a business career, he sought to establish his new identity through European travels and the study of painting in Rome and Paris.  By 1937 he had developed his first individual statements and had his first important exhibition in Paris at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune.  These sophisticated and colorful compositions of flowers were inspired through firsthand experiences with the exotic natural world of the West Indies, which he frequented in these years.  They are his first attempts to translate his feelings into visual form using flowers as the metaphoric form, a Symbolist's approach.

In the Paris exhibition, titles consisting of old French songs were used to accompany the paintings to amplify associative possibilities.  Loring wrote little directly about his work but once noted, ". . .I have used flowers not just as flowers, but as symbols to portray elements of life in relationship to their background and use in a given epoch or country."  This statement provides a key element in the understanding of his art for this initial period and really throughout his career.  It was an attitude towards the symbolic potential of flowers, of nature, which he shared with like-minded painters of the 19th and 20th centuries: Paul Gauguin, Odilon Redon, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Emil Nolde.

This subjective and personal attitude is very much a modern one, whatever style the artist chooses to use and whether there is or is not a readily identifiable subject present. Besides a flattening and simplification of form, which is a quality consistently visible throughout Loring's paintings, critics in the 1937 Paris exhibition identified a very individual sense of color, notable for its luminous vibrancy.  Form and color were presented in very consciously eloquent composition at once dynamic, lyrical and decorative.  These carefully worked-out designs were undoubtedly preceded by color sketches and executed in graphite and gouache, a working habit he followed consistently thereafter.

Following World War II, Loring made his home in New York but returned to the places and people of the Caribbean, which had inspired his first work, especially Haiti.  In 1949 at the Mandel Brothers Art Exhibition Galleries in Chicago, a decidedly different body of work was first shown.  In retrospect, Loring commented that he felt he had only continued his search for "vital symbols" even in works which displayed a more obvious "social significance."

Nevertheless, it is really the compositions of these years which are the most distinctive within the context of American painting of the period. Alexander Brook, Thomas Hart Benton, Julian Binford, Howard Cook, John Kelly Fitzpatrick, Anne Goldwaithe, Roberty Gwathmey and William H. Johnson, among others, treated themes of the life and rituals of the poor underclass in America and the South in these years.  Loring explored these situations, too, but it is his involvement with similar circumstances among the people of African descent in the West Indies which are unique.  These Caribbean scenes of both religious and secular life have, in Loring's hands, an air of reality and Cubist decorative nuance which at times vie with the symbolic level of meaning, which the artist intended and which was a growing part of American painting in these years.

Only partially in 1954 at his Rome exhibition at La Galleria "l'Asterisco" and totally in New York at the Zodiac Gallery in 1956 did Loring finally arrive at a personal language of symbols for his painting.  In this third phase, his work is more in parallel with contemporary intellectual currents of the New York School, although Loring's work continues to be largely dissimilar visually.  The influence of Surrealism and its belief in tapping the subconscious mind and particularly dream experiences for creative inspiration profoundly touched post-war American artists.  The more familiar explorations of William Baziotes, Adolf Gottlieb, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko in the 40s are related to Loring's attitude.  Significantly, since the late 30s, Loring had been interested in the theories of Carl Jung and Alfred Adler whom he had sought out and met in Europe. Loring's palette darkens in the 50s to complement the appearance of new symbolic elements.

As described at the time by H. M. Kallen, on one level they are to be understood as, "the turtle of Brahma, the Owl of Athena, the fish of the Christ and the crow of Jim Crow with scorpions and cherubim."  However, in an unpublished manuscript, "I dreamt of a WAKE", Loring reveals a psychologically more subtle and disturbing vision. The narrative voice is that of the bird: No stars. No moon. The night is heavy. From high up in a half dead magnolia tree on the edge of a swam pacing the bay, I can seen as far as - far beyond the horizon. It is hot. Not a breath of air. The Heavens are empty until a lightning flash blinds me for an instant; then a distant peal of thunder. Silence - I hoot. I hoot again and again - quiet - still no response. I am an evil bird. I am an OWL. Where are all the other evil birds? Why am I alone? Why am I evil? Am I alone because I am evil, or am I evil because I am alone?  I wait.  If day breaks (sic), a bright day's darkness will erase my illuminated night. Lee Loring's course was one of independence from his early beginnings into a new world of sophistication and imaginative intelligence, yet it is the vivid sense of a well remembered place which continues to distinguish his paintings.

Chronology:  Also from the Exhibition catalog

Born Lee Lowenstein in Mobile, Alabama in July 1912.  Second son of Louis and Florence Lowenstein. Astrologer Evangeline Adams, later convinces him to change his name to Loring.

Attends schools in Mobile at Miss Anna McGehee's, University Military School and Spring Hill College.  Pursues education in St. Louis and Boston directed toward a business career but leaves behind these goals and the United States to study art in Europe.

Lives in Rome and studies at the British Academy there. Travels extensively in Italy, North Africa and Spain. Moves to Paris where he studies painting at the Sorbonne. Extended periods spent in the Islands of the West Indies: Martinique, and, in particular, Haiti.

Marries Edith Haas in 1933.? Lives on the Cote d'Azur.?? In April-May, 1937, in Paris, Loring successfully exhibits his West Indian inspired paintings at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune. Subject matter focuses on symbolic flower compositions.

??Lives in Athens, Greece where he studies and works at the National Museum of Art, Spends a year in the Greek islands painting and assisting in archaeological work.?? Interest in psychiatry takes him to Switzerland where he becomes acquainted with Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, and Austrian psychiatrist, Alfred Adler.

As World War II begins, Loring becomes Commander of the Nice, France, branch of the Anglo-American Ambulance Corps. After the Occupation of France, he returns to the United States and enlists in the Army Signal Corps. Many pre-war paintings stored in France destroyed during German occupation.?? Returns to Haiti for an extended period following World War II.

Works at his farm in Maine. February-March, 1949 at the Art Exhibition Galleries of Mandel Brothers in Chicago has first post-war exhibition. Presents new paintings, which explore the fold traditions and cultural situation of the peoples of African descent of the Caribbean and the American South.

After World War II, New York becomes his primary residence, and there he helps found the New School for Social Research.

June-July, 1954 Rome, La Galleria "l'Asterisco." Presents some work previously shown in Chicago along with compositions, which display a new group of personal symbols.?? November - December, 1956, New York, Zodiac Gallery. Shows symbolic work similar to that introduced in Rome.

August, 20, 1962, following a two month to Mobile, he dies suddenly in his studio in New York.??  September - October, 1981, Mobile, Alabama, Contemporary Art Center: Saenger Gallery, "Lee Loring: A Retrospective", June -August, 1992, Mobile, Alabama, Fine Arts Museum of the South (now Mobile Museum of Art) "Lee Loring: A Southern Sophisticate"
* De Falgairolle, A. "Lee Loring." Le Petit Marseillais, 23 Giugno 1937* "Flowers Express Life in Exhibition of Loring Work" New York Herald, April 1937* Hermant, Paul "Exposition Lee Loring.

" Figaro Illustre, Mai, 1937* Kallen, H. M. Lee Loring (Catalog Forward). Chicago, Mandel Brothers, Art Exhibition Galleries, 1949* Jewett, Eleanor. "Brilliant Show of Lee Loring Art on Exhibit." Chicago Sunday Tribune, 6 March 1949* Holland, Frank. "Lee Loring stresses 'a message' in one-man show of 35 paintings." The New York Times, 13 March 1949.

Bocconetti, Guiseppe. Lee Loring (Catalogue Forward). Rome, La Galleria "l'Asterisco," 1954.* Del Massa, Anileto. "Loring al l'Asterisco'." Il Secolo d'Italia, 8 Giugno 1954* Fossani, I. "Lee Loring al l'Asterisco.'' Popolo Di Roma, 12 Giugno 1954* Kallen, H. M. Lee Loring (Catalogue Essay). New York, Zodiac Gallery, 1956* D. A. "About Art and Artists." The New York Times, 27 November 1956 East, Cammie, "Do You Know Lee Loring's Paintings" Mobile Register, 25 April 1981*

"Retrospective Exhibit to Feature Works by Lee Loring." Mobile: AIM (Allied Arts Council of Metropolitan Mobile, Inc.) Fourth Quarter 1981* Lee Loring: A Retrospective.  Mobile, Contemporary Art Center: Saenger GAllery, 1981* Painting in the South: 1564 - 1980. Richmond, The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 1983* Richelson, Paul "Lee Loring: A Southern Sophisticate" Fine Arts Museum of the South, 1992

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
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