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 Irving Kriesberg  (1919 - 2009)

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Lived/Active: New York/Illinois      Known for: abstract figure and animal painting-figurative expression

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Irving Kriesberg
An example of work by Irving Kriesberg
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
"Irving Kriesberg, Artist of Dreamlike Landscapes, Dies at 90"

Published in The New York Times, November 18, 2009

Irving Kriesberg, a much-admired American painter whose work combined the intense colors of Abstract Expressionism with haunting images of human and animal forms, died on Nov. 11 at his home in Manhattan.  He was 90.

The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, his son, Matthias, said.

Where hard-line Abstract Expressionists shunned figural elements in their work, Mr. Kriesberg used them lavishly.  As a result, he was often called a Figurative Expressionist; the term applied to mid-century Expressionists whose work was not strictly abstract.

But as often as not, Mr. Kriesberg’s work transcended category. Though it teemed with figures — frogs, birds, people, angels and much else — it was anything but representational. Normally small creatures tower and loom, dancers weave through space at unorthodox angles, and customarily static objects appear fluid and sinuous. All these things gave his work a sense of wit and mystery.

A dreamlike symbolism suffuses Mr. Kriesberg’s paintings, though the meaning of each symbol seemed known only to him. In “Caution” (1981), a man holding a spear faces off against a huge, looming frog. In “Final Dance” (2002), a white, owl-like angel joins hands with a goat-horned devil. In “Green Dance” (1999), whose lines and colors invoke Matisse, a simian figure in the foreground leads the viewer’s eye to a line of vibrant dancers in the background.

Mr. Kriesberg’s work, which also includes sculpture, is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Jewish Museum, all in New York, and Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington.

Irving Kriesberg was born in Chicago on March 13, 1919. (The family name is pronounced CREASE-berg.) He received a bachelor of fine arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and later earned a master’s degree from New York University.

After earning his bachelor’s degree, Mr. Kriesberg spent three years in Mexico, becoming deeply influenced by traditional art there, before he settled in New York. He later lived in India and Japan, whose art also informed his work.

Mr. Kriesberg came to wide attention in 1952 with his inclusion in the major exhibition “Fifteen Americans” at the Museum of Modern Art. (The exhibition also included the Abstract Expressionists Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Clyfford Still.) He was given his first solo exhibition in 1955, at the Curt Valentin Gallery in Manhattan.

Mr. Kriesberg’s first marriage, to Ruth Miller, ended in divorce, as did his second, to Barbara Nimri Aziz.  He is survived by his third wife, Felice K. Shea, a retired New York State Supreme Court justice; two children from his marriage to Ms. Miller, Hadea Nell Kriesberg of Hillsborough, N.C., and Matthias Kriesberg of New York and San Diego; and a brother, Louis, of Syracuse.

A recipient of Fulbright and Guggenheim Fellowships, Mr. Kriesberg taught variously at Columbia, Yale and the Pratt Institute.  He wrote several books, including “Art: The Visual Experience” (Pitman, 1964) and “Working With Color” (Prentice Hall, 1986), reissued in 1992 by Van Nostrand Reinhold.

His other work includes a series of combinatorial canvases — paintings comprising multiple, movable panels that the viewer can swing out and recombine in myriad arrangements.

If Mr. Kriesberg’s talent for figural art made him something of an outsider in Expressionist circles, it stood him in fine stead in a world every bit as luminary. In the 1940s, on returning to New York from Mexico, he applied for a job as the lighting designer of the Wondersign, a vast Times Square billboard comprising more than 20,000 electric bulbs. Selectively lighted, they made animated displays of words and pictures.

For his audition, Mr. Kriesberg was asked to conjure an illuminated Frank Sinatra. Mr. Sinatra had to be large, he had to be bright and, above all, he had to be recognizable.

Mr. Kriesberg finished his design, and the switch was thrown. The lights came on, the Times Square crowd roared “Frankie!,” and he got the job.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
American painter Irving Kriesberg was born in 1919. He studied painting in America at The Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago from 1938-1941 and later in Mexico from 1942-1946. Kriesberg began his interest in art as a cartoonist in high school in Chicago. In the 1930's he spent many days sketching the work of the great masters Titian & Rembrandt when visiting The Art Institute of Chicago. In the late 1930's he came under the influence of modern art via School of Paris exhibitions prominently exhibited in the museums in Chicago. Later Kriesberg became known as a peripheral figure of the New York School in the 1950's but has primarily become known as an influential Figurative Expressionist painter since the early 1950's. His work is closer in style and content to that of painters such as George McNeil, Robert Beauchamp, and Lester Johnson than the abstract expressionists. Additionally Kriesberg is an avowed colorist and since the 1950's has taken his palette from School of Paris; deep blues, cadmium reds, vibrant oranges, yellows and greens. That is to say Matisse & Picasso, and perhaps DuBuffett.

After graduation in 1941 from the Art Institute of Chicago with a BFA he traveled to Mexico to paint the local people and study under the guidance of an informal art school in Mexico City, Escuela de Artes Plasticas. Back in America in 1946 his first solo show was organized by The Art Institute of Chicago. Kriesberg moved to New York City around 1948. Shortly thereafter he was included in the important 1952 museum exhibition 15 AMERICANS, organized by Dorothy Miller at the Museum of Modern Art. In addition to Kriesberg 15 AMERICANS included and significantly substantiated the careers of abstractionists Jackson Pollock, Edwin Dickinson, William Baziotes, Clifford Still, Edward Corbett, Richard Lippold, Herbert Ferber, Mark Rothko, Bradley Walker Tomlin, and Frederick Keisler. In 1955 Kriesberg had his New York City solo debut at Curt Valentin Gallery. Kriesberg came under the influence of and became the protégé to sculptor Jacques Lipchitz. It was Lipchitz who recommended and introduced Kriesberg to Curt Valentin.

Since then Kriesberg has had over 30 solo gallery exhibitions showing at such venues as Duveen-Graham Gallery, Graham Modern Gallery, Gertrude Kassel Gallery, Terry Ditenfass Gallery and Peter Findlay Gallery in New York. He has been given numerous museum solo shows nationally, awards, and grants including a major career retrospective at the Jewish Museum in 1968. He has received two Ford Foundation Grants, two Pollock-Krasner Awards, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, a Fulbright Fellowship, the Guggenheim Foundation Memorial Award and many other honorariums. In addition, Kriesberg has held several important teaching positions including Yale University Graduate School 1962-1971; State University, New York 1972-1977, Columbia University, 1977-1979. Kriesberg has had three books on color and art theory published since 1955. In addition he created a number of well received animated short films. He has had numerous bibliography references written about him by a wide range of prominent art critics, museum curators and art scholars.

Kriesberg's paintings are in the permanent collection of 40+ museums including The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Corcoran Gallery, The Detroit Museum of Art, The Kresge Art Museum, the National Museum of American Art, The Butler Institute of American Art, The Birmingham Museum of Art, The University of Michigan Museum of Art, The Dayton Art Institute, The Allentown Art Museum, The Boca Raton Museum of Art, The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and many other museums.

Bibliography provided by Philip Douglas Fine Art, New York.

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