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 Seymour Lipton  (1903 - 1986)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: bird-form abstract sculpture, carver

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Seymour Lipton
Seymour Lipton
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in New York City, Seymour Lipton became one of the modern-art innovators for direct metal sculpture, breaking away from the traditional methods of creating bronze sculpture from complex casting processes. With Abstract Expressionist style, he created a method of working in sheet metal brazed with bronze or nickel silver, flexible but solid looking material that allowed him freely to cut and weld basic shapes. A rust-proof alloy, it was called Monel.

His themes, many of them having to do with bird subjects of flight and confinement and those issues relative to the American working class, paralleled the Abstract Expressionist movement in American painting. Of this themes, he said: ""For me, experiences of movement, flight, strength, space, air, tensions, etc. . . . Basically 'man' concerns me in all the various things I make. I find 'inner spaces' of man in things outside of himself;" (Herskovic 210)

He was closely linked socially and intellectually to the 1940s and 1950s artists in New York including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Adolph Gottlieb.

Lipton earned a degree from Columbia University in 1927 intending to be a dentist, but turned to sculpture in 1932. However, the early part of his career was supported by his dentistry. He taught sculpture, especially direct-metal techniques, at the New School for Social Research in New York from 1938 to 1964, and in 1967, he became Fine Arts commissioner of New York.


Source:
American Art Review, April 2002
Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"
Marika Herskovic, "American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s: An Illustrated Survey"

Biography from Michael Rosenfeld Gallery:
“Sculpture is used by me to express the life of man as a struggling interaction between himself and his environment. Sculpture itself is a part of this interplay.”

Throughout his prolific fifty-year career, sculptor Seymour Lipton devoted his art to exploring the depths of human existence and experience. From his early use of wood to his later preference for metal, Lipton represented the social upheaval that marked the decades surrounding the Great Depression and World War II in works of sculpture that reveal a fundamental understanding of the complexities of anatomical and natural forms.

By adding to, eliminating or otherwise altering the figure of a once-identifiable object, Lipton transformed his original model into an expression of the common anguish and uncertainty of his time. Whether depicting the tragic horrors of World War II, articulating a fear of the rising power of technology, or empathizing with the condition of the average laborer, this self-taught artist produced works that were firmly rooted in their historical moment.

Born in New York City in 1903, Seymour Lipton grew up in a Bronx tenement building at a time when much of that borough was still farmland. These rural surroundings enabled Lipton to explore the botanical forms and animals that would later become sources for his adult work. It was this proximity to nature that initially captivated Lipton’s interest in creating art and that would remain central to his art despite the artist’s life-long choice to remain in the urban environment of New York City.

Lipton’s interest in the dialogue between artistic creation and natural phenomena was first nurtured by a supportive family and further cultivated through numerous visits to New York’s Museum of Natural History, its many botanical gardens and its zoos. In 1927, Lipton received a degree in dentistry from Columbia University that not only provided him with a lucrative career but also gave him a foundation for working with metal.

His interest in sculpture came to fruition in the late 1920s, when he began to create clay portraits of family members and friends. In the early 1930s, despite a strong commitment to his family and profession, Lipton began to devote an increasing amount of time to his art. Although he considered fellow artists William Baziotes, Adolph Gottlieb, Richard Pousette-Dart and Will Barnet friends, Lipton’s stern personality inhibited an active social life, and his reluctance to participate in social happenings with his contemporaries often led to alienation.

Although he led a comfortable life, he was also aware of how the Depression had devastated the city, economically as well as psychologically. The technique he developed of carving directly into wood afforded him a richly emotional visual vocabulary with which to articulate the desperation of the downtrodden and the unwavering strength and spirituality of the disenfranchised.

In 1935, he exhibited one such early sculpture at the John Reed Club Gallery in New York, and three years later, ACA Gallery mounted Lipton’s first solo show, which featured these social-realist inspired wood carvings.

In 1940, Lipton began teaching sculpture at the New School for Social Research, a position he held until 1965. Also at this time, he deviated from wood and started working with brass, lead and bronze. Choosing these metals for a visual simplicity that he believed exemplified the universal heroism of the “everyman,” Lipton could also now explore various forms of abstraction. Of his turn towards increasingly abstract sculpture, he said:“Sculpture is used by me to express the life of man as a struggling interaction between himself and his environment. Sculpture itself is a part of this interplay.”

Throughout his prolific fifty-year career, sculptor Seymour Lipton devoted his art to exploring the depths of human existence and experience. From his early use of wood to his later preference for metal, Lipton represented the social upheaval that marked the decades surrounding the Great Depression and World War II in works of sculpture that reveal a fundamental understanding of the complexities of anatomical and natural forms.

By adding to, eliminating or otherwise altering the figure of a once-identifiable object, Lipton transformed his original model into an expression of the common anguish and uncertainty of his time. Whether depicting the tragic horrors of World War II, articulating a fear of the rising power of technology, or empathizing with the condition of the average laborer, this self-taught artist produced works that were firmly rooted in their historical moment.

In 1950, Lipton arrived at his mature style and began to develop a new technique of brazing on monel metal. Abandoning for good his wood work, he now began to draw extensively, which allowed him to explore the automatism that Abstract Expressionist painters were boasting at the time. Like painterly contemporaries such as Jackson Pollock, Lipton was very much influenced by Carl Jung’s work on the unconscious mind and the regenerative forces of nature. Lipton also looked to Freud for a greater understanding of the inner psyche. He translated these two-dimensional drawings into three-dimensional maquettes that enabled him to revise his ideas before creating the final sculpture.

The forms that Lipton produced during this period were often zoomorphic, and they exemplified the tension between the souls of nature and the automatism of the machine. Lipton claims not to have been influenced by any particular artists group, but his exploration of man’s “inner reality” mimics the discoveries of the Surrealists, while his fascination with the dystopian relationship between man, nature and machine is consistent with much of modernist art after 1918.

In the years following the 1950s, Lipton’s optimism began to rise, and the size of his work grew in proportion. The oxyacetylene torch – invented during the Second World War – allowed Lipton to rework the surfaces of metal sculptures, thus eliminating some of the risks involved with producing large-scale finished works. As Lipton’s sculpture was elevated to new levels of height, it also soared and expanded psychologically: the increased scale of his sculptures meant that Lipton was now better equipped to evoke the enormous heroism of the ordinary people who had survived through historically unprecedented horror.

In 1958, Lipton was awarded a solo exhibition at the Venice Biennale and was thus internationally recognized as part of a small group of highly-regarded avant-garde constructivist sculptors. Throughout the last two decades of his career until his death in 1986, Seymour Lipton consistently reworked his thematic interest in humanity’s epic struggle to thrive in the face of war, social upheaval and the threat of technology.

In 1960, he received a prestigious Guggenheim Award, which was followed by several prominent public commissions, including his heroic "Archangel", currently residing in Lincoln Center’s Avery Fischer Hall.

Lipton’s work is a part of the permanent collections of over fifty museums including the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of the Arts, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Michael Rosenfeld Gallery is the exclusive representative of the estate of Seymour Lipton.

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Seymour Lipton is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Abstract Expressionism

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