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 Howard Daum  (1918 - 1988)

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Lived/Active: New York/Quebec / Canada/Poland      Known for: abstract cityscape and landscape painting

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Ad Code: 4
Howard Daum
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Biography from David Findlay Jr. Gallery:
Howard Daum was born in Poland. The family lived in Lodz until Daum was 14 when he and his mother emigrated. They went to Montreal, Canada, where he studied with the painter Alexander Bercovitch from 1934 to 1937.  In 1938 Daum and his mother came to New York and settled in the Bronx.

Upon graduation from high school in 1940, Daum attended the Art Students League on a scholarship.  He worked with Will Barnet, Cameron Booth, Morris Kantor, Harry Sternberg, and Vaclav Vytlacil, an important mentor.  Vytlacil had studied with the modernist painter Hans Hofmann in Munich in 1921, and was a founder of the American Abstract Artists group in 1936.

In 1943 and ’44, Daum served in the United States Army in Mississippi, and then returned to New York. In 1944 and ’45, he studied with Hans Hofmann at his Greenwich Village school.  Daum’s work from this period became more abstract with clear, direct strokes of bright color. In the extremely shallow space objects such as figures and easels overlapped one another.

Among the artists who were important to Daum as colleagues and who had also studied with Hans Hofmann were Robert Barrell, Peter Busa, and Steve Wheeler.  In 1940, they made a break with the gestural style of abstraction associated with Hofmann and started to work in a manner inspired by northwest Native American art.  This work was of huge interest at the time and was the subject of a 1941 show, Indian Art of the United States, at the Museum of Modern Art.

This new style, known as Indian Space, generally incorporated elements of nearly abstract flat space with an all-over pattern and complex figure/ground relationships, undulating lines with interlocking shapes, and elaborately decorated motifs.  Daum soon joined the circle, and it was he who coined the term Indian Space; Daum also brought in Gertrude Barrer and Oscar Collier. Together they showed in “Semeiology or 8 and a Totem Pole” at the Gallery Neuf in 1946.  Also in that year Daum’s woodcut Cat and Bird was used on the cover of the first issue of Iconograph magazine.

In 1945, Daum took a room, Studio K, on the second floor of the building at 30 East 14th Street just west of Union Square.  He lived and worked there the rest of his life, adding a room, Studio O, on the fifth floor, in the late 1960s.  In addition to his close friends Carl Ashby and Helen de Mott, other artists with studios in the building were Charles Keller, Leon Kotkofsky, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Edward Laning, Kenneth Hayes Miller, and Harry Sternberg.

In the mid-1940s Daum studied printmaking at Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17. Founded in Paris in 1927, the Atelier moved to New York City because of World War II.  It opened in late 1940 under the auspices of the New School, and created a meeting place where American and European refugee artists exchanged information on modernist movements.  Most of the prints by Daum are from this period.

His relief prints show an interest in the abstraction of Indian Space, whil e the intaglios reflect the influence of Pablo Picasso and a return to the figure. Daum embraced many aspects of modernism and revisited these early interests throughout his career.

Daum was the recipient of a Longview Foundation Award in 1963. Also in the 1960s, at the instigation of his friend Paul Resika, Daum taught in the MFA program at Parsons School of Design (now Parsons, the New School for Design).  In the 1960s and ‘70s he worked painting scenery at CBS-TV and the Metropolitan Opera.

The first one-person show of work by Daum was help at the Ashby Gallery, NY in 1946.  Exhibitions followed at Gallery 35, 1950, Urban Gallery, 1954, Artists Gallery, 1952 and 1956, the Bianchini Gallery, 1964, Green Mountain Gallery, 1971, the Ashby Gallery 1981, Gary Snyder Fine Art, 1991, and David Findlay Jr. Fine Art, 2004 and 2006.

Work by Daum has been featured in numerous exhibitions including Indian Space Painting: Native American Sources of American Abstract Art, Baruch College Art Gallery, NY, 1991, Artists of 30 East 14th Street, Susan Teller Gallery, NY, 1992, and Indian Space Works from the Montclair Art Museum’s Permanent Collection, New Jersey, 2004-05.

Biography from LewAllen Galleries:
Polish-born artist Howard Daum immigrated to the United States through Canada, and was settled with his mother in the Bronx by 1938.  Through studies at the Art Students League (1940-42) and with Hans Hofmann (1944-45), he became associated with a group of painters including Will Barnet, Steve Wheeler, Peter Busa, Robert Barrell and others, who shared ideas about modernism and endeavored to create a distinctly American form of post-Cubist abstract art.

Incorporating Hofmann’s ideas on color, Surrealist and Native American art influences, and examples set by Josef Albers and other members of the American Abstract Artists group, they developed what became known as Indian Space Painting, a term coined by Daum to describe the work of these very urban, non-Indian, New York City-based painters.  The Indian Space Painters were especially attracted to tribal art of the American Northwest Coast.  Their brightly colored abstract paintings aimed to emulate the ideographic forms of Indian art, which they saw as symbols of elemental, universal forces, as well as the Northwest tribal art’s distinctive characteristics of flat space, all over design, interlocking (not overlapping) shapes, and dynamic patterns transcending figure-ground distinctions.

The Indian Space Painters exhibited only once as a group – at New York’s Gallery Neuf in 1946 – one year prior to Jackson Pollock’s landmark exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery.  Briefly gaining the attention of eminent and powerful critic Clement Greenberg, they were soon eclipsed by the rising star of Abstract Expressionism, which Greenberg especially championed. After falling into obscurity in the 1950s they were “rediscovered” in the 1990s and are now regarded as revolutionary artists whose innovations could be regarded as the “missing link” – the bridge to Abstract Expressionism.

Daum developed a distinctive style apart from other members of the Indian Space Painters group.  In Daum’s work, more than the others’, one sees a playful exuberance reminiscent of the art of Paul Klee and Joan Miró.  Though not as well known as Will Barnet, who went on to become a figurative painter, or Steve Wheeler, who eschewed the label of Indian Space Painting altogether, Daum is now one of the more representative members of the group.

Prominent collections holding his work include the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; the Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, AR; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN.

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