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 John Little  (1907 - 1984)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: gestural, abstract expressionist painting, textile design

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Ad Code: 3
John Little
from Auction House Records.
Ecliptic Terrane
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Spanierman Gallery:
A painter and textile designer, John Little is best known for gestural works filled with boldly explosive color that reflect the influences of his teacher Hans Hofmann and for his involvement in the Abstract Expressionist movement in East Hampton, where he moved in the late 1940s. In East Hampton Little congregated with Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and the other artists who were the leading innovators in the New York School.

John Little was born in Sanford, Alabama. He left home at the age of fourteen to become an artist, and moved to Buffalo, New York, in 1923. After spending a year working as a stevedore on the docks to save money, he enrolled at the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy and developed an interest in singing. In 1927 he moved to New York City where he continued his vocal work and studied operatic literature. He also became involved in textile design, opening his own store in 1920, called John Little Studios: Fabric and Wallpaper Design. He ran the store until 1950.

In 1933 John Little resumed his painting studies at the Art Students League in New York under the guidance of George Grosz (1893-1959). The following year he made his first visit to East Hampton, Long Island, which he would eventually call home. Later in the decade, he traveled to Paris where he became familiar with European modernism. On his return to America, he taught textile design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He hired Josephine Watkins to work for him; she later became his wife. Little’s textile store and teaching job gave him a financial security that was rare during the Depression, and he never found it necessary to find employment with the Works Progress Administration. At the end of the decade, John Little studied with Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) in New York and Provincetown. Little was greatly influenced by Hofmann, particularly by his views on color theory.

In 1942 John Little joined the Navy as an aerial photographer. In the late 1940s he purchased a rundown house on Three Mile Harbor Road in East Hampton, near where he had been frequently visiting Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner. In 1948 he had his first one-man show in New York at the Betty Parsons Gallery, where he would continue to exhibit frequently in the years ahead. He closed his textile business in 1950 and become a permanent resident of East Hampton, although he still maintained a studio in the city. In 1957 Little made an important contribution to the East Hampton scene when he opened the first commercial art gallery—Signa Gallery—with his artist friends Alfonso Ossorio (1916-1990) and Elizabeth Parker (1893-1975).

John Little continued to exhibit widely and travel and paint until his death in 1984. Examples of his work can be found in many important private and public collections including the Ball State University Museum of Art, Muncie, Indiana; Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut; Dillard University, New Orleans; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California; Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the University Art Museum, Berkeley, California.


Biography from McCormick Gallery:
John Little was born in 1907 in Alabama and as a teenager attended the Buffalo Fine Arts academy from 1924 to 1927. Soon after he moved to New York, where he began operatic vocal training and opened what became a very successful textile business designing fabric and wallpaper. In 1933 he began classes at the Art Students League with George Grosz, painting mainly Cezannesque landscapes. In 1937 he started working with Hans Hofmann in both New York and Provincetown, which pushed him towards abstraction and his first serious involvement as a painter. At Hofmann’s school he met artists such as Lee Krasner, George McNeil, Gerome Kamrowski, Giorgio Cavallon and Perle Fine. In 1942 he went into the service as a navy aerial photographer.

After the war he returned to New York and, with nowhere to stay, moved into Hans Hofmann’s 8th Street studio where his neighbors were Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock. The paintings of the late 1940s reveal great experimentation and a growing interest in both Surrealist automatism, Picasso, and the theories of Hans Hofmann. In 1946 Little was given his first one-man show at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco with a follow-up solo show at Betty Parsons in 1948. In the early 1950s Little abandoned the flat, linear style of the 40s with new works painted in thick, gestural buildup of paint. He also began a series of constructions created from driftwood and beach-combing detritus. In 1951 he moved to East Hampton, where he maintained a closed friendship with Pollock - the two had a joint exhibition in 1955 at Guild Hall. In 1957 Little helped found the Signa Gallery, an important outpost in East Hampton for the growing New York art scene and host to many influential exhibitions. Little continued to actively exhibit until his death in 1984.

Little had solo exhibitions at, among others, Betty Parsons Gallery in 1948, Bertha Schaefer Gallery in 1957 and 1958, Worth Ryder Gallery in 1963, A.M. Sachs Gallery in 1971 and a retrospective at the Guild Hall Museum in 1982. His work is part of the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Guild Hall Museum, Ball State University Museum of Art, Galerie Beyeler, Dillard University, The Bruce Museum and the University Art Museum at Berkeley, CA.

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