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 Fermin Rocker  (1907 - 2004)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: illustration, marine, city scene, figure

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Ad Code: 4
Fermin Rocker
An example of work by Fermin Rocker
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Fermin Rocker, known for his illustrations, oils, and watercolors, was born in the East End of London in 1907, the son of a German father, and a Russian mother. Fermin's father, Rudolf Rocker, was one of the foremost anarchists of the early Twentieth Century, a theorist, activist, and disciple of Kropotkin. His work amongst East London Jewish workers in his capacity as editor of the Yiddish language radical periodical 'Arbeter Fraint' (Workers' Friend) has become almost legendary. His international reputation as a propagandist was, at the time, probably second to none, although little of what he wrote has been translated into English.

It was in this atmosphere that young Fermin was raised. The family lived in Whitechapel until the end of World War I, and Fermin recalled his father, taking him on trips to London. His father, was familiar with the city, and showed young Fermin the port, the museums, the parks, and all the historic sites.

The waterfront was of particular interest to young Rocker. As he grew older he set down on paper the views that he saw, - the wharves, quays, tugs and barges, and great sea-going ships. His first instructor was his half-brother, Rudolf, fourteen years older than Fermin, who guided him in drawing, perspective, and a beginning exposure to watercolor.

After World War I, the family settled in Germany in 1918, and Fermin attended the Realschule there. One artist of that time who Fermin admired was Kathe Kollwitz, noted for her draughtsmanship. He also was influenced by the art of Velasquez, Rembrandt, Goya, Daumier, and Degas. Later Rocker studied at the Berlin School of Arts and Crafts and then served for four years as an apprentice to a lithographer.

In 1929, he traveled with his father to the United States and settled in New York. There he worked as a freelance commercial artist, illustrator and print maker. From 1937 he began to concentrate on etchings and lithographs. He created prints through copper plate and lithography. One of his etchings was awarded a prize by the Philadelphia Print Club. He also exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Chicago Art Institute. The Library of Congress purchased several of his prints. His work was also the focus of an exhibition at the American British Art Center in New York.

As time went on, Fermin devoted himself more and more to painting, while doing book illustrations on the side for Harper's, Norton, Franklin Watt, and Freedom Press. The influence of the War years, and his father's anarchist views are evident in his paintings such as 'Refugees' (oil on canvas), and 'Call for Action' (oil on canvas)

After living New York from 1929 to 1972, Rocker moved back to London with his wife and son. He continued to work as a book illustrator, but was able eventually to devote himself to painting. Publication of his autobiography, 'The East End Years: A Stepney Childhood', coincided with his 90th birthday retrospective exhibition at Bartley Drey Gallery in London.

"The East End Years: A Stepney Childhood" was also translated into German. In it he explores his origins as an artist, and Fermin Rocker conjures a moving and colorful picture of his remarkable father, of anarchism and of the Jewish East End. His story reminds us that the visionary topography of his paintings has its roots in a lost world. Some might argue that Rocker has been out of step most of his life, preferring to follow his own naturalistic bent instead of the fads and fashions of the times, but nonetheless his is a fascinating story.
Note from Amy Golahny:

Fermin Rocker
Born Dec 22 1907, London
Died October 2004
Lived in New York City 1929-1972
Lived in London

Subjects: Figures in interiors, city scenes, and landscapes
Style: Realistic style
Medium: Oil paintings and watercolors; graphic artist
Book illustrations during the 1950s

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