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 Sal (Salvatore) Sirugo  (1920 - 2013)

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Lived/Active: New York / Italy      Known for: abstract expressionist painting

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Ad Code: 4
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Composition #58
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries:
Born in Sicily in 1920, Sal Sirugo came to the United States in 1937; his father, who had emigrated 15 years earlier, brought his children to America one by one. Sirugo took work with the Civilian Conservation Corps, first as a firefighter in Idaho and later, as a mason at Watkins Glen State Park in upstate New York. Drafted into the war in 1942, he sustained serious injuries and earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He took up drawing during more than three years of recuperation in veterans' hospitals, including one at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. While there, he visited the Barnes Foundation and saw a Matisse exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In 1948, he began formal art study at the Brooklyn Museum Art School and the Art Students League under the GI Bill; at the latter he studied with Vaclav Vytlacil and Philip Guston, who helped confirm his spontaneous, emotional approach to making art. Sirugo's allowance for art supplies under the bill was $10 per month. He economized by buying less expensive black and white casein paint, suggested by Vytlacil because the turpentine required for oil painting exacerbated his injuries. Over time, this limitation in palette became freeing. As Sirugo has observed, sticking with black and white has allowed ample room for experimentation, in terms of both space and movement. At a certain point, he recalls, he forgot he was working in just two colors.

During summers in the late 1940s, Sirugo lived and worked in Woodstock, New York. Despite rustic living conditions—which at times included a converted pigpen and part of a church—he appreciated access to the artistic community. There he met sculptor Raoul Hague, among others. In New York City during this period, he also came to know many New York School artists and showed his work in Tenth Street group exhibitions and in solo shows at the Camino and Tanager Galleries. In the early 1950s, Sirugo had an apartment on Norfolk Street, where his neighbors included Grace Hartigan and Alfred Leslie. He also occasionally worked for his fellow artists, including Lee Krasner, Milton Resnick, and Alfonso Ossorio, when they needed assistance stretching canvases or doing carpentry work.

In 1953, after seeing a collection of Chinese paintings in Boston at the urging of his instructors, Sirugo began closely working with ink and paper. Working in series, he has produced abstractions based on suns and landscapes. In 1966 Sirugo began a series of self-portraits and portraits of others. This direction was not a calculated shift; instead, he was inspired by a period of creativity in a new studio in Brooklyn when an experiment with Chinese ink resulted in compositions that suggested figures. Although most of the work was destroyed in a fire, the experience prompted Sirugo to explore representational faces, in addition to his abstract work.

During his long career, Sirugo has earned numerous awards, including the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation Award (twice), the Emily Lowe Award, a Woodstock Foundation Award, and a Longview Foundation Award. In 2011, he was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work is held by collections including the Museum of Modern Art, The Zimmerli Art Museum of Rutgers University, the Grey Art Gallery of New York University, and Vassar College.

© Copyright 2011 Hollis Taggart Galleries

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