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Painter Joseph Solman dies

Friday, April 18, 2008

NEW YORK —  Joseph Solman, an artist for the Works Progress Administration who painted vivid images of New York street scenes and along with Mark Rothko helped found an influential arts group in the 1930s, has died at age 99.

Solman died in his sleep Wednesday in the Manhattan apartment where he lived and worked, Amnon Goldman, the artist's primary dealer, said Friday.

A master colorist, Solman could turn ordinary scenes of such things as ice cellars, gas stations and windows into objects of beauty, Goldman said.

Solman's son Paul said his father had "the greatest life you could ever imagine."

"My dad's career spanned 70-plus years of experimentation and critical acclaim, from bold, Avant Gardism in the '30s, to piercing portraiture as recently as two years ago," Paul Solman said. "But as elegant, energetic and masterful as he was regarded as an artist, he was that and more as a person and dad."

Solman attended the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design, but said he learned more by sketching while riding the city's subways and buses. Among his best-known works are the "Subway Gouaches," images of people in different poses on the New York subways.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Solman worked for the WPA, where he met and worked with many established artists, including Jackson Pollock and Milton Avery.

He founded the art group Ten with Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb in the 1930s as a protest against the mainstream art of American scenic painters. At about the same time, Solman became editor-in-chief of Art Front magazine, introducing photography to its pages.

In the 1950s, with the art scene dominated by abstract expressionism, Solman joined with Edward Hopper and Jack Levine to found Reality, an art publication opposed to any one theory about how an artist should paint.

"He never abandoned his subject matter. As far as he pushed his composition, it was always anchored in reality. He never went all the way to abstraction," said Goldman, who owns the Mercury Gallery in Boston. "He kept reinventing himself, he never got stuck in one thing."

A memorial service was planned for May.


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