MICHAEL LOEW BIO
Born in New York City to a family of poor immigrants, Michael Loew eventually attended the Art Students League, whose faculty included such artists of the Ashcan School as Robert Henri, John Sloan and George Luks. Their influence, coupled with his own first-hand experience resulted in compelling, highly sympathetic yet unsentimental depictions of urban life produced at the outset of his career. Loew's post-high school apprenticeship to a stained glass maker provided him with a strong colour sensibility early on.
In 1929, Loew was swept up in the entourage of an eccentric art patron named Sadie A. May who took him to Europe as one of her protegées. By the time he returned to America, he had studied in Paris, painted in North Africa, visited his relatives in Germany and had a chance to see the art of Italy - all of which provided him with a perceptibly enhanced artistic and social sophistication.
Michael Loew came back to America in time to experience the lowest ebb of the Great Depression and eventually had to pay his landlord in paintings. By 1935, however, he was earning a regular salary (the lordly sum of $26.50 per week!) doing WPA mural work as well as commissions for the Treasury and other branches of the government. Whereas these works tended to be traditionally figurative in the monumental symbolic mode of the time, his 1939 mural for the Hall of Pharmacy at the New York World's Fair represented a clear decision to mine a more abstract vein. He shared this privately sponsored mural commission with his life-long friend Willem de Kooning and their startlingly modern, semi-abstract exterior murals were singled out for their high quality and their role in introducing the public to modern art styles.
With the support of his wife Mildred (m. 1941), he took up the cause of providing a living wage for WPA artists and often demonstrated with his fellow artists. Loew joined the Navy after Pearl Harbor and served as the battalion artist with the Seabees in the South Pacific. He came home at the end of the war having lost much of his hearing, his hair and all of his interest in working representationally.
Loew then moved deliberately into abstraction and began a thorough study of post-Cubism with Hans Hofmann and at the Atelier Léger in Paris. Loew fell under the spell of Mondrian and added Klee’s lightness of spirit to his own quiet intensity. In 1948 he joined the Spiral Group, a co-operative of artists determined to exhibit experimental work, and in 1949, when he had his first one-man show at the Artists Gallery in New York, he was invited to join the American Abstract Artists group.
For many years, he taught art, first as visiting professor at the Portland Museum School in Oregon, then from 1958 to 1985 at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Over the years, he was the recipient of numerous awards including a Ford Foundation Award, National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. His work is found in virtually all of the large American museums as well as in many prominent international collections.
Loew’s abstract oil paintings are always based on real subjects. He was literally abstracting from reality, taking his imagery from landscapes and figures, the result is an abstraction of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines, interspersed with occasional curves. The whites he uses are positively shaped in dense pigment and equally substantial to the coloured planes. Instead of a flat picture plane, Loew created an atmosphere, a light-filled resonant atmosphere suitable for dreaming, like castles in the air.
Michael Loew died of cancer in New York in 1985.