Friday, July 25, 2008

Ashcan Artist: John Sloan

from John Sloan's New York
John French Sloan (August 2, 1871 - September 8, 1951) was a U.S. artist. He was born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania., to a businessman father and a schoolteacher mother. At the age of 20, he became an illustrator with The Philadelphia Inquirer. He studied art in the evening at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he met his mentor, Robert Henri, author of "The Art Spirit." Sloan's style was heavily influenced by European artists of the late 19th and early 20th century. He was familiar with Van Gogh's work, as well as Picasso, and Matisse, and several of his works appear as if they are a fusion of European styles.
Sloan moved to Greenwich Village in New York, where he painted some of his best-known works, including McSorley's Bar, Sixth Avenue Elevated at Third Street and Wake of the Ferry. In later years, he spent summers working and painting in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
He was allied with the Ashcan School and a member of The Eight, a group of American realist artists that included Robert Henri, Everett Shinn, Arthur B. Davies, Ernest Lawson, Maurice Prendergast, George Luks, and William J. Glackens. One of his students was Norman Raeben.
“The fun of being a New York painter, says Sloan, even today, is that landmarks are torn down so rapidly that your canvases become historical records almost before the paint on them is dry.” Esquire, 1936
When John and Dolly Sloan arrived in New York in 1904, they were two of approximately 100,000 people moving to the city that year. The Sloans settled in Chelsea, one of the city’s commercial centers, where shops, moving picture parlors, and entertainment halls of every sort clustered around Sixth Avenue. Sloan’s apartment at 165 West 23rd Street (between Sixth and Seventh Avenues) bordered on the Tenderloin, a district famous for its nightclubs and bordellos. His living room window looked out on what he termed “the busy throng on 23rd Street.” This throng and their activities—walking to the theaters, window shopping and, above all else, watching each other—would become the subject of Sloan’s prints and paintings. The landmarks in Sloan’s early New York paintings are the elevated train tracks, streets, shops, and dive bars of his neighborhood, rather than the city’s tourist sites.
Sloan’s student, Guy Pène du Bois, described him eloquently as “the historian of Sixth Avenue, Fourteenth Street, Union Square, Madison Square.”
Madison Square Park, located just a few blocks from his home, was one of Sloan’s favorite sites during his years in Chelsea. In Sloan’s New York, the parks, like the streets, were places where diverse individuals encountered each other every day. The city allowed male and female, old and young, affluent and impoverished, to observe and comment on each other, a pleasure which Sloan indulged in his art.
In 1912 Sloan moved first his studio and then his apartment down Sixth Avenue to Greenwich Village. In moving to the Village, Sloan left a commercial center in Chelsea for the heart of the city’s liberal, intellectual community, subtly shifting his alliance from the workaday world of Chelsea and the Tenderloin to the city’s most bohemian and artistic quarter. The Village was fast becoming a haven for creative types, and in the popular imagination, it represented a place outside the bounds of middle-class social norms. Emblematic of this was the neighborhood’s physical fabric, much noted in Sloan’s day. With its meandering streets, where 4th Street crosses 10th Street, Greenwich Village was literally outside the grid of New York City, a characteristic celebrated by its creative residents. The anarchist Hippolyte Havel stated that the Village had no geographical boundaries; it was “a spiritual zone of mind.” Filled with artists, writers, and political radicals, Greenwich Village appeared to exist apart from the bustling capitalist center that was Manhattan.
Sloan found a community in the Village, and many of his paintings and etchings document that community’s leaders—Romany Marie Marchand, Juliana Force, Hippolyte Havel, Eugene O’Neill—and landmarks—Jefferson Market, Washington Square, McSorley’s Bar, the Lafayette, and the Golden Swan.
Sloan remained in the Village for more than two decades, becoming, by the 1920s, one of the neighborhood’s artistic features, mentioned in guidebooks. He stayed to see the Village overrun by tourists and, in the 1920s, by speakeasies known as “tea rooms.” He saw Seventh Avenue extended and the subway run through the Village, and in 1927 the Sloans were forced to vacate their apartment on Washington Place because it was being demolished as part of subway construction and the extension of Sixth Avenue southward. They settled on Washington Square South, and Sloan’s relocation inspired a spate of photographs of Sixth Avenue, the Square and of One Fifth Avenue, an art deco skyscraper under construction just above the north end of the park. A tower of luxury apartments, One Fifth Avenue was a sign of gentrification to come. When New York University took over the building housing Sloan’s apartment on Washington Square in 1935, the Sloans were unable to find affordable accommodations in the Village. They returned to Chelsea. For the rest of his life, Sloan kept an apartment in the Chelsea Hotel, only blocks from his first home in New York City.

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