George Grosz & Philip Evergood (1998)
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George Grosz & Philip Evergood
Although the artists were born into families of vastly different levels of cultivation, both were poor if not impoverished. Their parents were anxious for them to receive solid education and aspired to secure careers. They found authority and rigor difficult to accept until they made their decisions to become artists at which time they applied themselves with passion and direction. Both artists viewed their backgrounds as detriments to their success. George Grosz lacked advanced formal education feeling intellectual inferior and self taught as a painter. Philip Evergood considered his Eton and Cambridge education cast him in a role of effete intellectual that differed greatly from the simple didactic intention of his work. America became the country of their citizenship by choice. In the country where they considered anything to be possible, both were deeply disappointed that their grandest ambitions were never satisfied.
Socially and politically the artists were courageously at the forefront of activism. They were both persecuted by the nations that they loved and strove to improve. The changing political climate in their respective countries for which they were first celebrated was then turned against their free and heartfelt statements. The expressions of social injustice and class struggle were misinterpreted and viewed as vitriolic criticisms rather than skilled and sensitive expressions of social wrongs. George Grosz stood trial as his work was considered obscene and blasphemous and ultimately degraded as Degenerate. Philip Evergood was also criticized for being obscene and indecent, and was not permitted to serve his country as an artist because of his participation in peace demonstrations and before the House un-American Activities Committee accused of not upholding the American values.
Stylistically, George Grosz and Philip Evergood wished to express their ideas with simplicity and clarity. This often meant choosing a sophisticated albeit naive approach to their work. Sure, strong lines with a tendency toward exaggeration are apt descriptions of both of the artists drawings and paintings. Daumier is sighted as a powerful influence for both artists as they deeply admired his ability to incisively delineate various human characteristics. The artists employed powerful lines and depicted outward distortions of human form to represent inner distortions and human inadequacy. Grosz, in his linear compositions, best described as horror vacuii, created brutal atmospheres while Evergood chose discordant color combinations.
Although not obvious to the casual viewer the intention of the artists are comparable. Most of all the content are socially conscience and address political, human and class struggle and sensuous nudes. Both artists cast their hawk-like eyes upon the inconsistencies in their societies, presenting biting, often repulsive, and sad scenes that are eloquent and awaken consciousness. Tinged with bitterness or horror, the artists express compassion and understanding. George Grosz expresses bitterness lodged in satire, often humorous depictions, while Philip Evergood chose a more hopeful optimistic approach. Neither artist was interested in painting ideal beauty particularly in their paintings of voluptuous women. Whether wives or prostitutes, they are described as being ill-treated or exploited and speak of weakness and the greed of men, with the women exerting airs of detachment, strength or defiant independence— the very humanistic attributes that each artist valued.
Two invaluable monographs are: Hans Hess’s George Grosz, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1984; and Kendall Taylor’s Philip Evergood: Never Separate from the Heart, exhibition catalogue, Bucknell University Press, London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1987. These meticulously researched resources have provided the basis of the detailed biographical and critical analysis of the two artists.
I am indebted to Lily Harmon who generously opened her unpublished manuscript and research on J.B. Neumann, Grosz’ dealer and friend, opened her personal archive, and shared her experiences of both artists with me. I am grateful to her for encouraging me as she has so many times before.
Special thanks go to the lenders to the exhibition, to Bob and Cheryl Fishko and the staff of Forum Gallery who gave me the opportunity to do the exhibition and particularly Joe Cooney who offered to work with me on this project in his free time.