Artist biography

American painter. In 1942 he received a BA in art history from the University of Chicago and enlisted in the US Army. After World War II he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago (BFA 1949; MFA 1950). The Holocaust and atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were early themes in his work.

During the 1950s Golub received considerable attention through exhibiting in New York, Chicago, London and in Paris, where he lived from 1959 to 1964. In his paintings of this period he depicted man as the victim of his own civilisation, incorporating imagery from Assyrian, Hittite and Aztec art.

In his Vietnam series (1972–4) Golub confronted the immoral destructiveness of contemporary violence. This shift from an ideal concept to a precise exposition required him to specify weapons, uniform and napalm through references to news photography, which give a mordant, contemporary edge to the pathology of power. From 1970 Golub no longer used stretchers for his canvases but hung them directly from nails in the wall, sometimes cutting away portions of the paintings. This heightened immediacy continued in a series of some hundred portraits (1976–9) of world leaders such as Brezhnev, Franco, Pinochet and Kissinger.

Golub's aggressive images are charged with immediacy and brutality. The evil-doers look out from the painting with shocking intimacy, making the observer privy to their dirty secrets. Golub's work stresses political conscience and has an unswerving commitment to the expression of man's existential relationship to the world.

Leon Golub (exh. cat. by R. Melville, London, ICA, 1957)
Leon Golub (exh. cat. by J. A. Speyer, Philadelphia, Temple U. Gal., 1964)
Leon Golub: The Development of his Art (exh. cat. by L. Alloway, Chicago, IL, Mus. Contemp. A., 1974)
Leon Golub: Portraits of Power (exh. cat. by E. Bryant, Hamilton, NY, Colgate U., 1978)
M. Baigell: ‘The Mercenaries: An Interview with Leon Golub', A. Mag. [New York], lv/9 (1981), pp. 167–9
Leon Golub, Mercenaries and Interrogations (exh. cat., ed. J. Bird and M. Newman; London, ICA, 1982)
Golub (exh. cat., ed. L. Gumpert and N. Rifkin; New York, New Mus. Contemp. A., 1984)
D. Kuspit: Golub: Existential Activist Painter (New Brunswick, 1985)
Golub (exh. cat by P. Schjeldahl, New York, Barbara Gladstone Gal., 1986)


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