Leon Golub



In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Leon Golub 1922–2004
Lithograph on paper
Image: 765 × 565 mm
Purchased 1988

Catalogue entry

P77249 Fighter 1965

Lithograph 765 × 565 (30 × 22 1/4) on wove Arches paper, same size; printed by Tamarind Press; publisher not known; edition of 20
Inscribed ‘Golub’ b.r., ‘Fighter’ b.l. and ‘9/20’ b.r.
Purchased from Print Works, Chicago (Grant-in-Aid) 1988

‘Fighter’, which is printed in purple, depicts a striding male figure with one arm raised. The subject of male combatants has dominated Golub's work since the late 1950s. This particular pose is seen again in ‘Gigantomachy II’, 1966 (the artist, repr., Donald Kuspit, Leon Golub: Existentialist/Activist Painter, New Brunswick 1985, p.135, pls.89–90), one of a series of paintings Golub made between 1965 and 1967 depicting nude males in combat. It is possible that the artist began this painting in 1965, near to the time he made P77249. The reddish tone of the figure in the lithograph, which can be seen as symbolic of vigour, appears to have been carried through into the predominantly red colouration of the figure in the painting.

In conversation on 2 November 1988, Golub commented that his fighter images display conflicting traits, reflecting his own ambivalence towards the subject. The fighter in P77249 is, he said, ‘quite heroic in his gestures, the arm is lifted above his head. This gesture is one of alertness and valour’. He continued, ‘my work is continuously between two poles - between aggression and a certain kind of heroism. But it is a heroism which is existential, because [the fighters] can never get out of their fix’. He said that the large scale of the ‘Gigantomachy’ paintings emphasised the heroic nature of the imagery, and that he had intended the ‘Gigantomachy’ series to be viewed from a distance, like Greek temple pediments.

The warriors in Golub's paintings of the late 1950s were inspired by ancient Greek sculpture. The artist explained that in this period he was searching for an objective source of imagery, in which the structure of the body was not exaggerated or stylised in a ‘primitivistic manner’. In the early 1970s he began using contemporary magazine and newspaper photographs as sources for his images of soldiers. He aimed to depict current conflicts, and to register his political opposition to the destructive results of military intervention. He used photographs from the Vietnam war and photographs showing the activities of mercenaries and death squads (see entry on P77251). Golub also based his warriors on photographs showing sportsmen in action. The first occasion he depicted warriors in motion was in the painting entitled ‘Combat I’, 1962 (Gene R. Summers, repr. Kuspit 1985, p.128, pl.79), which depicts two warriors clashing.

P77249 was produced at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles, California, where Golub worked for six weeks during the summer of 1965. Golub said that he blurred the contours of the figure by erasing and redrawing the lines, in an attempt to capture the effect of a figure in motion. This style of drawing emphasised the figure's vitality and energy.

The artist has approved this entry.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

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