The following information was submitted by the son of the artist:
Seymour Fogel was born in New York City on August 24, 1911. He studied at the Art Students League and at the National Academy of Design under George Bridgeman and Leon Kroll. When his formal studies were concluded in the early 1930s he served as an assistant to Diego Rivera who was then at work on his controversial Rockefeller Center mural. It was from Rivera that he learned the art of mural painting.
Fogel was awarded several mural commissions during the 1930s by both the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Treasury Section of Fine Arts, among them his earliest murals at the Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, New York in 1936, a mural in the WPA Building at the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair, a highly controversial mural at the U.S. Post Office in Safford, Arizona (due to his focus on Apache culture) in 1941 and two murals in what was then the Social Security Building in Washington, D.C., also in 1941. Fogel's artistic circle at this time included Phillip Guston, Ben Shahn, Franz Kline, Rockwell Kent and Willem de Kooning.
In 1946 Fogel accepted a teaching position at the University of Texas at Austin and became one of the founding artists of the Texas Modernist Movement. At this time he began to devote himself solely to abstract, non-representational art and executed what many consider to be the very first abstract mural in the State of Texas at the American National Bank in Austin in 1953. He pioneered the use of Ethyl Silicate as a mural medium. Other murals and public works of art done during this time (the late 1940s and 1950s) include the Baptist Student Center at the University of Texas (1949), the Petroleum Club in Houston (1951) and the First Christian Church, also in Houston (1956), whose innovative use of stained glass panels incorporated into the mural won Fogel a Silver Medal from the Architectural League of New York in 1958.
Fogel relocated to the Connecticut-New York area in 1959. He continued the Abstract Expressionism he had begun exploring in Texas, and began experimenting with various texturing media for his paintings, the most enduring of which was sand. In 1966 he was awarded a mural at the U.S. Federal Building in Fort Worth, Texas. The work, entitled "The Challenge of Space", was a milestone in his artistic career and ushered in what has been termed the Transcendental/Atavistic period of his art, a style he pursued up to his death in 1984. Painted and raw wood sculpture was also reflective of this style. Another mural done during this period was the U.S. Customs Building at Foley Square in New York City that was entirely executed in mosaic tiles, a mural medium he preferred in the last decades of his career.
Fogel's work is well represented in the collections of major museums, among them the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, the Dallas Museum of Fine Art in Texas, the National Portrait Gallery and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., The State Museum of Louisiana in New Orleans, and the Telfair Museum in Savannah, Georgia.
During his life Fogel authored numerous articles on the interrelationship of art and architecture, served as a Vice President of the Architectural League of New York (1960) and has had his work imaged and/or discussed in some thirty books, including Nathanial Pousette-Dart's seminal work "American Painting Today" (1956) where Fogel was included along with the likes of Milton Avery, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, Edward Hopper, Yasuo Kuniyoshi and Stuart Davis as important American artists.
"The Great Depression: An Artist's View", Fogel, Jared A. and Stevens, Robert (unpublished MS), 2000, 209 pages
"Crying Out in Protest: The Formative Years of the Art of Seymour Fogel", Fogel, Jared A. and Stevens, Robert (unpublished MS), 1997, 105 pages
MAGAZINE ARTICLES and LECTURES
"Beyond the Apparent: The Atavistic Art of Seymour Fogel", Fogel, Jared A. (typed lecture delivered at Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois, 2006).
"American Idealism: A New Deal Synthesis in Art", Fogel, Jared A. (typed lecture delivered at the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, 2002).
"The Canvas Mirror: Painting as Politics in the New Deal", Fogel, Jared A. and Stevens, Robert, Magazine of History, Vol.16, No.1, Fall, 2001.
"The Depression in the South: Seymour Fogel's Images of African-Americans", Stevens, Robert and Fogel, Jared A., Social Education, Vol.62, No. 2, February, 1998.
"The Safford Arizona Murals of Seymour Fogel: A Study in Artistic Controversy", Fogel, Jared A. and Stevens, Robert, Social Education, Vol. 60, No. 5, September, 1996.
Biography from Wendt Gallery
The following biography is by Steven Lowy, from exhibition catalog: Champions of Modernism III, Wendt Gallery, 2009. Lowy is an independent curator and President of Portico, New York, Inc.
Seymour Fogel was a noted 20th-century muralist in the United States. Over the course of a long, art career, he executed 22 murals and won numerous art commissions and competitions. His work was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art eight times in the 1940s and 1950s and was included in major exhibitions at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Art dealers represented his work at major galleries including M. Knoedler & Company, Duveen Graham Gallery and Mortimer Levitt Gallery.
Fogel's artistic career evolved in an era of unprecedented social and cultural change, and his artwork reflects this constantly changing milieu. He followed socially conscious WPA commissions with ambitious modern and abstract compositions. As Vice President of the Architectural League of New York, he championed the integration of painting, sculpture and architecture. This collaborative spirit links Fogel conceptually with artists of the Bauhaus movement and the Art of Tomorrow.
Seymour Fogel was born in New York City on August 24, 1911. From an early age he demonstrated strong artistic ability, and was duly enrolled in the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League, where he studied under George Brandt Bridgman and Leon Kroll. His first real artistic mentor, however, was the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera who was, in 1932, working on his controversial and ill-fated mural at Rockefeller Center in New York City. Rivera took on two young artists, Fogel and his good friend Philip Guston, first as unpaid apprentices and then as paid assistants. It was from Rivera that Fogel learned the careful and detailed art of mural painting.
Fogel's first WPA mural commission was a two-panel mural at Abraham Lincoln High School in New York City in 1936. He chose the two differing themes of classical versus primitive music, however the primitive music panel, in which he depicted drumming African shamans in trance, became highly controversial and was attacked by conservative critic. Fogel would go on to complete murals in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Arizona (another controversial mural proposal), Washington, D.C. and would paint The Rehabilitation of the People in the W.P.A. Building at the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair.
In 1943, as World War II raged and the WPA arts programs folded, Fogel felt the need for a change of direction. His works from this period are inspired by European modernists like Picasso and Mondrian, yet reflect the artist's unique style. Shortly after the war he moved his family to Austin, Texas, in order to accept a teaching position at the University of Texas, where he soon became a leading member of the Texas Modernist Movement. His work, already abstract, was further inspired by the fantastic patterns of erosion he saw in Texas limestone. He used a palette knife on masonite for much of his work in the early 1950s. In the mid-50s, Fogel experienced what amounted to an artistic epiphany and began to experiment with the notion of 'channeling" art, or letting art paint itself through him with minimal intellectual guidance or direction. Art for Fogel had become an atavistic, primal experience. The resulting abstract expressionist works reveal a wide variety of moods and rhythms, from gauzy and indistinct to bold, smoldering and brash.
A Fogel quotation neatly sums up his new relationship to his art:
"When an artist discovers for himself an element of this [eternal] truth, he paints because he must. He paints with no thought of the hazardous preoccupation with tomorrow, nor the doctrinaire concepts of today. My paintings are my test-tubes in my laboratory. Each is a separate analysis of something newly discovered." (Pearson p. 221)
Fogel moved his family, now four in number, back East in 1959. In the early 1960s, he rented a home in Weston, Connecticut, and maintained studios in New York City, first at East 17th Street and later a loft on Canal Street. Fogel began to texturize his paintings using a variety of media including candle wax and even bed sheets before ultimately deciding to use sand. (See plate, page Y) He sought to create a direct dialogue between the viewer and the art being viewed, and worked for a time adhering shattered mirror shards to sculptural forms. However, a show of these mirrored sculptures at the Amel Galley in New York City in 1965, was so misunderstood by critics that it left Fogel without gallery representation for many years. Interestingly, Fogel's lifelong friend Philip Guston suffered a similar critical rejection when he gave up pure abstraction in favor of a politically motivated cartoon style.
John Baur, director emeritus of the Whitney Museum of American Art, once said of Fogel: "I have learned the only thing one can safely expect in Fogel's work is the unexpected. Men like Seymour have worked in all media, explored all styles, and refuse to limit themselves."
In 1966, Fogel was awarded a mural commission for the Fort Worth (Texas) Federal Building. His mural, The Challenge of Space, represented another major turning point in his artistic vision. Now broad cosmic forms took over his canvases, powerful circles and curves intersected by angular lines, resulting in great transcendent mandalas and diamond-shaped paintings. A host of mosaic murals in New York City - including an exterior mural at the Foley Square Federal Customs Building - followed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Sand Painting I and Sand Painting II reflect this juxtaposition of curvilinear and rectilinear and further explore the use of sand as media. The artist used sand of varying coarseness and color as freely as he used his paints.
Fogel closed down his studio on Canal Street in the early 1970s, and combined studio and residence in a former Roman Catholic rectory in Weston, Connecticut, that he named Torandor after a juvenile romantic poem he once wrote to his wife Barbara. This humble house, perched on a bluff overlooking woodlands and streams, became a portal into the mysteries of the natural world for him. As the eroded forms of limestone had inspired him in Texas, now the ferns, vines, tendrils and rock clefts informed his Woodland Series, black and white studies of the often erotic mysteries underlying the material world. (See Illust….Charcoal on your website) This spun off into the Color Flow Series, where color meanders and pools, like streams across the surface of the painting, or congeals into luminescence, as in Transcendental Form in Blue (see gallery website).
Simultaneously, Fogel was actively involved in creating both raw and painted wood constructions, a further evolution of the power he sensed in the natural world, and some of these took on an almost sacred, totemic role in his life. His Sentinel Series of paintings also reflected this atavistic, totemic presence he sensed around him.
The range and longevity of Fogel's career generated a prolific and distinctive body of work. When he died in 1984, his drawings, paintings, and sculptures were carefully archived by his daughter, Gayle Fogel Laurel. In addition, numerous sketchbooks, unpublished manuscripts, exhibition catalogs, and mural studies have recently been discovered in storage.
Fogel's son Jared worked diligently with Faith and Charles McCracken to produce a scholarly book on the artist titled The Art of Seymour Fogel: An Atavistic Vision (Time Again Publications, 2005). His murals are being restored and rededicated. One mural in Austin, Texas, once referred to by Fortune Magazineas the most abstract mural project in the country, is now owned by the state and considered a cultural treasure. Fogel's mid century studio residence, Southwind, has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and his art has been the subject of two major retrospective shows; one at the Mansfield Arts Center in Ohio and another at Millikin University in Illinois. Four of his mural studies were featured at the WPA anniversary exhibition at the Wolfsonian Institute in Miami this year.
A persistent effort is underway to resurrect the work of this seminal figure in American modern art, so that a new generation may have the opportunity to experience his creative brilliance. Fogel's spirit lives on through his work.
"I don't know why artists are here. It's, I think, almost a biological must, because artists have been here since the first caveman drawings on walls…. The artist still persists, which means, I think, that nature meant the art to be here as a means of human revelation." -- Fogel interview 1984.