1913 – 2006
Theme/Style – Modernism, Surrealism, figurative works, portraits
Media – Oils, sculpture, murals, frescoes, printmaking
Artistic Focus – A prominent member of Los Angeles’s Post-Surrealist group during the 1930s, Harold Lehman energetically and passionately created a body of work that remains unique in its reflection of myriad influences. Inspired by the Mexican muralist D.A. Siqueiros, Freudian and Gestalt psychology, Lehman was committed to making art that he felt had social and political relevance. Lehman’s greatest influences came from Michelangelo, El Greco, Piero dello Francesca, Rembrandt, and Chinese and African sculpture. Among the modern surrealists, he admired the work of Pablo Picasso and Giorgio de Chirico. Total abstraction did not appeal to him.
Career Highlights –
- Harold Lehman was born in New York City in 1913, and at the age of 16 moved to Los Angeles. At the city’s Manual Arts High School, Lehman and fellow students Philip Guston and Jackson Pollock studied under Modernist artist Frederick Schwankovsky; and Lehman also counted Reuben Kadish among his friends.
- In 1931 Lehman, then a sculptor, won a scholarship to Otis Art Institute where he studied with Roger Noble Burnham and George Stanley, and at the end of that year received the Sculpture Award at the school’s exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
- 1932 marked a turning point for Lehman, when he met Lorser Feitelson and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Lehman joined Siqueiros’s Bloc of Painters, a group that promoted socially relevant themes in their work – an idea so controversial that their exhibition sponsored by the John Reed Club was raided by Los Angeles’s “Red Squad” and frescoes by Lehman and others were destroyed.
- In 1933 Lehman and Philip Guston had a well-received show at the Stanley Rose Gallery in Hollywood. Also in 1933 Lehman won Second Prize in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Annual for his controversial painting The Landlady, which caused an outcry due to its expressionistic, realistic depiction of a hardened working class woman.
- Beginning in 1933, Lehman worked with Siqueiros for several years creating portable frescoes. He also became an associate of Lorser Feitelson, both as his student at the Stickney Memorial School of Art in Pasadena and as a frequent visitor to Feitelson’s studio; and in 1934 Lehman participated in the landmark New Classicist exhibition at Los Angeles’s Centaur Gallery, where his work along with that of Feitelson, Helen Lundeberg, Lucien Labaudt, Knud Merrild, and Etienne Ret introduced Post-Surrealism to the public.
- Lehman continued to exhibit in Southern California as well as at the Paul Elder Gallery in San Francisco, and in 1935 had his first solo exhibition at Jake Zeitlin’s Book Shop in Los Angeles, to critical acclaim.
- Lehman returned to New York in 1935, where he helped Siqueiros organize his experimental workshop; and, along with Reuben Kadish and Philip Guston, participated in the Federal Art Project, creating murals through the late 1930s.
- In the early 1940s Lehman was in Woodstock, New York, where he created Treasury Department War Bond posters and was active in the Woodstock Art Association.
- After World War II Lehman returned to New York City, where he resumed his independent work as a studio artist, as well as teaching and working as a scenic artist for theme parks, television, and film.
- Lehman’s paintings were included in the traveling exhibition Pacific Dreams: Currents of Surrealism and Fantasy in California Art, 1934-1957 (UCLA Hammer Museum, 1995); On-Ramps: Transitional Moments in California Art (Pasadena Museum of California Art Inaugural Exhibition, 2002); and Surrealism USA (National Academy of Design, 2005).
- Harold Lehman passed away in 2006 in New Jersey at the age of 92.
Bibliographic references are available upon request.