Theme/Style – Modernism, figurative art, landscape, abstraction
Media – Oil, tempera, graphite, bronze, steel, terra cotta, printmaking, murals, fresco
Artistic Focus – Reuben Kadish was a well-trained and prolific printmaker, as well as a WPA muralist, painter and sculptor. His subject matter consisted of both realistic and highly abstract, surreal images, often imbued with a dark, frenetic energy influenced by a range of artistic and political ideas. Later in his career he turned to sculpture, creating strong, rough-hewn, organic forms, and his later printmaking reflected a similar style.
Career Highlights –
- Reuben Kadish was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1913, and his family settled in Los Angeles around 1921. He studied art privately with Lorser Feitelson, then at the Otis Art institute in 1930, and won a scholarship to the Stickney School of Art in Pasadena in 1931.
- During his art school years Kadish began lifelong friendships with fellow student Philip Guston (then Goldstein) and also with Jackson Pollock.
- In 1931 Kadish and Philip Guston painted the mural “American Negro” for the Los Angeles chapter of the John Reed Club, inspired by that year’s infamous Scottsboro Boys case, in which nine African-American teenagers were accused of rape in Alabama. The mural was later destroyed in a police raid.
- Kadish and Guston became acquainted with visiting Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Kadish volunteered his services as the artist’s chauffeur and assisted him on local mural projects such as the Plaza Art Center in 1932.
- In 1934, the Los Angeles-based Post-Surrealist group of artists was formed, including not only Kadish, but Grace Clements, Knud Merrild, Helen Lundeberg, Lorser Feitelson, and Lucien Labaudt, among others; and their work was shown in an exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1935.
- Also in 1935, Kadish and Philip Guston traveled to Mexico, studying sculpture and murals and, at the invitation of Siqueiros, painting a fresco at the University of Michoacán in Morelia.
- Kadish moved to San Francisco in 1936, where he joined the mural painting division of the Federal Art Project/Works Progress Administration (FAP/WPA); he painted his fresco “A Dissertation on Alchemy” at San Francisco State College.
- Kadish also worked in the graphic arts division of the FAP/WPA, and made Surrealist lithographs that were featured in his first solo exhibition, at the Stanley Rose Bookshop in Hollywood in 1937. That same year, under Lorser Feitelson’s supervision, Kadish and Philip Guston painted two WPA frescos for the Los Angeles Tubercular Sanatorium (now City of Hope) in Duarte, entitled “Physical Growth of Man” and “History of Medicine.”
- Kadish exhibited with the San Francisco Art Association during the late 1930s, and was included in the FAP’s 1939 “Frontiers of American Art” exhibition at the city’s de Young Memorial Museum.
- Kadish studied with printmaker Stanley William Hayter at San Francisco’s California School of Fine Arts in 1940. During World War II Kadish was recruited for the Army Artists’ Unit, which documented foreign military campaigns, and after his discharge in 1945 Kadish lived in New York and worked at Hayter’s Atelier 17, printing for Joan Miró and other artists, and also making his own prints.
- In 1946 Kadish abandoned the art world, settling in Vernon, New Jersey with his family and working as a dairy farmer for the next 10 years.
- Finding a new artistic direction in the form of sculpture, Kadish returned to New York in 1960 to teach at Cooper Union, where he would remain for more than 30 years.
- In 1961 Kadish had his first solo sculpture exhibition at New York’s Poindexter Gallery, and also became an artist fellow at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles. He acquired his own printing press in 1970, and his last prints, made in the 1980s, were experimental monotypes (a printing technique that yields a single, unique impression from a glass, metal or stone plate).
- A retrospective exhibition of Kadish’s work was held at the New Jersey State Museum in 1990, and a survey of his sculpture and drawings was presented at the State University at Stony Brook, NY shortly before his passing in 1992.