Monday, May 26, 2008


Ben Shahn immigrated to New York City with his family having to flee the Russian empire after is father was exiled to Serbia for alleged revolutionary activities. Shahn was first trained as a lithographer, which lead him to work in graphic design.  His early training became evident in his later works that combined both text and print, making bold social commentaries which became hugely popular among social realists.

 Shahn first became famous for his work during the great depression.  During this time he created a series of commercial works commissioned by the government and notably he served as an assistant to Californian labor leader Diego Rivera, at which time he created the infamous Rockafeller Centre mural.  This established Shahn as a communicative artist.  His social vision informed his art and he set out to break down the pretensions of the art world and communicate more with the general public.

 During WW2 also worked for the Office of  War Information (OWI).  This was short lived however, due to the lack of patriotism in his work only two of his posters were ever published.  After this he actively expressed his distain for war and created a series of paintings such as ‘Death on the Beach’ which depicted the horrors of war.  After this time he went on to work as a commercial artist, for such organizations as Time and CBS.  One of his most famous works was a portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

 Shahns vision and symbolism set him apart from other artists of this time period.  He uses contrasting scales and colors to create tension, however he is also noted for his precision and detail that is clearly influenced by lithography and shows in his interpretations of his photography.


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