Gabriel Laderman passed away from Leukemia this past Thursday. Here is a link to the New York Time Obit. He was a significant representational painter and teacher and was instrumental in the revival of figurative art in the 1960s. He studied with a number of leading American painters, including Hans Hofmann, de Kooning, and Rothko. Laderman had shown in musuem exhibitions such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Art Institute of Chicago and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
There is also a wonderful tribute written about him in “The New Republic” by Jed Perl “Against Inevitability, Honoring Gabriel Laderman, who wielded a battering ram on behalf of beauty.” one quote from this Jed Perl article really captures Gabriel’s character:
The tyranny of trends, vogues, and vanguards was something Gabriel refused to acknowledge. At a time when everybody wanted art to be fresh, Gabriel did not give a damn about the next new thing. He felt no need to grapple with what was happening simply because it was happening. His ability to explain what was wrong with a Color Field painting or a Neo-Dada sculpture interested me far less than his belief that such stuff could not possibly affect the work he was doing. He did not believe in the Zeitgeist. He believed in the individual. His great idea was that what an artist makes is a matter of personal choice and inner necessity, not a response to historical forces. He himself was a representational painter in an era when many said that representational painting was already dead and buried. But unlike some postmodernists, who see their resurgent representational impulses as a reaction against modernism and therefore the next step in a historical progression, Gabriel rejected the very idea of progress in art. He refused to accept the historical inevitability of certain kinds of art. Cubism was not what history had made Braque and Picasso do, it was what Braque and Picasso had wanted to do—and somehow managed to do. His tradition-consciousness was not a form of academicism. Everything was about personal encounters, a person’s unique response to the challenges of the rectangle, of volume and void, of line and color, of style, of emotion.
View of Florence, 1962-63
In an earlier essay written by Lincoln Perry states:
This is a man highly ambitious not just for himself as an isolated ego but for the art he loves and sees as an inherently moral force. Gabriel Laderman has consistently advocated thoughtfulness over excitement, poetic meaning over novelty, and has been telling us, in his urgent, angry, and loving way, that we can and must do better.
Later in this same article Perry states:
… In “The Future of Landscape Painting” (Artforum, November 1968), he wrote: “Generations of pictorial solutions are available to us; . . .the representational painter . . . should recognize that there are no viable rules and boundaries to his activity and proclaim his freedom by discovering and inventing the ones he needs to make a viable poetic statement.” He ended with an extended quote from Kuo Hsi, an eleventh-century Sung painter who describes a beautiful landscape as seen by a lover of forest and stream, which concludes: “Does not such a scene satisfy his mind and captivate his heart? That is why the world values the true significance of the painting of mountains. If this is not recognized, and the landscapes are roughly and carelessly approached, then is it not like spoiling a magnificent view and polluting the pure wind?”
One thinks of the current argument as to whether beauty is somehow misleading, a dishonest distraction from the cruelty around us. A man writing almost a millennium ago is warning us that art is our self-portrait as a species, and that we can pollute our art as easily as we pollute our world. In a letter further clarifying his “Notes from the Underground” (Artforum, September 1970), Laderman wrote: Rather than proselytizing for figuration exclusively I try to proselytize for an art of feeling, sensibility, and knowledge, whether figurative or abstract. . . . It is surely untenable for a contemporary artist or critic to think of art history in linear terms as a one- or two-way street. The linearity we prize is a useful construct of the art historians, but all the objects remain to be reexperienced and reinterpreted by those artists who do not fear history and do not need the crutch of a narrow contemporary self-congratulating elite to bolster their egos.
View of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Baton Rouge, 1967
Mr. Laderman also had a blog where he made many posts about his thoughts on painting and art.
Also there in an engaging article he wrote posted on the International School of Painting, Drawing and Sculpture site called “Learning to Draw Without a Master” that is a great read.
I was fortunate to have gotten a critique from him and hear him give his slide talk when I was an art student at the Yale Summer School in Norfolk. He was very encouraging to me in pursuing my interest in painting from observation but I also learned from him to be open to change as he demonstrated by his own change later in life from many years of working perceptually to then working from memory and imagination.
Still Life #2, Homage to David, 1969
Large Maylasian Still Life, 1976
The House of Death and Life, 1984-85
The Dance of Death, 1995-96
“This Happens,” 1996-97
There are many more images of Gabriel Laderman’s paintings here.