Schanker, Louis

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SCHANKER, LOUIS (1903–1981), U.S. painter, printmaker, sculptor, and educator. Schanker's early adulthood experiences were varied: as an adolescent he worked in a circus, on farms in both the U.S. and Canada, and on the Erie Railroad. Between 1919 and 1923, he studied part-time at Cooper Union. Until 1927, he attended classes at the Art School of the Educational Alliance and the Art Students League. Working in the wpa mural division, he created wall panels in 1924 for a Long Island hospital, and exhibited murals at the Hall of Medicine and Public Health at the 1939 World's Fair. In 1931–32, he traveled to and studied in Paris and Mallorca. Between 1940 and 1941, he created woodcuts for the wpa Arts Project. He founded the group "The Ten" in 1935 with Adolph Gottlieb, Ilya Bolotowsky, and Ben-Zion, among others, with which he exhibited until 1939; The Ten concerned itself more with formal and artistic problems than with political tribulations. In 1936, Schanker assisted in the foundation of the American Abstract Artists group. The subjects of Schanker's art, including woodblock and linoleum prints and paintings, ranged among various subjects, especially sports, carnival, and religious subjects, such as St. George and the Dragon. His works of the late 1930s and 1940s, such as Aerial Act (1940), often featured graceful lines which coalesced into simple but expressive figures animated with flat, bright, areas of color. While the former composition owes much to Matisse and Miro, the monochromatic woodcut Forms in Action of the following year displays angular shapes, one perhaps dancing while another plays a keyboard or bass; this suggestion of speed and rhythm is indebted to the German and Austrian Expressionists, as well as to Japanese woodblock prints. Schanker's work reveals the artist's careful study of a variety of his contemporaries working in both the United States and Europe: Wasily Kandinsky, Arshile Gorky, Picasso, Max Ernst, Paul Klee, and George Rouault, among many others. In the 1960s, Schanker introduced the motif of a circle into his compositions, often combining it with other simple forms, and animating the whole with vibrant color. During this period, he also produced many primitivist wood sculptures influenced by Constantin Brancusi. Critics note that these sculptures were not a departure from his previous printmaking, since Schanker worked on his woodblocks with the tools of both sculptor and carpenter. Schanker taught at the New School for Social Research between 1943 and 1960. Between 1949 and 1964, he taught at Bard College. He made his home in New York City, Stamford, Connecticut, and East Hampton, New York. His art has been widely exhibited: at the Buchholz Gallery (1943), the Puma Gallery (1943), the Guggenheim Museum (1954), the Victoria and Albert Museum (1954–55), the Associated American Artists (1978), and the New York Public Library (2003). Examples of his work are in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.


E. Genauer, "Quiet Pleasures of Serious Art," in: New York Herald Tribune (June 3, 1962), sec. 4, 6a; N. Kleeblatt and S. Chevlowe, Painting a Place in America (1991); O.Z. Soltes, Fixing the World: Jewish American Painters in the Twentieth Century (2003).

[Nancy Buchwald (2nd ed.)]