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Starting in the 1930s, American artist Jack Levine became known for his social realist paintings, which used satire to shine a light on the harsh modern world.
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American artist Jack Levine was born on January 3, 1915, in Boston, Massachusetts, to parents who were Jewish Lithuanian immigrants. After art studies in Boston, Levine became recognized as a social realist painter. He satirized contemporary society and politics in works like "The Feast of Pure Reason" and "Finger of Newt." At the age of 95, Levine died in New York City on November 8, 2010.
"I took my place in the late 1930s as part of the general uprising of social consciousness in art and literature. We were all making a point. We had a feeling of confidence in our ability to do something about the world."
Jack Levine was born in the South End neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, on January 3, 1915. He was the youngest of eight children born to Samuel and Mary (née Grinker) Levine, Jewish immigrants from Lithuania.
At the age of 8, Levine's family moved to Boston's Roxbury neighborhood. Levine started taking art classes at a nearby community center and at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Levine's talent was soon recognized by his teachers, who included Denman Ross. Ross, an artist on the Harvard University faculty, supported Levine by offering him studio space and financial assistance. While Levine was still in high school, Ross also arranged for Levine's drawings to be exhibited at Harvard's Fogg Museum.
During the Great Depression, Levine participated in the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration, an agency that employed artists to produce works of public art. Two of Levine's paintings—"Card Game" and "Brain Trust"—were part of a showing of WPA art that was held at New York City's Museum of Modern Art in 1936.
For Levine, as for many of his contemporaries, art needed to convey a serious and challenging message about the world that he lived in. He was influenced by European "old masters" like Titian and Diego Velázquez, who had painted on a grand scale, as well as by more recent German expressionists (such as George Grosz), who had depicted the decadence and chaos of Europe following World War I. As the 1930s progressed, Levine used art to take a harsh and often bitter look at social realities and the political establishment.
Levine received national attention for his 1937 painting "The Feast of Pure Reason." The piece, which took its name from James Joyce's novel Ulysses, showed a police officer, businessman and politician scheming together at a table. Though it caused controversy for its satirical depiction of corruption in the public and private spheres, the work was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art.
Levine's art was exhibited at his first one-man show in 1939. World War II interrupted his career, as Levine was drafted into the army in 1942. He used his artistic talents to paint camouflage during his service. After his discharge in 1945, Levine finished his education at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and married the artist Ruth Gikow.
Levine's postwar art continued to address themes of power and corruption, often by means of caricature, distortion and expressive color. His painting "Welcome Home" (1946) was a biting portrayal of military and financial leaders.
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