June 22, 2015
Greenberg on Dzubas

It was Marilyn Morgan who suggested that her husband, the abstract painter Friedel Dzubas, appear in person at the offices of Partisan Review to answer the following classified ad: “PR CONTRIBUTOR and 13 year old son wish rooms for five weeks, beginning July, in country near swimming, other children. Clement Greenberg. Partisan Review, 1545 Broadway, NYC 19.”1 This was June 1948. Other contributors had placed ads—there is one from Mary McCarthy soliciting a “comfortable, small house”—but Dzubas and his second wife understood what meeting the major art critic of his time might hold for a younger artist. Despite Dzubas’s frequent claim that he had no idea he would be meeting Greenberg, the ad clearly posted the contributor’s name and the artist knew full well what he was about. And from the first, Dzubas and Greenberg liked each other. The artist’s opening gambit, delivered with charm and bravado, assured a mutual understanding: “‘Here I’ve been reading your stuff for the last… four or five years and I never could make head or tail out of it, but the main reason that I buy the stuff is because I can’t make head or tail of what you’re writing there,’ and we started to joke around.” So with his son, Danny, Greenberg moved into the guest quarters of Dzubas’s sixteen-acre, seventy-eight-dollar-a-month sublet in Redding, Connecticut for the summer. “Ya, he loved, he liked the, liked the house, liked the whole situation. Liked me. I liked him, too.”2

Thirty years on, in 1977, Greenberg agreed to write an essay—until now seemingly overlooked in the literature on Dzubas3—for a small retrospective, “Friedel Dzubas: Gemälde,” at the Kunsthalle Bielefeld.4 At less than a thousand words, the essay is important, not least because it addresses the career of a significant painter, one whom Greenberg included first in “Talent 1950,” an exhibition of younger artists at the Kootz Gallery (co-curated with Meyer Schapiro), and again almost fifteen years later in his 1964 exhibition, “Post Painterly Abstraction.”5 The decade-by-decade review at once summarizes Dzubas’s artistic practice up to the 1970s and casts retrospective light upon Greenberg’s 1964 accounting of the new art.6 By turns sympathetic and severe, Greenberg portrays an artist who in his estimation had yet to realize his full potential. For Dzubas, Greenberg’s opinion was unsurprising: in a letter to Dzubas accompanying the essay, Greenberg wrote with characteristic candor, “[The essay] wasn’t at all hard to write, I think because I permitted myself complete frankness & repeated things I’d already told you.”7 Greenberg’s overall tone in the essay is encouraging, if cautious: even as he reflects on his own preference for Dzubas’s early “painterly abstractions” in watercolor, he finds a Dzubas 1960s “linear” canvas at the Guggenheim “one of the best postwar items that the museum owns” (fig. 1). The key statement comes in the third paragraph and is directed to the artist, who, Greenberg insists, has yet “[to] enter […] the Promised Land with great, not just good, paintings.” Here he acknowledges Dzubas’s early originality while cleaving to the possibility that the day of major achievement will come. As he vouchsafes in the letter, “(It was written from the heart).”8 The point here is that for Greenberg to write this sort of essay was altogether unusual, an act of friendship on those grounds alone.9

Figure 1 One Times One, 1961 oil on canvas 84 1/8 x 69 ½ in (213.7 x 176.5 cm) Private Collection since 2015 Formerly, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 61.1592

Figure 1
One Times One, 1961
oil on canvas
84 1/8 x 69 ½ in (213.7 x 176.5 cm)
Private Collection since 2015
Formerly, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
61.1592

Dzubas’s history is complex. He was born in Berlin in 1915, the child of a Jewish father and Catholic mother. As an adolescent during the rise of National Socialism in Germany, Dzubas (originally Dzubasz) suffered under the restrictions of Mischling status defined by Nazi race laws, which categorized such children as “mixed race.”10 A Mischling of the first degree or half Jew (Dzubas’s paternal grandparents were full Jews), Dzubas was forced to cope with the vagaries of emotional, professional, and political marginalization in pre-war Germany. Like many middle-class Jewish families at this time, the Dzubaszes—among them artists, book artisans, and graphic designers, textile managers, and translators—were politically left leaning. They identified primarily with the communists, although they were members of the official Jewish Community.11 Their anti-fascist/pro-Stalinist activities, such as attending meetings and printing and distributing pamphlets for communist-affiliated organizations, added tension to the already fraught social vagaries affecting their citizenship-status in the German Reich.12 Dzubas’s artistic training came fitfully, as anti-Semitic actions became more and more overt during the years 1931 to 1933, insinuating resistance to school and job opportunities for young people with Jewish blood that culminated in the Nuremberg Laws of September 12, 1935. When recognized as having Jewish blood, certain teachers and peers at various primary, secondary, and post-secondary educational institutions ostracized Mischlinge, although their legal status was not yet threatened. Opportunities for professional training were also circumscribed in the run-up to the National Socialist Machtergreifung on January 30, 1933.13 This fact alone precluded extended study with Paul Klee who would be dismissed from the Bauhaus at its dissolution in 1933. Whether Dzubas actually attended the Akademie der Künste in Berlin—a claim Dzubas made—cannot be confirmed by existing documentation.14

Like many young people who graduated from an Oberrealschule (high school)—as opposed to a Gymnasium from which students could expect to move on to university—Dzubas was apprenticed, in his case to a decorative painting firm, the M. J. Bodenstein Wohnungs-und Dekorationsmaler.15 There he was schooled in the art of fresco and other techniques related to wall decoration. Dzubas may have learned graphic arts and book design, skills he would depend on in his early years in America, from his uncle Wilhelm Dzubas, a respected graphic designer and decorative painter in Berlin16 and from another uncle, Hermann Dzubas, who owned a Buchdruckerei in Berlin that had published Die Rote Fahne, a communist newspaper.17

The systematic persecution of Volljuden and Mischlinge put in place by the Nuremberg Racial Laws in 1935 catalyzed the hurried formation of Jewish Youth Agricultural Training Camps, the expressed aim of which was to obtain visas to the United States, Palestine, or South America.18 Between 1936 and 1938, Dzubas trained at one of the few non-Zionist youth training camps, in Gross-Breesen, Silesia.19 It was through this program that Dzubas finally emigrated—as a farmer—to the United States in 1939 at the age of twenty-four, using in addition to his given name the Americanized “Frank Durban.” He was among the first trainee émigrés to enter Hyde Park Farmlands in Burkeville, Virginia, a settlement formed in the United States explicitly for the purpose of receiving trainees from Gross-Breesen. Here he remained with his German wife, Dorothea Brasch, for his first seven months in the United States; he left the settlement for New York City in May 1940.20

In less than a year, after several freelance jobs in graphic design—while bussing tables or making food deliveries—a chance meeting with William B. Ziff, Chairman of Ziff Publishing Company, resulted in a full-time position at the Ziff publishing house in Chicago, where for the next four years he worked as a commercial artist leading a book design team. Dzubas fell in with “a very aware, very sharp intellectual group of writers in Chicago, and I got very close to them and they were very well informed [in] thought, politics, literature, etc. Also art.” It was through this group that Dzubas began reading the Trotskyist New York intellectuals who wrote for the Partisan Review. At the same time, Dzubas was working in watercolor and had been accepted into several “Annuals” under the aegis of the Art Institute of Chicago.21 Returning to New York late in 1945, he engaged marginally with artists painting in the Abstract Expressionist style. By 1948, Dzubas had entered into a productive personal and professional relationship with Katherine S. Dreier, contributing his graphic services and art to her organization, Société Anonyme, and had in effect launched his artistic career in New York by befriending Clement Greenberg that same year at the offices of Partisan Review.22

So what did Greenberg actually say about the work? It’s important to understand that for the greater part of thirty years, Greenberg believed in this artist. But by 1977, his claim was that Dzubas had yet to construct a solid foundation for his future artistic development; that he had failed to “follow up on his achievements and achievedness”; that, instead, he had “let it all lie scattered.”23 Greenberg felt Dzubas had not yet done what would have been necessary—had in a sense refused to bear down on, to dig deeper into a clear artistic identity. This is what perplexed the critics and what earlier in his career had provoked the English art dealer John Kasmin’s exasperation: “You’re here, you’re there…. And it’s difficult for us to cultivate a certain taste if it seems that jumpy.”24 Dzubas’s seeming inconsistencies in approach—his shifts from expressionistic cursive gestures in the 1950s, to clean-edged, lucid color shapes against large areas of active white space in the 1960s, and on to loose, dynamically-arrayed color blocks in the 1970s—ultimately prompted Greenberg to aver that Dzubas’s art was indeed original, but this originality was somehow “surreptitious.” Dzubas had “fooled everybody, including myself as well as such a good critic as Michael Fried.” What he meant, of course, was that over the years, Dzubas had allowed himself to be seen as a less impressive painter than was in fact the case.25

Figure 2 Yesterday, 1957  oil and enamel on canvas  44 11/16 x 109 1/8 in (113.05 x 276.86 cm) Whitney Museum of American Art  59.24

Figure 2
Yesterday, 1957
oil and enamel on canvas
44 11/16 x 109 1/8 in (113.05 x 276.86 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art
59.24

In eight paragraphs, the narration goes like this. As an Abstract Expressionist painter in the 1950s, Dzubas was poised to “become one of its masters, a junior one, but a master nonetheless.” Greenberg points to Dzubas’s 1955 [sic] painting in the Whitney Museum collection, Yesterday, (1957; fig. 2), a large (44 ½ by 108 ¾ in.) horizontal abstract, as evidence, comparing it favorably to the museum’s Pollock and their “de Koonings and Kline.”26 Immediately, however, he gets to the crux of the problem as he sees it—Dzubas’s tendency to compose his canvases, to “fasten […] down all four corners,”27 to fill up spaces rather than leave them open, to, in effect, preclude the “indeterminate spaciousness” that the critic valued at that time.28 Yet Dzubas finally stepped beyond these self-limiting mannerisms when, in the 1970s, he combined his 1960s linear style with what Greenberg called a malerisch or painterly tendency.29 (See fig. 3.)

Figure 3 Grand Mesa, 1977 Magna  117 x 275.5 in (297 x 700 cm) David and Audrey Mirvish Collection

Figure 3
Grand Mesa, 1977
Magna
117 x 275.5 in (297 x 700 cm)
David and Audrey Mirvish Collection

Greenberg had suggested that such a synthesis originated within the practices of painterly abstraction, the idea being such a revision was effected through a fusion of “clarity and openness.”30 Exemplary in this regard were works by artists “like Still, Newman, Rothko…” et al.31 Dzubas extended these artists’ revisions by using contrasting “instrumental qualities”—thinned paint surfaces and bare areas of canvas as against “the density and compactness” of Abstract Expressionism—thereby achieving the “freshness” characteristic of the new art.32

Greenberg looked beyond the context of Cubism to Venetian art for the soil in which “painterliness” had taken root: “The painterliness itself derived from a tradition of form going back to the Venetians. Abstract Expressionism—or Painterly Abstraction, as I prefer to call it—was very much art, and rooted in the past of art.”33 In describing Dzubas’s melding of old and new, then, Greenberg might have drawn on this very notion, for Dzubas was in thrall to fresco mural painting, not only by Giotto, but also by Titian and Giambattista Tiepolo, in particular the latter’s frescos created for the Residenz at Würzberg. Frank Stella took up the notion that Dzubas folded his early training as a Dekorationsmaler into his painterly vision when he wrote, “Early watercolors, decorative house painting, and commercial illustration all came together for him.”34 Like Greenberg, Stella understood that the foundation of Dzubas’s style lay in the artist’s early training and apprenticeship in wall painting and graphic design, which he expressed in his pictorial responses to the rhythmic disposition of massed color groupings so characteristic of Venetian fresco painting.

Figure 4 In Case I Die, 1949 house paint on bedsheet 71 x 36 in (180.3 x 91.4 cm) Courtesy Loretta Howard Gallery

Figure 4
In Case I Die, 1949
house paint on bedsheet
71 x 36 in (180.3 x 91.4 cm)
Courtesy Loretta Howard Gallery

Figure 5 Dunkle Strommung, 1957 house paint on bed sheet 94.5 x 51 in (240 x 130 cm) Collection: Lewis P. Cabot

Figure 5
Dunkle Strommung, 1957
house paint on bed sheet
94.5 x 51 in (240 x 130 cm)
Collection: Lewis P. Cabot

A close look at Dzubas’s surfaces is key. Dzubas did not stain his canvases. Rather, he primed them with two, sometimes three layers of gesso.35 As he clearly stated to Charles Millard in 1982, “I never stained. The only time I stained was when I was still working with oil on, on, not on canvas but on old bed sheets, you know, when I soaked the bed sheet, practically, in turpentine and then stained with cheap house paint that I had into the soaked surface.”36 (See figs. 4 and 5.) Which isn’t to say he was opposed to the method of soaking and staining. He clearly rubbed and pushed his pigments into his ground. This is obvious from the finish of his work, where the weave of the cotton duck remains exposed. But Dzubas relied for this effect on the double characteristic of liquescence and resistance in his mediums, whether watercolor, oil, or later with Magna acrylic, which he began to use in 1965. Characteristic of the opaqueness he sought in his early gouache-like watercolors from the 1940s that feature wet into wet, frankly figurative or allusive images in a loose expressionistic style (fig. 6), his later surfaces, no matter how thinly painted appear opaque even as he scrubbed his medium into the warp and weft of the fabric.37 Dzubas’s primed and gessoed canvases in the 1960s held his color shapes on the surface, pooled, controlled, and contained by their serrated or smoothed edges (fig. 7). In the 1970s, Dzubas feathered out the opaqueness, in a gesture he referred to as “fading off” or “fading out.”38 That is to say, Dzubas molds, pushes, and eases his pigments into forms that meld with, even as they resist, their material surrounds (fig. 8). This would change in the early 1980s when he directed his assistant to prime the canvas in a new way. As he told the curator Charles Millard in 1982, “Instead of priming it so it would, it will hold the turpentine on the surface and kept it on the surface for a while where I can work it. It’s primed now so meagerly that the medium immediately sucks in and you can’t, really, you can’t dance around… you have to put it down and leave it, so to speak. Whatever you put down, it it’s not open to manipulation and you’re stuck with it.”39

Figure 6 Death of the General, 1949 ink and watercolor 18 7/8 x 14 1/8 in (47.9 x 35.8 cm)  Gift of Katherine S. Dreier to the Collection Société Anonyme 1949.8 Yale Art Gallery

Figure 6
Death of the General, 1949
ink and watercolor
18 7/8 x 14 1/8 in (47.9 x 35.8 cm)
Gift of Katherine S. Dreier to the Collection Société Anonyme
1949.8
Yale Art Gallery

Sartoris, 1963 Oil on canvas 90 x 61 in (228.6 x 158 cm) Courtesy of Loretta Howard Gallery

Figure 7
Sartoris, 1963
Oil on canvas
90 x 61 in (228.6 x 158 cm)
Courtesy of Loretta Howard Gallery

Figure 8 Procession, 1975 Magna acrylic on canvas 116 x 294 in (295 x 746 cm) Courtesy Loretta Howard Gallery

Figure 8
Procession, 1975
Magna acrylic on canvas
116 x 294 in (295 x 746 cm)
Courtesy Loretta Howard Gallery

Dzubas generally divides his production into decades.40 When the artist took up oils in earnest in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he created an overall calligraphic, painterly surface with multiple foci in the spirit of Pollock’s early surrealist automatism. From gestural abstraction in the 1950s, Dzubas moved into a short-lived stylistic phase in the early 1960s, in which he filled his canvases with tightly woven, black linear markings coursing through white or off-white grounds (fig. 9).41 Paintings from the later 1960s feature close-valued hues laid out in two or more shallow fields of color, each bounded by either serrated or clean edges on an otherwise bare primed canvas, so that while color shapes nest, overlay, or touch, they are held in check by what Barbara Rose characterized as “arrested motion” or “dynamic stability.”42 “Emptying-out” the canvas, leaving a few large color areas gently abutting or in kinetic tension seemed to the artist necessary “after the indulgences and the semi-organic chaos of Abstract Expressionism.”43 Simultaneous “centers” exist within a large white space, which for Dzubas became an “essential first…. where the immaculate white, the virginity of the white, plus the strength of the white provides the strength of the whole. The untouched surface, the unedited surface was a very important active element, the way I felt things, the way I saw things.” Each color area is activated by proximity to its neighbor, the entire surface fixed within a square field. Color per se gains prominence, which Dzubas situated in dialogue with the revealed areas of white, the white acting as “the emotional element to deliver my message.”44

Figure 9 Monk, c.1960-1961  Oil on Canvas 93 ½ x 72 ½ in (237 x184 cm) Courtesy Loretta Howard Gallery

Figure 9
Monk, c.1960-1961
Oil on Canvas
93 ½ x 72 ½ in (237 x184 cm)
Courtesy Loretta Howard Gallery

Dzubas’s paint medium from 1965 to the end of his life in 1994 was an early version of the first acrylic paint, Magna, developed by Sam Golden and Leonard Bocour between 1946 and 1949. Morris Louis was among the artists, who include Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, and Kenneth Noland, to use this experimental medium.45 What Dzubas liked about it was that it displayed the fullest saturation available at the time while holding its color when thinly applied.46 Nearly as fluid as oil paint, the resin compound added resistance. “It doesn’t let itself be pushed around that easily…it will not let itself be violated, and an additional inducement was, you never quite know what you will get…. [And it is] never quite know[ing] what you get that prevents you also from being too facile.”47 Working with hues that held and yet could be laid down in thin applications allowed Dzubas to achieve the shallow space he sought, even as he insisted on retaining evidence of the brush not only in his color shapes, but also in the dappled surrounds he would develop in the next decade.

By the 1970s, Dzubas was creating overlapping or contiguous, attenuated tesserae and large, elongated rectangular shapes with rounded or modified corners using brushstrokes that left a clean edge, but for feathering generally at one end. Poised in tight relational groupings, these “phalanxes,” as curator Ken Moffett described them,48 are placed vertically, diagonally. Contrasting color groups in close values seem to thrust forward and recede in a contre-jour effect brushed in with pigment.49 Crossing (Apocolypsis cum Figuras, A. D. 1975) (1975), for example, is essentially a picture of shallow spaces that through motivic repetitions, group divisions, and directional thrusts achieves a gait simulating all-over spatial agitation, as if figures were not so much traveling across the surface as assembling for immanent action.

Figure 10 Color test for Procession, 1975 Magna acrylic on canvas 18 ½ x 33 in (46.99 x 83.82 cm) Courtesy of Loretta Howard Gallery

Figure 10
Color test for Procession, 1975
Magna acrylic on canvas
18 ½ x 33 in (46.99 x 83.82 cm)
Courtesy of Loretta Howard Gallery

 

Figure 11 Procession (sketch), 1975 Magna acrylic on canvas 13 ½ x 31 in (34 x 79 cm) Goldman Family Estate Collection

Figure 11
Procession (sketch), 1975
Magna acrylic on canvas
13 ½ x 31 in (34 x 79 cm)
Goldman Family Estate Collection

Figure 12 Friedel Dzubas at work on Procession, 1975, with oil sketch

Figure 12
Friedel Dzubas at work on Procession, 1975, with oil sketch

Turning to a tradition centuries old, Dzubas often worked from small sketches (or modelli)50 that he would scale up to gargantuan size. From color tests (fig. 10) to painted sketch (fig. 11), he then moved to tacking a canvas to the floor (fig. 12), applying gesso layers, and measuring and at times outlining his shapes in gesso.51 He would then prop the modello on a low easel and with paint brush in hand loosely scale up the color scheme he had previously worked out—as can be seen in a photo of the artist transferring his acrylic sketch (fig. 13). This working sequence was followed in the creation of Crossing, a painting thirteen and half feet high by fifty-seven feet across, commissioned by philanthropist Lewis P. Cabot and contracted by Joseph Henderson, president of the Artcounsel, Inc. for the Shawmut Bank in Boston.52 The process proceeds in several stages: a sheet of color tests and an acrylic sketch (fig. 14), a scale study in red crayon, charcoal, and graphite, conveying measurements used for transferring the shapes to canvas (fig. 15).53 Then a “cartoon” mock-up on which the outlined tesserae enclose numbers that correlate with the colors that would fill them, following an age-old stained-glass technique. Photographs of Dzubas at work on the painting show paint cans, brushes, oil sketch, and painted contours.54 Wes Frantz, Dzubas’s studio assistant from 1980 to 1987, viewed Dzubas at close range: “Friedel…liked the freedom to interpret both what he did and what he saw with the moment in mind. But it didn’t mean he was totally spontaneous. When I first saw his sketches that he turned into larger paintings I thought he was abandoning his motion of spontaneity, but quite the contrary. With Friedel’s painting the devil was in the details. If you compare closely a small sketch to a large painting, the large painting will have all the details that the small ones don’t. And it’s in those details that Friedel sought his identity.”55

Figure 13 Friedel Dzubas, scaling-up and transferring Apocalypsis cum figuras (Crossing), 1975, from modello to canvas Courtesy of Phyllis Boudreaux Kellner

Figure 13
Friedel Dzubas, scaling-up and transferring Apocalypsis cum figuras (Crossing), 1975, from modello to canvas
Courtesy of Phyllis Boudreaux Kellner

Figure 14 Apocalypsis cum figuras (Crossing), 1975 magna acrylic on primed (gesso) cotton duck canvas 148 x 675 in (375.9 x 1, 714.5 cm) Collection: Bank of America De-installation shot, 1991

Figure 14
Apocalypsis cum figuras (Crossing), 1975
magna acrylic on primed (gesso) cotton duck canvas
148 x 675 in (375.9 x 1, 714.5 cm)
Collection: Bank of America
De-installation shot, 1991

Figure 15 Study for Apocolypsis cum figuras (Crossing), 1975 crayon, charcoal, and graphite on two joined sheets of wove paper 18 3/16 x 47 ¼ in (46 x 120 cm) Friedel Dzubas Estate Archives

Figure 15
Study for Apocolypsis cum figuras (Crossing), 1975
crayon, charcoal, and graphite on two joined sheets of wove paper
18 3/16 x 47 ¼ in (46 x 120 cm)
Friedel Dzubas Estate Archives

It’s interesting that Dzubas had considered creating a fresco when the monumental Apocalypsis Cum figures/Crossing was first proposed for Shawmut Bank in 1973. He felt an affinity with master fresco painters such as Giotto and Tiepolo, with the whole of “Western tradition, rather than the visual phenomena of the last ten years in Europe and America.”56 He admitted having in mind Giotto’s frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel, which he had visited in the 1960s and early 1970s, claiming he wanted “to outdo Giotto… to put in everything I knew and felt, for better or for worse…. It felt right and good. A gut reaction, not intellectualization.”57 Not only with Crossing, but also with most of his ambitious compositions from this period, Dzubas complemented his relationship to historic mural painting and fresco by drawing on their pictorial compression, the structural symmetries and asymmetries of their figural arrangement and cross-surface dialogues, and the sheer complexity of surface incident. Historic murals and large-scale paintings are significant visual resources for Dzubas, which he brought forward into contemporary painting to mobilize their formal content. When Charles Millard asked him about influences, Dzubas remarked, “But there are very few really that, I mean, I have, I always fall back on, on, on other centuries; now, if I say, ‘Whom do you like?’ Well, whom do I like, I mean, I like Tiepolo.”58 So, for example, one senses that Tiepolo’s frescos may well have been models, models that reinforced the wall-decoration techniques Dzubas learned early in life. For just as the intaco layer of lime plaster in buon fresco holds pigment, so the gesso layer in Dzubas’s paintings traps it. It is in this sense that Dzubas’s surfaces differ from Louis’s: they do not, in the Greenbergian sense, seem like “fabric… [that] becomes paint in itself…like dyed cloth…” as Greenberg described Louis’s facture, but rather, like matte layers that lock pigment in. Dzubas’s colors both meld with, yet do not entirely soak into, their cotton duck support.59

Figure 16 Clement Greenberg and Friedel Dzubas Ithaca, New York, 1970 Courtesy, Friedel Dzubas Estate Archives

Figure 16
Clement Greenberg and Friedel Dzubas
Ithaca, New York, 1970
Courtesy, Friedel Dzubas Estate Archives

Contemporary responses to Dzubas’s work often posit a link to historical painting and, if not specifically to the Venetian tradition, to “European” painting on a grand scale.60 In what way Dzubas would develop the illusionistic, imagistic, compositional, and malerisch elements was anyone’s guess in 1977. Which brings us back to Greenberg’s thoughts on the artist. From the vantage point of 1977, Greenberg wrote that Dzubas had allowed the “Malerisch deep in him” to surface and fuse with the linearity apparent in work from the previous decade. From this merging “issued the ripest and most consistently successful, and certainly the most original art he has produced.”61 This is not only to praise the current over the earlier work, but also to urge the artist on. In fact, Greenberg’s entire essay reads like a personal plea to an artist he cared deeply about and whose earliest watercolors had genuinely touched him. If only Dzubas would return to “gray” and “black” or the “grayed blues and greens” that “ravished” Greenberg thirty years earlier. It’s as if Greenberg’s heightened, all but sentimental sensitivity to the hue, value, and saturation of Dzubas’s “dark” palette could return the artist to himself, so that he would become “possessed, possessed by himself even more than he is now.”62

Notes

1.  “Personals,” Partisan Review 15.6 (June 1948): 736.

2.  In 1982, Charles Millard, at the time curator at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, interviewed Friedel Dzubas for the artist’s 1983 retrospective at the museum. Highly edited, the interview appeared as “Interview with Friedel Dzubas,” in Friedel Dzubas (exh. cat., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, June 16-August 14, 1983), 20-32. The Estate of Friedel Dzubas kindly made the unedited transcript and audiotapes of the interview available to this writer. Subsequent quotations from Friedel Dzubas come from this unedited typescript, unless otherwise noted. In the published version of the interview, Millard names Commentary as the publication in which the personal advertisement appears, while in the unedited transcript, Dzubas names Partisan Review. Commentary did not publish a classified section. I am grateful to Stephanie Roberts, Business Manager at Commentary, for confirming this detail in an email communication dated May 29, 2014. Dzubas cites the text in the interview with Millard: “Partisan Review editor looking for summer home with his twelve year old son, for a period of six weeks, preferably relatively close to New York.” The Friedel Dzubas Estate Archives hold Dzubas’ original 1948 copy. Hannele and Morgan Dzubas generously granted full access to the estate archives and provided financial support for this project, for which I warmly thank them. Andrea Kutsenkow functioned as assistant archivist during the years 2014-2015, collating the vast materials, as well as producing a thorough finding aid. Josef Eisinger, physicist and historian, kindly provided translations of the cache of letters in the Dzubas correspondence, in particular the letters written in Sütterlinschrift. Eisinger’s translations appear in Styra Avins: Johannes Brahms: Life and Letters (1997) and Eisinger is the author of Einstein on the Road (2011), for which he excerpted English translations of Einstein’s extensive travel diaries.
3.  The exception is a short, selective quotation used by Timothy McElreavy in his essay “Language Barriers” in Eric Rosenberg, Friedel Dzubas, Lisa Saltzman, and Timothy McElreavy, Friedel Dzubas: Critical Painting (exh. cat., Tufts University Art Gallery, Medford, Mass., 1998), 25-55. Having written in conjunction with an exhibition of the same title held at the Tufts University Gallery, McElreavy also curated the exhibition and organized a symposium on February 24, 1998. The participants were John O’Brian, Donald Kuspit, Larry Poons, and Frank Stella.
4.  Clement Greenberg, “Friedel Dzubas,” in Friedel Dzubas: Gemälde, (exh. cat., Kunsthalle Bielefeld, December 18, 1977-January 15, 1978), 7-9. Published in a side-by-side German-English translation (by Eleanor Winter), Greenberg originally wrote the text in English. A conversation with Dzubas (in German) follows. This conversation, conducted by curator Michael Pauseback with assistance from Erich Franz, took place on November 3, 1977 at the Kunsthalle, Bielefeld.
5.  See “The Meyer Schapiro Collection,” Columbia University Archival Collection, Subseries I.4: Exhibitions, 1960-1989. In April 1950, Samuel Kootz invited Schapiro and Greenberg to co-curate an exhibition, which they titled “Talent 1950: 23 artists receive a showing under the sponsorship of Meyer Schapiro and Clement Greenberg.” The artists in the exhibition “Post Painterly Abstraction,” held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in 1964, were selected by Greenberg, except for the group of artists resident in California, who were chosen by the LACMA curator at the time, James Elliot. See Karen Wilkin, “Notes on Color Field Painting,” in Color as Field: American Painting 1950-1975 (New York and New Haven: American Federation of Arts and Yale University Press, 2007), 11, n. 4. Greenberg essentially shepherded Dzubas’s career from the start: for example, certain younger artists whose names had been given by Greenberg and Schapiro to the art dealer John B. Myers for the exhibition “Talent 1950” were subsequently invited to join the Tibor de Nagy Gallery when Meyers and de Nagy opened the gallery in 1951. Meyers was a partner in the gallery from 1951 to 1970. The gallery gave Dzubas his first one-person exhibition in 1952, shortly after Helen Frankenthaler’s in 1951. French & Co. held a one-person exhibition of Dzubas’s works in 1959, just before Greenberg left his position in 1960 as advisor to that gallery.
6.  Clement Greenberg, “Post Painterly Abstraction,” Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays, Modernism with a Vengeance, 1957-1959, vol. 4 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993), 192-196.
7.  Clement Greenberg, Letter to Friedel Dzubas, November 8, 1977. Friedel Dzubas Estate Archives.
8.  Greenberg Letter, November 8, 1977. The parentheses are Greenberg’s.
9.  I am indebted to Michael Fried, who introduced this writer to Friedel Dzubas’s paintings and who commented on early drafts of the present essay. Fried pointed out that it is worth noting that Greenberg’s collected late writings (1971-1986) contain nothing like the personal tone found in his 1977 remarks on Dzubas, an unusual and generous act at this time in Greenberg’s life. Email communication, June 4, 2014. Also, see Clement Greenberg: Late Writings, ed. Robert C. Morgan (Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 2003).
10.  Beate Meyer, “Einleitung,” Jüdische Mischlinge: Rassenpolitik und Verfolgungserfahrung, 1933-1945 (Hamburg: Dölling und Galitz Verlag GmbH, 1999), 9.
11.  Dzubas’ curriculum vitae, handwritten in 1960 as part of a restitution inquiry, states: “I, Friedebald Dzubas, was born on the 20th of April 1915 in Berlin, Prenzlauer Allee 188.  My father was of the Jewish religion, my mother is Aryan. I was brought up as a Jew.” Documentation kindly provided by Antje Kalcher, Librarian at the Landesamt für Bürger- und Ordnungsangelegenheiten, Berlin. Email communication with this writer, January 27, 2013. Because Dzubas was seeking funds for restitution from the German government, he would have understood that being raised in the Jewish religion would be a requirement for monetary compensation. Corroboration that his elder brother became a Bar Mitzvah at the Neue Synagoge, Oranienburgerstrasse, Berlin, comes from the artist Silvia Dzubas, Friedel Dzubas’s niece and the daughter of his eldest brother, Kurt Dzubas. Silvia Dzubas provided essential information about the Dzubas family over the course of several conversations during the summer of 2013 in Berlin. Subsequent email communications confirmed many facts about the family’s religious practices and political convictions. For Silvia Dzubas’ own escape from East Germany see Silvia Dzubas, Von innen nach aussen: eingraben, ausgraben, umgraben, (Gedenkstätte der Opfer der Heydrichiade, Prague, June 18-August 23, 1998). In an email communication, Beate Meyer, among the foremost scholars on the status and treatment of Mischlinge in the German Reich, wrote that it was commonplace for disaffected young people to turn to leftwing groups such as the German Communist Party (KPD). “It was a time of radicalization for Jews and Gentiles…. Concerning Jews there was something additional in the beginning of the 1930th [sic]: Young people wanted to study and to work for a good future, they often were angry about the attitude of their parents they accused to be too well-behaved and acquiescent. So when the young people joined a Zionist group or a Communist group they at the same time protested against the bourgeois parents and the attitude of adaption of the parents in a new depressing situation facing the upcoming National Socialism. This [attitude was] shared by the sons of mixed marriages and Jewish families.” Email communication December 12, 2014.
12.  Dzubas’s father, mother, brothers and their families remained in Berlin throughout the Second World War. His two brothers, Kurt and Harry, were consigned to labor camps and their father was compelled to wear the notorious Yellow Star. Martin (a French translator in Belgium during World War I) and one uncle, Simon (killed in action, April 1916), were “full Jews” by definition. It was on this account that the family was exempted from deportation. However, two other uncles and several cousins were exterminated in concentration camps, including the photographer, Martin Dzubas, who died in the Gross Rosen concentration camp in 1941. He can be seen in a photograph of Hitler and Paul von Hindenberg (Aubrey Pomerance, “1933: The Beginning of the End of German Jewry,” Jewish Museum Berlin, 2013, online). The literature in both German and English on Mischlinge and their status as provisional citizens is limited. See, in English, Jeremy Noakes, “The Development of Nazi Policy toward German-Jewish ‘Mischlinge’ 1933-1945,” Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook (1989) 34: 291-354, who tracks the issues affecting the administration’s efforts to define citizenship in the German Reich as well as the competing economic factors influencing National Socialist policy toward Mischlinge. Ursula Büttner, “The Persecution of Christian-Jewish Families in the Third Reich,” Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook (1989) 34: 267-289, traces the efforts by the National Socialist Party to reverse the integration of Jews with Aryans as they became defined during this period. Carl J. Rheins, “The Schwarzes Fähnlein, Jungenschaft 1932-1934” Leo Baeck Institute Year Book 23 (1978): 173-198, distinguishes several responses by Jews to rising anti-Semitism within the non-Zionist Jewish Community. The major work on the subject is Beate Meyer, the chapter titled “‘Jüdische Mischlinge,’ Rassenpolitik und Verfolgungserfahrung 1933-1945,” in Jüdische Mischlinge. Meyer also kindly shared with this writer her unpublished paper, “The Persecution of Mixed Marriages and ‘Mischlinge of the First Degree’ in Nazi Germany, ” n.d. Sent to the author, March 20, 2014.
13.  Dzubas was sixteen when he earned his Mittlere Reife in 1931 (equivalent to a high school diploma), and while he may have received informal or limited training in book design and graphic arts at the Prussian Academy of Fine Arts, which at the time was joined with the Berlin Kunstgewerbeschule, he was certainly almost immediately apprenticed. Further informal trainings might well have been obtained through his uncle, Hermann Dzubas’s Berlin publishing firm, Dzubas and Kante. Information about Hermann Dzubas provided by Silvia Dzubas, December 19, 2014, and kindly confirmed by Hermann Dzubas’s grandson Thomas M. Dubas. Historical records, such as Berlin address books and early photographs, have provided further confirmation: for example, the Berliner Adressbücher… Einwohner und Firmen der Stadt Berlin geordnet nach Namen are available online for the 1930s.
14.  For such a claim, see Dzubas’s application for the Chicago Art Institute Annual Exhibitions, 1943 and 1944, and the transcript of Dzubas’s interview with Millard, n.p., in which he downplays the association. Many gallery biographies and one-person exhibition catalogues reprint in one form or another a version of Dzubas’s biography that includes his putative study with Paul Klee at the Bauhaus or his attendance at the Prussian Academy. From 1924 to 1933, the Preußische Akademie der Künste and the Kunstgewerbeschule (college for applied arts) were united under one title, the Vereinigte Staatsschulen für frei und angewandte Kunst. In addition to the Bauhaus in Dessau (1927-1930), Klee taught during the academic year and summer at the Düsseldorf Academy (1931-1933). There are no records of Dzubas’s registration or attendance at either. My thanks to Wencke Clausnitzer-Paschold, archivist at the Bauhaus Archive, The Museum of Design, Berlin, for her email communications and for her personal attention at the Bauhaus Archives in Berlin. In a 1975 letter to Cynthia J. McCabe, curator at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Dzubas modifies his biography in the following way: “I had very slight contact with Klee and that after Klee had left the Bauhaus already. My contact with the Bauhaus itself was also of a very minute nature and occurred only at the very last of its existence and that was after it already had moved to Berlin shortly before its extinction by the Nazis.” Friedel Dzubas, Letter to Mrs. Lawrence McCabe, October 9, 1975. Friedel Dzubas Archives. My thanks to Tim Eaton, a close friend of the Dzubas family, who kindly sent to this writer the McCabe correspondence and other important materials added to the existing Dzubas archives. Several exhibitions were mounted at Eaton Fine Art, Inc., in West Palm Beach, Florida, among them, a significant reappraisal of Dzubas’s career, curated by Eaton and Barbara Rose, “Friedel Dzubas: A Reconsideration,” December 4, 2009-January 16, 2010. Dr. Ulrike Möhlenbeck, Head of Historical Archives at the Akademie der Künste, confirms that no papers documenting Dzubas’s attendance there could be discovered. As to the question of whether race may have played a role, she answered in February, 2014, “In our archive there is no source that states that there could be masters student of the Academy not of Jewish origin. The master students were selected by the professor and head of the master atelier. One can assume that from 1933 no Jewish students were taken, because the ‘Gesetz gegen die Überfüllung der deutschen Schulen und Hochschulen of 20. April 1933.’” Dzubas stated in 1979 that he had only “remote” contact with Klee “…when I had a very short and brief encounter at the summer session of the Düsseldorf Academy…. I minimize this because I don’t want to be stamped with being a pupil of Paul Klee, which I am not. Never was.” Friedel Dzubas excerpts from a lecture on his art at The Emma Lake Artists’ Workshops, Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1979. My thanks to Tim Hutchinson, Head, University Archives & Special Collections, University of Saskatchewan, who kindly provided this writer with the DVD of Dzubas’s lecture, housed in the Visual Resources Center of the Art and Art History department of the University of Saskatchewan.
15.   “An old-fashioned decorations painter, with a firm in Berlin that was one of the two, sort of, that had established, over the past 150 years, a kind of reputation of having the finest decoration painters. And that was very, I mean that was something that my parents could accept because it had some practical, respectable footing so to speak.” From the Millard-Dzubas interview, unedited transcript, n.p.
16.  Willy Dzubas (with Theo Berhens), “Dekorations Maler,” in Berliner Addressbücher der Jahre 1799 bis 1943, online at (http://digital.zlb.de/viewer/image/10089470_1911/558/LOG_0044/), 535. Willy Dzubas emigrated from Germany to London in 1938. By that time, several overt actions beyond the 1935 Nuremberg Racial Laws had been carried out. Among them were Hitler’s devastating traveling exhibition, Entartete Kunst (“Degenerate Art”), held between 1937 and 1939 (featuring Jewish and non-Jewish modern artists); the euphemistically titled Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”) pogrom, November 9-10, 1938; and on November 12, 1938 the Decree on the Elimination of the Jews from Economic Life (Verordnung zur Ausschaltung der Juden aus dem deutschen Wirtschaftsleben), which effectively shut down trade and the selling of goods and services by Jews.
17.  Hermann Dzubas and his son Heinz printed issue number 23 of the newspaper Die Rote Fahne in 1934 and a flyer proclaiming, “Der ADGB ist vernichtet”—that publicized the Nazi storming of the offices of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, the organization of German trade unions, and the arrest of their leaders. Hermann was incarcerated for two years, Heinz for twenty-one months by the Nazi regime. Hermann emigrated from Berlin to New York on March 4, 1940, Heinz on October 28, 1946.
18.  See Guide to the Jüdisches Auswanderungslehrgut (Gross-Breesen, Silesia) Collection, undated, 1935-2005, AR 3686, Leo Baeck Institute Center for Jewish History, New York. Also, Werner Rosenstock, “The Jewish Youth Movement,” Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 19 (1974), 97. These camps were formed under the auspices of the Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
19.  The Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland (formerly, between 1933-1935, the Reichsvertretung der Deutschen Juden) leased the land on which the camp was established. Due to his age (most trainees were between 18 and 23 years old), Dzubas at twenty-one, held the title of Lehrer (referred to as such in Letter, 14 August 1936, from Bettina Sanders to Dzubas) or Praktikant (training assistant), a trainee in charge of a group of younger boys, whose role included undertaking some of the group’s Jewish and moral education. The Reichsvertretung represented all political and religious Jewish groups in Germany and bore the financial burden for training camps such as Gross-Breesen. Most agricultural training camp programs for youth had as their goal emigration to Palestine. See Salomon Adler-Rudel, Jüdische Selbsthilfe unter dem Naziregime 1933-1939 im Spiegel der Berichte der Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr and Paul Siebeck, 1974), cited in Werner T. Angress, Between Fear and Hope: Jewish Youth in the Third Reich, trans. Werner T. Angress and Christine Granger (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 28 and n. 60. Also, see Angress, “Gross-Breesen Training Farm,” 43-76, particularly 59-60, n. 29, and Chapter 3, “The Gross-Breesen Documents,” 77-83 and nn. 5 and 41. The U.S. Department of State instructed the U.S. consulate in Berlin to grant “exceptional permission” by issuing “agricultural preference visas” for those Gross-Breesen trainees immigrating to Virginia, which in effect, countermanded the German quota for immigration to the U.S.
20.  Robert A. Gillette, The Virginia Plan: William B. Thalhimer and a Rescue from Nazi Germany (Charleston, S.C., and London: The History Press, 2011), 103 and 144-45. Dzubas, along with thirteen other students from Gross-Breesen, was a shareholder in the ownership of Hyde Farmlands Operating Corporation. See Gillette, The Virgina Plan, 102. Dzubas’s early departure met with suspicion from the chief of the Visa Division, A. M. Warren, who wrote of his concern: “In the case of a person who immigrates into the United States for the avowed purpose of proceeding to Hyde Farmlands and who fails to carry out such an intention in good faith, a serious question arises as to whether the immigration visa with which the alien entered the United States may not have been obtained by fraud and misrepresentation” (The Virginia Plan, 145, n. 124). Dzubas’s only extended published reference to Gross-Breesen and Hyde Farmlands comes from the Dzubas-Millard interview. The following comments were deleted, however, in the Hirshhorn Museum exhibition catalogue. Dzubas talks with Millard about his experiences at Hyde Farmlands without mentioning its founding mandate: to facilitate Jewish youth emigration from Nazi Germany. “The Virginia people found me through… well, I knew them from Germany…. There were a few of these groups, you know that came about because…they belong to the German upper middle classes, really. A very liberal bunch. And also essentially anti-Communist. You know. And certainly deadly anti-Nazi—that managed to, sort of, organize around an idea of survival and renewal.” Millard-Dzubas Interview, unedited transcript. In November 1938 Dzubas’ agricultural training camp at Gross-Breesen was stormed and several students taken to the Buchenwald concentration camp. They were subsequently released. Dzubas had already left the camp and was in Berlin at the time, but several friends with whom he kept in touch throughout his life suffered.
21.  Dzubas showed at “The Forty-seventh Annual Exhibition by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity,” March 11-April 24, 1943, under the name Frank Durban. His watercolor, The Youth, was priced at 250 dollars. He participated in the American Annual at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1944 and was again accepted in the 59th Annual American Exhibition: Watercolors and Drawings, Art Institute of Chicago, IL, November 4-January 2, 1949, after he had moved back to New York in 1946.
22.  Dzubas attended gatherings at the Cedar Street Tavern and The Club and was on one of several panels organized by Irving Sandler and others, some transcripts of which are reprinted in the short-lived magazine It Is.: A Magazine for Abstract Art. Dzubas’s statement on allover painting appears under the title “A Series of Statements Compiled by Irving Sandler,” It Is.: A Magazine for Abstract Art 2 (Autumn 1958): 78. He also participated in the Ninth Street Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, May 21-June 10, 1951. Dzubas met Katherine S. Dreier, a neighbor in Connecticut. She and Marcel Duchamp accepted two of Dzubas’s watercolors into the Société Anonyme collection. Dzubas designed the layout and negotiated the contract for the publication of Dreier’s Yale Trowbridge Lectures, Three Lectures on Modern Art (1949), published by the Philosophical Library, for which Dzubas worked as a graphic designer after he returned to New York from Chicago. Dzubas also designed the cover and layout for the text and illustrations for the thirtieth anniversary reprint of the Société Anonyme catalogue in 1950. The title page lists Friedebald Dzubas as the “designer.” “In her acknowledgment Dreier names Dzubas “…[among] the following artists who, from time to time, have enriched our Collection by giving us of their work.” The Collection of the Société Anonyme: Museum of Modern Art 1920 (Hartford, Conn.: Case, Lockwood & Brainard, 1950), XVI. Dzubas’s Abstraction (1949; ink, watercolor, and gouache on cloth, laid down on board) was listed in the catalogue raisonné of Dreier’s bequest to Yale University as one of eleven works from her private collection she “especially prized,” and which Duchamp included in the bequest upon her death in 1952 (“Introduction,” The Société Anonyme and the Dreier Bequest at Yale University: A Catalogue Raisonné, eds. Robert L. Herbert, Eleanor S. Apter, and Elise K. Kenny [New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1984], 31). Earlier, Dreier had accepted two watercolors into the collection, Armada (1949), inscribed “For Katherine S. Dreier in gratitude Friedebald Dzubas,” cat. no. 250, 256 and Death of the General (1949). Dreier helped Dzubas obtain teaching positions at the University of Florida, Gainesville and at Indiana University, both of which were short-lived. See the correspondence between Katherine S. Dreier and Friedel Dzubas in “Correspondence, 1948-49,” in Katherine S. Dreier Papers / Société Anonyme Archive, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
23.  Greenberg, “Friedel Dzubas,” 8.
24.  Millard-Dzubas Interview, n.p.
25.  Greenberg, Friedel Dzubas,” p. 7. Michael Fried had reviewed an exhibition of Dzubas’s work at the Elkon Gallery in his 1964 “New York Letter” for Art International. This review must have been what Greenberg had in mind. Michael Fried, “New York Letter,” Art International 10.7 (January 16, 1964): 54-56. Barbara Rose had written that Dzubas was “one of the standard bearers of the so-called ‘new abstraction’” (Barbara Rose, “In Absence of Anguish: New Works by Friedel Dzubas,” Art International 7.8 [September 23, 1963]: 97-100). In 1993, Rose revised her view, claiming that what she had written thirty years earlier, in 1963, was “a misinterpretation fostered by the artist.” Rather than representing a move away from the “anguish” or the “expressionism” in the title of her essay—through which Dzubas, in effect, represented “a new kind of abstraction”—she came to consider him instead, “the last of the German Romantics.” See Barbara Rose, “Friedel Dzubas” in Friedel Dzubas: The Early Years (exh. cat., The Elkon Gallery, New York, October 18-December 3, 1993), 1-3.
26.  Greenberg, “Friedel Dzubas,” 7. In the collection of the Whitney Museum, first seen as part of a Loan Exhibition,  “The Museum and its Friends: Twentieth-century American Art from the Collections of the Friends of the Whitney Museum,” April 30-June 15, 1958. David Solinger, who loaned the work, then gave it to the Museum. He was president of the Friends at the time of the Exhibiton. See https://archive.org/stream/museumits00whit#page/n3/mode/2up, accessed June 7, 2014, “Internet Archive,” online.
27.  Greenberg, “Friedel Dzubas,” 7.
28.  Greenberg, “Post Painterly Abstraction,” in Greenberg, The Collected Essays, vol. 4, 195.
29.  Greenberg considered malerisch and “painterly” as nearly interchangeable terms: “‘Painterly’ was not the word used, but it was what was really meant, as I see it, when Robert Coates called the new open abstract art in New York, ‘Abstract Expressionism’… If the label ‘Abstract Expressionism’ means anything, it means painterliness: loose, rapid handling, or the look of it; masses that blotted and fused instead of shapes that stayed distinct: large and conspicuous rhythms; broken color; uneven saturations or densities of paint, exhibited brush, knife, or finger marks—in short, a constellation of qualities like those defined by Wöfflin when he extracted his notion of  the Malerische from Baroque art.” Clement Greenberg, “After Abstract Expressionism,” in Clement Greenberg, The Collected Essays, vol. 4, 123.
30.  Greenberg, “Post Painterly Abstraction,” in Greenberg, The Collected Essays, vol. 4, 195.
31.  Greenberg first treated these artists as a group in 1962. See “After Abstract Expressionism,” in Greenberg, The Collected Essays, vol. 4, 121-134, specifically, 129.
32.  Greenberg, “Post Painterly Abstraction,” in Greenberg, The Collected Essays, vol. 4, 195 and 196 (italics are Greenberg’s).
33.  Greenberg, “Post Painterly Abstraction,” in Greenberg, The Collected Essays, vol. 4, 193.
34.  Frank Stella, from hand-written responses to questions this writer posed to Stella, May 21, 2013. I am grateful to Stella’s assistants, Paula Pelosi and Allison Martone, for facilitating this communication.
35.  Wes Frantz, Dzubas’s studio assistant from 1980 to 1987, writes that he would lay three coats of gesso on Dzubas’s canvases. “We worked on the floor. When he would need prepared canvas I would roll it out nail it down and gesso it three times. Then we would cut it up into sizes.” Email communication, April 16, 2014.
36.  Millard-Dzubas Interview, n.p.
37.  Figure 6 is one of the watercolors chosen by Kathryn S. Dreier and Marcel Duchamp for their Société Anonyme collection in 1948. In a letter from Kathryn S. Dreier to Friedebald Dzubas, September 23, 1948, she writes, “Tremendously impressed, both by your color and by the rare quality of technique which you have developed in your water colors.” Subsequently, Dreier invited Dzubas to show his work to Marcel Duchamp, Friday, October 15, 1948. Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, YCAL MSS 101, Box 13, Folder 333. The Société Anonyme collection held by the Yale Art Gallery contains three watercolors titled, Abstraction (1949), Abstraction (1949), and Death of the General (1949).
38.  Friedel Dzubas, excerpts from a lecture on his art at The Emma Lake Artists’ Workshops, Saskatchewan, Canada, 1979, video.
39.  Millard-Dzubas interview, n.p.
40.  When Dzubas gave his artist-lecture to students at the Emma Lake Workshop in Canada, he divided his oeuvre up to 1979 into a decade-by-decade presentation. Art historians and critics have generally followed suit, for example, see Karen Wilkin’s summatory catalogue of Dzubas’s career, Karen Wilkin, Friedel Dzubas: Four Decades 1950-1990 (exh. cat., André Emmerich Gallery, New York, October 1990).
41.  These black and white paintings—dense, linear ribbons against white or near-white grounds—were made during and after an extended stay in Europe in 1959 that marked the first time he had returned to Berlin since emigrating twenty years before. Tondos and vertical rectangles are variously titled Monk, Calvary, and Betrayal.
42.  Rose, “In the Absence of Anguish: New Works by Friedel Dzubas,” 97.
43.  Dzubas, Lecture, Emma Lake, n.p.
44.  Dzubas, Lecture, Emma Lake, n.p.
45.  Magna is an oil-miscible acrylic resin that could be thinned with turpentine. For the literature on Magna acrylic paint see the following sources: Angelica Rudenstine, “Morris Louis’ Medium,” appendix to Michael Fried, Morris Louis (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1967), 25; Kenworth Moffett in Kenneth Noland (New York: Abrams, 1977), 71, n. 41 and 73, n. 4; Diane Upright, “The Technique of Morris Louis,” in Diane Upright, Morris Louis, The Complete Paintings: A Catalogue Raisonné (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1985), 49-58; selected sections in John Elderfield, Morris Louis (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1986), 25-41 and 182-183; and Janet Lee Ann Marontate, “Synthetic Media and Modern Painting: a Case Study in the Sociology of Innovation,” unpublished PhD Dissertation, University of Montreal, 1997, particularly Chapter 4, “Paint-making and the New York Art Scene: The Case of Len Bocour and Sam Golden,” 109-155.  See also Morris Louis’s letter to Leonard Bocour, in which he demands that his Magna be made anew for him. “I hate to reopen the complaint department because I know this whole deal is not likely to buy you any real estate, but will you please see to it that the colors are made fresh each time?…. Another important matter which I’ve hollered about before is that the machine is hardly cleaned between the different colors.” Morris Louis to Leonard Bocour, May 22, 1962, Smithsonian Archives of American Art, http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/viewer/morris-louis-letter-to-leonard-bocour-9818, accessed December 2013. Jack Flam, President and CEO, Dedalus Foundation, and co-author of Robert Motherwell Paintings and Collages: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1941-1991 (2012), confirmed Motherwell’s use of Magna. In conversation, May 5, 2015.
46.  Millard-Dzubas interview, n.p. The artists Jim and Ann Walsh, who describe Magna as “mineral spirit acrylic” added important information about Magna paint and its properties. Jim Walsh has written on Magna in James Walsh, “Friedel Dzubas Monumental Paintings,” Just Paint, newsletter of Golden Artist Colors, forthcoming. Artists Susan Roth and Darryl Hughto confirmed many of Magna’s properties in several conversations in their shared studio and at the exhibition of Dzubas’s monumental paintings at the Sam and Adele Golden Gallery, New Berlin, New York, fall 2014. Mark Golden, whose father, Sam Golden, and Leonard Bocour, developed this acrylic paint type and worked closely with the artists mentioned, generously provided guidance as well as valuable information. He also graciously offered to store what remains of Dzubas’s original Magna paint at Golden Artist Colors in New Berlin, New York. Darryl Hughto kindly read a draft version of the section on Dzubas’s technique, offering comments that significantly moved my argument forward.
47.  Millard-Dzubas interview, n.p.
48.  Kenworth Moffett, Friedel Dzubas (exh. cat. Museum of Fine, Boston, March 13-May 18, 1975), n. p.
49.  The effect is as if the forms were backlit, so that the space of Dzubas’s pictures is shallow, but not flat. The analogy with lozenges or tesserae derives from these nearly three-dimensional forms. A relationship to what Frank Stella calls “a spherical sense of spatial containment and engagement…[that] includes both viewer and maker each with his own space intact” can be perceived. Stella goes on to say in this way the artist creates a sense of “totality of pictorial space” (Frank Stella, “Caravaggio,” Working Space: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, 1983-84 [Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 1986], 9).
50.  Dzubas followed the traditional practice of creating modelli until the early 1980s, at which point he abandoned the practice. “I used to do these informative sketches, which were for each painting, so I didn’t adhere to the, faithfully, to the things that the sketch was telling me often. I would give myself a certain amount of leeway physically to make changes. It still was very much guided by the feeling that the sketch gave me when I did the painting. Now, when I work large—when I work anything—I have been trying recently, that’s really the, the newest, to start painting without knowing what I want to paint. And then, sort of, go with the storm, so to speak, and, instead of leading the storm I go with it. I conquer it by going with it. See? And that works sometimes—it works or it does not work—but, when you work large it’s sort of easier to get lost, and I want to get lost. See?” Millard-Dzubas interview, unedited manuscript, n. p. At the same time, Dzubas made many small-scale rough renderings on scraps of canvas, often only five by six inches in area and marked with the title and dimensions in graphite. These were often framed and sold as independent works or repainted and sold. Loretta Howard of the Loretta Howard Gallery and Leslie Feely of the Leslie Feely Gallery confirm this fact. Loretta Howard remembers, in addition, a three-ring notebook Dzubas had filled with these small sketches and from which the Andre Emmerich Gallery created many small, framed works, which were subsequently sold. Dzubas’s fourth wife, the artist Mary Kelsey wrote, “I don’t remember that he made sketches after. Seems to me he developed the ideas using the sketches on scraps of canvas. But he might have then later re-done them, possibly for sale.” Email communication, August 24, 2014. Indeed, small scraps of canvas inscribed in Dzubas’s handwriting with title and measurements transmit a quickly blocked-out rendering in miniature. Nilsa Garcia-Rey remembers learning from Dzubas his method of making “small color studies, then enlarging them into wall-sized canvases,” in SouthCoastToday, posted May 9, 2008, internet.
51.  Frankenthaler and Noland also outlined the general form and color scheme to be followed either in graphite or paint. Barbara Rose, in her monograph on Helen Frankenthaler remarks on the graphite contours visible in Frankenthaler’s Mountains and Sea (1952). This practice arose, in part, from Frankenthaler’s experience with watercolor (like Dzubas’s) and her understanding of Cézanne’s late works in the medium (Barbara Rose, Frankenthaler [New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1972], 54-57). For Noland’s practice, see Jeanne Siegel, text for the brochure Kenneth Noland: Early Circle Paintings (exh. cat., Visual Arts Gallery, School of Visual Arts, New York, January 6-31, 1975), n.p., where she writes, “After marking the center of the paintings, he used circular shapes such as dinner plates or hoops to draw the rings in pencil. The rings were painted freehand with brushes. The center one as always painted first.” Rose addresses Dzubas’s painting technique: “Perhaps because he did work from sketches for so many years, he had a highly developed sense of scale as well as of detail, which is missing in the art of many of his contemporaries” (“Friedel Dzubas: Romantic Abstractionist” in Reconsidering Friedel Dzubas [Eaton Fine Art, West Palm Beach, Fla., December 4, 2009-January 16, 2010], 14).
52.  Fleet Financial acquired Shawmut National Bank in 1994. Fleet then merged with BankBoston in 1999 after which Bank of America acquired it and Shawmut’s art collection in 2004. Crossing is now part of the Bank of America Art Collection. My thanks for this history to Allen Blevins, Director of Global Art and Heritage Programs, Bank of America. Lillian Lambrechts, Senior Vice president, Corporate Art Program confirmed that Crossing is currently in the holdings of Bank of America. Lewis P. Cabot commissioned this work through Artcounsel, Inc., an art-leasing business in Boston. The commission reads as follows: “The proposed commission beside the information desk tends toward a canvas painting by Friedl Dzubas of Ithaca. This will be 57’ x 10’. A fresco had been considered, but this process, which requires water-base paint applied to wet plaster, is a very long and expensive one…. Paint on canvas seems the most practical approach and Henderson reports that Dzubas has become highly interested, made preliminary drawings, and will come up with a ‘bloody masterpiece.’” Warren S. Berg, Senior Vice President, Shawmut Bank, May 31, 1975, “Memorandum to Members of the Art Screening Committee,” Friedel Dzubas Estate Archives. My warm thanks to Lewis P. Cabot, who kindly discussed the Artcounsel’s search for an artist who not only had vision and stature, but who would “see this as reasonable challenge.” Joe Henderson was Cabot’s partner and president of Artcounsel Inc. Conversation, winter 2014. For Dzubas’s remarks on Giotto and the technique of fresco, see Richard Pacheco, “Friedel Dzubas: In Dialogue with Giotto,” New Bedford Standard-Times, publication date unknown; original ms., 3. My thanks to artist Malinda Hatch, Dzubas’s companion during his final years, who graciously made the typescript of this interview available to this writer. Richard Pacheco kindly communicated by email with this writer in January 2015.
53.  Lindsey Tyne, conservator at the Morgan Library and Museum, New York, undertook the conservation of this maquette. Hannele and Morgan Dzubas provided financial support for Tyne’s significant work on this drawing.
54.  Photos by Phyllis Boudreaux Kellner exist of the entire process, including shots of Dzubas’s assistant at the time, at work on the transfer cartoon. Friedel Dzubas Estate Archives.
55.  Wes Frantz, email communication, April 16, 2014.
56.  Friedel Dzubas quoted in Richard Pacheo, “Friedel Dzubas: In Dialogue with Giotto,” unpublished article based on a talk Dzubas gave at the Boston Visual Arts Union (BVAU), 1976, 2.
57.  Pacheo, “Giotto,” 1.
58.  Millard-Dzubas interview, n.p. Not a surprising remark given the number of times Dzubas visited the Residenz Würzburg, the site of the magnificent ceiling frescoes executed by Tiepolo in 1753, trips both his fourth wife, the artist Mary Kelsey, as well as his companion of ten years, the artist Marianne Hicks, spoke of as “pilgrimages.” In conversations with the writer, summer 2013. Dzubas, too, described these viewings as pilgrimages: “I discovered for myself the affinity and the potency of baroque architecture and painting, which I hadn’t known before. I mean my fascination and my, my, my responding to it. I had no idea, and I tell you, I made one pilgrimage after another in southern Germany and in Austria to look at things. It was endless. I couldn’t get enough of it. And also I got a huge, peculiarly huge mountain of visual imagery as I was looking at things.” Millard-Dzubas interview, n.p.  Rose wrote a summatory statement on Dzubas’s late work: “At the end of his life, Friedel Dzubas realized his dream of creating paintings in the Grand Manner, with their metaphoric poetic allusions to the skies of Venetian paintings. He often spoke of his affection for Tiepolo and the expansiveness of the Baroque which inspired his mural size romantic paintings in which he found his own true freedom and authenticity.” In Rose, “Friedel Dzubas: Romantic Abstractionist,” 21.
59.  Greenberg’s well-known comparison comes from 1960, in which he likened Morris Louis’s facture to traditional watercolor technique. “The fabric, being soaked in paint rather than merely covered by it, becomes paint in itself, color in itself, like dyed cloth: the threadedness and wovenness are in the color” (Clement Greenberg, “Louis and Noland,” The Collected Essays and Criticism, vol. 4, 97, originally published in Art International, 4.5 (May 25, 1960): 28. I benefited enormously from the artist Darryl Hughto’s knowledge, which he generously shared with me both while looking together at Dzubas’s work and in written communications. Dzubas remarked that in preparing for the gargantuan-sized commission, Crossing, he travelled to Europe to study seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Austrian frescoes, principally by Franz Anton Maulbertsch: “Fantastic clouds that looked straight into heaven, God, the angels, sweetness: the grandeur and depth, the technical accomplishment and strength….” Pacheo, “Giotto,” 4.
60.  Barbara Rose (above-cited articles), E. A. Carmean (in Friedel Dzubas: A Retrospective Exhibition [exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, October 16-November 24, 1974]), Kenworth Moffett, Charles Millard, and Karen Wilken (several catalogues, including her important Friedel Dzubas: Four Decades 1950-1990 and her most recent essay on the artist, for the exhibition “Friedel Dzubas: Monumental Works,” [Sam and Adele Golden Gallery, New Berlin, New York, September 13, 2014-March 28, 2015])—all point out Dzubas’s ties to the European tradition. Yet even earlier, critics identified something “European” in his approach. In 1959, Thomas B. Hess in Art News identified Dzubas’s “historicizing ambition.” Comparing him to the Romantics, Hess described the expressionistic gestures as landscapes in all but name, European in origin. “His is a real Romantic talent—a Runge or Caspar David Friedrich—who is happier in this century than they were in theirs. The big abstract paintings, with smears and scrubbed feathered layers and pools of past, resolve themselves into mountain landscapes of a watercolor delicacy. There is usually a foreground, even though the artist sometimes puts it at the top or on the side of the painting. Often flowers grow from the foreground edge—one thinks of what the Engadine must look like in the early summer. Mountains are blanketed in mist, the sky turns achingly overhead. Certainly the liberation of Action Painting has given Dzubas’s talent a scope and scale he would never have found in any other time or place than New York 1950s. But the pressure behind the image seems European, civilized, nostalgic, even tender. And his lyricism adds to the richness of the New York scene” (Thomas B. Hess, “Friedel Dzubas (French & Co.),” Art News 58 (1959): 17-18.
61.  Greenberg, “Friedel Dzubas,” 9. After 1977, Greenberg continued to urge Dzubas to push harder and go further. Just a decade before both their deaths in 1994, Greenberg asks Dzubas to consider taking a break from Magna acrylics and justifies the suggestion using Picasso as an example. “To talk about art. It came to me only just lately to suggest that you go off Magna for a while & try water-miscible acrylic or even oil. Just in order to shake yourself up some. The Old Masters didn’t have to or cdn’t [sic] change mediums radically, but Picasso could have & didn’t, &—as I wrote in Art in America—that’s partly why his ptg [sic] turned so tired & stale after 1939. It wasn’t just that he didn’t change medium, but that he didn’t change fundamentally the way he used oil itself. Anyhow medium can’t be taken for granted any more, especially not by abstract ptrs [sic], & not since 1950. That’s part of the fun.” Clement Greenberg, September 3, 1983, Friedel Dzubas Estate Archives.
62.  Greenberg, “Friedel Dzubas,” 9.

 

About the Author

Patricia Lewy Gidwitz is an art and music historian. She holds a PhD in historical musicology from the University of California, Berkeley and has published articles and entries in Early Music, Cambridge Opera Journal, and New Grove Dictionary of Opera. She is currently completing her PhD in art history at the University of Essex (under Dawn Ades) and is Senior Contributing Writer for Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s. A monograph, Friedel Dzubas: The Size of Life, is forthcoming from Artist Book Foundation in 2017.


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