Vincent Smarkusz

Undiscovered American Genius in Modern Art

1930s - Smarkusz, Social Realism, and the Regionalism painters

Smarkusz became an artist as the "Great Crash" of '29 gave rise to Social Realism in American art.
The Federal Art Project then introduced him to Regionalism painters and the "Connecticut Murals"

In late 1929 when the stock market crashed, Vincent Theodore Smarkusz was only 10 years old and just learning to draw.  In a handful of years however, he would be rubbing elbows with local professional artists under the direction of Sanford Low, a Regionalism artist and director of the New Britain Museum of American Art.   Mr. Low had also become a local director for the Federal Art Project.  He also founded an art club that met in a refurbished red barn, owned by the Art League of New Britain, that had been used for art classes since 1928.  The "Art Club" as it was called, was opened in 1934 when Vincent was 15.  It was free to the public for classes and featured demonstrations by local artists.  Mr. Low collaborated with fellow painters on the "Connecticut Murals" - often painting in the red barn studio, through the 1930s "Great Depression" into the Second World War.
The Art League of New Britain was only a few blocks from Vincent's home, and by the time he was in High School he had been attending art classes and lectures for years in that big red barn.  Sanford Low and other accomplished painters also gave young artists opportunities to watch and assist them.  Vincent then applied, and was accepted, into the exclusive Hartford Art School on a merit scholarship in 1938.  The old moneyed school held its classes in the Avery Wing of the Wadsworth Atheneum of Hartford, Connecticut.
Historical notes: The first Surrealism exhibit in the U.S., named "The New Super-Realism", was held at the Wadsworth in 1931, when Vincent was 12.  And the first Picasso retrospective was exhibited in the U.S. when the museum's Avery Wing opened in 1934.  Vincent was 15 at the time.  He then began attending art classes there in 1938.
In 1941, after completing an Associate's degree, Smarkusz left Hartford Art School when he was drafted into the U.S. Army for WWII.  While serving his five year long enlistment he always found time to draw.  In the spring of 1946, Vincent was newly home from the war and invited to display his drawings in the Hartford Art School Annual Art Show at the Wadsworth Atheneum.  There, he met MoMA Director James Johnson Sweeney, who wrote Vincent a glowing review that was published in the Hartford Courant on May 10, 1946.


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