Vincent Smarkusz

Undiscovered American Genius in Modern Art

Biography

Vincent Smarkusz - 20th Century Figurative Expressionist and Mythic-realism Painter

~  A New Century and a Strange New World  ~

It was a time of unprecedented change and great promise - but also a time of deep existential uncertainty.
 
1900 - The Twentieth Century Begins
  • Nietzsche dies and Existential Angst emerges - "God is Dead" becomes a difficult but irresistible idea in modern thought.
  • Edvard Munch - "The Scream of Nature" and the rise of Expressionism, mark the decline of Naturalism and Realism in Modern Art.
  • Albert Einstein and Max Plank - Relativity and Quantum Dynamics alter our conceptions of physical "reality"
  • Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung - Interpret Dreams and rediscover the Unconscious and Collective Unconscious Mind of humanity.
  • Futurism, Cubism, and Surrealism - transcend space and time through the visual and conceptual abstractions of art.
  • 1913 Internl Exhibition of Modern Art in NYC (The Armory Show) - Art world focus begins shift from Paris to New York.

 

Vincent's parents left Poland prior to The Great War, sailing to America via steamship in May of 1912.
The Titanic had sunk just one month before - while sailing the same North Atlantic corridor.

 
1914 - The Great War (WWI) in Europe Begins 
  • The massive devastation of modern technological warfare is surreal in its scope and intensity compared to previous wars.
  • In 20 years, a Second World War will again stimulate another great wave in the historic mass migration of humanity to America.
  • Modern Art, Philosophy and Science continues its 20th century emigration to America - the great "Brain Drain" of western civilization.
  • An explosion in the dissemination of ideas through technological media occurs in Print, Radio, Photography and Cinema.
  • Totally revolutionary modern industries mature - including the Wonders of Electricity, Horseless Carriages, and Flying Machines!

 

1918 - End of WWI and Spread of the Global Flu Pandemic
  • The Great War (WWI) ends on Armistice Day - aka Veteran's Day in America and National Independence Day in Poland.
  • Hostilities formally cease "at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month" - on November 11th in 1918.
  • WWI was the worst and most wide scale devastation the world had ever seen - so terrible as to be called "the war to end all wars."
  • Of the 116,000 deaths of American soldiers, a third of them were due to contagious diseases contracted during trench warfare.
  • The 1918 Flu Pandemic infected nearly 20% of the world's population, killing tens of millions - mostly young men.
  • America was greatly effected as the pandemic spread from Boston to Hartford and New York, then westward across the states.
  • But America was also exploding in population, cultural diversity, technology, creativity, and wealth.

     

Vincent's father Wincenty died at 28 in the 1918 Flu Pandemic, just 3 months before Vincent's birth in 1919,
leaving his 23 year old wife Michalina widowed with three young sons, aged 4, 2, and newborn Vincent.

Triumph over tragedy and peace over angst, would become central to Vincent's personality and art.
 

Vincent's Parents: 
  • Vincent's father, Wincenty Smarkusz - born in Poland in 1891 - came to America in 1912 as a machinist in New Britain, Conn.
  • Wincenty died in the Flu Pandemic in Nov. of 1918 at the age of 28 - 3 months before the birth of his third son Vincent.
  • One third of the fighting age men in Little Poland (of New Britain) were killed or crippled in WWI, or died of flu in the great pandemic.
  • Vincent's mother, Michalina Karpiej Smarkusz, was born in Poland in 1896.  She was 23 at the time of Vincent's birth in America.
  • Michalina was greatly affected by the death of Wincenty.  Widowed with three young sons, aged 4, 2, and newborn Vincent.
  • She walked to her job at The Stanley Works factory nearly every day for almost 50 years, until retiring at the age of 75..
  • Michalina raised her 3 boys through the Great Depression, then saw Vincent and Henry enlist and fight in WWII. 
  • She outlived Wincenty and two of her sons, Edward and Vincent, by living healthy and strong to the age of 90.
  • "Lena" died in 1985.
 

                            
                               Vincent's father Wincenty Smarkus in 1914     Wincenty and Michalina's marriage in 1914

  • In Polish, Smarkusz is pronounced with a rolling r, a long u, and a hard sz. "Smarrkoosch".
  • To non-Polish speaking people, and the artist himself, it was pronounced more simply as Smar-kus.
  • Upon entering America, the family name was thusly changed by dropping the Z at the end.
  • But Vincent will reinstate the Z when he's 19 and enrolled at Hartford Art School in 1938!

 

1919

Vincent Theodore Smarkusz was born on February 18, 1919 - in the industrial city of New Britain, Conn.
  • Born and raised in a Catholic, working class, Polish speaking community called "Little Poland" of New Britain, Connecticut.
  • New Britain was a small but powerful northeast industrial city, and is located in Central Connecticut, ten miles south of Hartford.
  • It has been named the “Hardware Capitol of the World”, and “The Hardware City”
  • It' is known for some of the world's best machinists and industrial labor since the Civil War - its "Modern Men and Machines".
  • New Britain is also called the "City of Invention" for its invention and manufacture of tools, and for its technological innovations.
  • Most of the men, and many of the women in the Little Poland neighborhood, aspired to secure jobs in the local industries
 

       

  • New Britain, CT was on the forefront of the American global Industrial Revolution during the 19th and 20th Centuries.
  • The Stanley Works factory pictured above in 1910, became the world's leading "manufactory" of hardware and hand tools.
 

At the time of Vincent's birth in 1919:

  • Michalina was 23 and had been widowed for three months.
  • Brother Edward was age 4.  ("Eddie" lived from 1915 to 1956 until his untimely death by heart attack at the age of 41).
  • Brother Henry was age 2.   (aka "Hank", lived from 1917 to 1992 until the age of 75).
 
                    
                    L to R; Henry, Michalina, Vincent, and Edward c.1920      Edward, Vincent, Michalina, and Henry c.1925
 
  • They lived at 86 Gold Street, on the second floor of a three family house just a few blocks from Michalina's work.
  • Michalina walked to her job at The Stanley Works factory nearly every day for fifty years, until the age of 75.
     
  • Vincent and his brothers also walked to Sacred Heart School - a Polish Catholic grade school located on Gold Street.
  • Every Sunday and religious holiday, she and her sons walked to Sacred Heart Church to attend services.
     

Church, school, and home on Gold Street, while living in the "Little Poland" neighborhood of New Britain, CT from the 1920s into the 1950s
The Gold Street house (right) was a 6 family, 3 story brick duplex, with wooden porches on all 3 floors, front and back (porches gone now).
 
                       
The two drawings above are of the artist's mother on their Gold Street 2nd floor front porch (left one in pencil, right one in ink).
As a H.S. student Vincent donated a painting of Sacred Heart School, to the school, painted from his second floor porch.
 
 
1928
  • Vincent Smarkusz began drawing in the 4th grade of Sacred Heart School at the age of 9.
  • He was a distracted student, but a favorite of the Nuns who said "he was quiet and obeyed all the rules".
  • A childhood friend from Little Poland named Antoni also remembered Vincent as "quiet, but with a good sense of humor".
  • All three Smarkus brothers liked to play ball and go snow sledding in the empty autoless streets of their poor neighborhood.
  • They had very few toys, shared a bicycle and a baseball glove, flew homemade kites, and played "kick-the can".
     
1929 - The Great Depression
  • The US Stock Market crashed in late October - beginning The Great Depression that would last for over a decade.
  • Michalina was temporarily laid off from Stanley Works.  She took in two maiden aunts as borders, and washed laundry for work.
  • Her boys did whatever they could to help, by earning coins for doing painting, yardwork, and chores around the neighborhood.
  • The Polish family and community was hardworking and tight-knit, helping Michalina and her boys get through the worst of times.
 
 
New Britain, CT was an industrial boomtown in the 1920s, enduring the 1930's Depression better than most.
But it's neighborhood of Little Poland was very poor, experiencing massive layoffs and factory shutdowns.

Young Vincent enjoyed movie theaters, libraries, and museums of his area, to escape the economic gloom.
 

1930s Central Connecticut offered many distractions during the Great Depression
  • An extensive railway / streetcar system connected New Britain to Hartford and Boston north, and to New Haven and NYC south..
  • The young teenager traveled to the Beardsley Zoo in New Haven to draw animals and people - practicing his drawing skills.
  • He visited the beaches and lakeside parks of Connecticut for the water and wildlife - and to be with people and pets at the shore.
  • Pigeons were everywhere as he grew up, and had sentimental meaning to him. He later includes them in his Eden Frolic paintings.
     

New Britain had several movie theaters. and young Vincent spent hours watching Great Depression Era films coming out of Hollywood. Vincent grew up at a time in America when he could enjoy a proliferation of new forms of media - from multiple area newspapers, colorfully printed comic books and magazines, to all kinds of music and action adventure shows on radio, to live Vaudeville stage and band performances.  He then saw "movie stars" appear larger than life on an ever expanding "silver screen".
 

On November 15, 1931 - the first ever U.S. exhibition of Surrealism "The New Super Realism" as it was called, opened at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT.   Vincent was almost 13 when the opening was broadcast live on WTIC Radio.

In 1934 The Atheneum opened its new Avery Memorial Wing with the first Picasso retrospective in U.S. history.  A few years later, Vincent began attending art classes in that very same building.

 

Four years after the opening of the Avery Memorial Wing of the Wadsworth Atheneum, Smarkusz will graduate N.B. High School and enter into the exclusive Hartford Art School that held its classes there.

 

The New Britain Public Library, New Britain Museum of American Art, and the Art League of New Britain, where places Vincent loved to go to learn about art, and to expand his imagination as a teenager during the Great Depression years.  He also learned from Regionalism painters working under the Federal Art Project at the "Art Club" held in the Art League's red barn (below).
 


N.B. Library, N.B. Museum of American Art, and the A.L.N.B.'s red barn "Art Club", where Sanford Low painted and art classes were held.
 

Vincent experienced Social Realism, Regionalism Art, and Local WPA Painters creating Connecticut Murals.
He was surrounded by Regionalism murals in the schools, banks, libraries, and government buildings.

 
1935 - Public High School and the Federal Art Project
 
  • Vincent graduated from the 8th grade at Sacred Heart Catholic School and entered New Britain Public High School.
  • He viewed Regionalism murals by area artists displayed in the government buildings, schools, libraries, and banks.
  • Sanford Low was a director of the N. B. Museum of American Art, and a local coordinator for the Federal Art Project.
  • He was 15 years older than Vincent, and instrumental in revitalising the Art League of New Britain's red barn "Art Club"
  • The N. B. Museum of American Art began acquiring Social Realism, Regionalism and American Modern Art paintings.
  • (Museum director Low later acquired the mural "Arts of Life in America" by Thomas Hart Benton, from the Whitney in 1953)  
  • Vincent enjoyed time after school and during the summer spending time in the red barn of A.L.N.B.'s "Art Club".
  • He was inspired by the local professional figurative painters and by the "Connecticut Murals" proudly displayed in his area.
     
"Men and Machines" - Regionalism styled Federal Art Project "Connecticut Murals" in New Britain library, schools, and public buildings.
 


The New Britain Library interior with a large Regionalism painting by Sanford Low (left).  And a mural from a New Britain school (right).

 

  • Michalina supported her youngest son Vincent in the pursuit of an art career, even though it was very impractical at the time.
  • They were still in the depths of the Great Depression, but there was light at the end of their long hard road of austerity.
  • For a high school graduation present in 1938, she bought him the Kodak Brownie camera he had wanted for years.
  • Vincent was seriously considering photography as one of several artistic mediums and career choices.
  • He photographed animals at the zoo, birds in the park, and people at the shore, to produce his study drawings.

 

Vincent's H.S. art teacher helped him create a portfolio to apply for a scholarship to Hartford Art School,
In the spring of 1938 he was invited to interview for admission to the school at the Wadsworth Atheneum.
The following summer he was notified of his acceptance into the exclusive art school.
 
1938 - Graduation from High School
  • Vincent graduated from New Britain High School in June of 1938, and was art director of his senior yearbook.
  • Nickname "V", he quoted Oscar Wilde in the yearbook: "Artists, like the Greek gods, are revealed only to one another"
  • During his time at N.B. High, V realized he was "gay" - a reality he would keep private until the 1960s in Boston!
 


V's High School graduation picture, and the Hartford Art School which was housed in the Avery wing of the Wadsworth Atheneum - the oldest art museum in America (est.1842).  The Museum of Fine Arts Boston and MoMA NY (est. 1909 and 1929) were in collaboration with the Atheneum.
 

Vincent told his family and friends that he was going to school to become a "professional artist"
 
  • Vincent's father had only completed the sixth grade before entering the machinist trade.
  • His mother completed the eighth grade before she went to work in the Stanley Works factory
  • She made sure that all three of her sons graduated from high school before entering the work force.
  • Both of his older brothers went on to become successful machinists in the local industries.
     
At age 20 Vincent won top prize in the Hartford Courant art contest of 1939.

 

1939 - The Invasion of Poland
  • On September first Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany.
  • Smarkusz family, freinds, and neighbors were seriously effected.
  • Poland was then invaded by Russia - Conquered on October 6 - and annexed off between the two aggressors.
  • Radio Warsaw broadcast reports on the fighting and devastation.  Millions listened as Poland lost her freedom.
  • Newsreels of warfare were shown in the movie theaters.
 
 
Jumping ahead through the 1940s:
- V finished 2 yrs of college, and was then drafted into the Army in the spring of 1941, serving 5 years in WWII until 1946.
- Back at the Hartford Art School in 1946, Vincent exhibited drawings created overseas in an Art School show at the Hartford Atheneum.
- James Johnson Sweeney of MoMA attended the show and wrote a glowing review in the Hartford Courant, published on May 10, 1946.
- Smarkusz then studied painting at the famous La Escuela Universitaria de "Bellas Artes" in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico for 2 years
- He then re-enrolled at Hartford Art School a third time in 1947, and eventually completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in early 1950.
- Smarkusz briefly studied painting with Zoltan Sepeshy at Cranbrook Academy in Michigan, then moved permanently to Boston in 1951.
- He was enrolled part time by day at The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, while working at night as a watchman in the city.
 
 
 
1940
  • First known self-portraits of the artist; Both line drawings, one in pencil and the other in pen and ink.
  • Vincent began signing his artwork with the Z reinstated at the end of the family name Smarkusz.
     
  • They were created at the end of his second year at Hartford Art School - just prior to his being drafted into the Army in 1941.

                          
                         Early Self Portraits at age 21 from 1940 - Pencil drawing on the left, and Pen and Ink drawing on the right.
 

After finishing two years of college, Vincent was drafted into the U.S. Army in the spring of 1941
Ten months later Pearl Harbor was attacked, automatically enlisting him for the full duration of WWII.
His career as a professional artist was put on hold for five long years.
 
1941 - The Second World War
 

                     
                        Vinny with his eldest brother Eddy in New Britain, CT in 1941 - And a picture of Vincent at gunnery school training in 1943.

1943 - From Stateside to Overseas
  • Smarkusz remained stateside with the Army learning technical skills and practicing drawing to 1943.
  • He took flight training in the Army Air Corp in September of 1943, with hopes of learning to fly.
  • He was reassigned to gunnery school and trained to become an aerial gunner in an A-20 fighter bomber.
  • As an Airman First Class, he was then sent to the Philippines and eventually the Japanese Islands.
     
  • His older brother Hank entered the Navy in 1944, sailing into the Pacific Theater as a ship's mechanic.
  • His eldest brother Ed remained on the homefront working for the war effort at the Fafnir Bearing Co.
     
Smarkusz spent time as an aerial gunner in an A-20, against Japan over the Philippines and Okinawa.
The ordeal was harrowing, creating permanant emotional and psychological changes in him.

 
              
              A drawing created during downtime in the Ryukyu Islands of Japan in 1945.

 

Vincent used drawing to decompress during downtime, using a penknife sharpened pencil or fountain pen.
 He chose thirty two drawings to display at the Wadsworth by invitation as a homecoming veteran of WWII.

 

1945 - The End of WWII
  • May 8th, 1945 - VE Day - The Allied forces achieved victory in Europe - Hitler was dead and Nazi Germany surrendered.e 
  • Atomic bombs were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug 6 and 9, 1945.
  • September 2, 1945 - VJ Day - Japan formally surrendered and World War II had finally ended.

 

1946 - Back Home in Connecticut after the War
  • Jan 12, 1946 - Vincent Smarkusz was debriefed in North Carolina and returned home to his family in New Britain, CT.
  • His brother Hank (aka Sharkey) was released from the Navy on Jan. 25, 1946 and also returned home to Little Poland.
  • Vincent re-enrolled in the spring term at Hartford Art School to complete his four year degree.
 
 
Smarkusz displayed 32 drawings from WWII, in the Hartford Art School show, at the Wadsworth Atheneum.
MoMA director Sweeney viewed them while visiting the Atheneum in May of 1946, and wrote:
     "Vincent Smarkusz's work adheres to the great classical tradition, of the Brueghels for example, in its overwhelming interest in materials, in objects, even in persons as objects.  Mr. Smarkusz will record with bright and loving care every rock, every shock of grass, every footprint in the muddle of tracks on the sand, the tiny pools of water.  The welter of objects stacked within, above, around, and below, will be drawn with infinite detail, a curiosity about every texture, a fondness for every fold, a response to every shape and form."

     "At the same time, the sum total of Mr. Smarkusz's work transcends the sheer craftsmanship with which he so excellently renders and constructs, even when his tools are only a fountain pen or pencil stub.  The best of them are pictures in the genuine sense, not merely etudes, because he sees all these facts with imagination, sensitivity and kindling affection.  Mr. Smarkusz's work seems to be substantially done, closely seen, thorough and inspired from the beginning.  It is a great pleasure nowadays to find an artist who regards drawing as an end in itself".

         ~ James Johnson Sweeney - Chief curator and director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
          Published in The Hartford Courant newspaper - May 10, 1946.

 

  • V used the litho shop at Hartford Art School in the spring of 1946 to develop his own style of Figurative Expressionism.
  • He produced images of postwar hometown life, in the form of black on white lithographs to sell at art galleries, festivals and fairs.
 
            
           "Buddies" - c. 1946
 
  • Existential angst and PTSD began to manifest in Vincent's art - his images grew darker, heavier and more abstract.
  • He felt a strong need to escape the prospect of another round of long, cold, commutes to work and art school all winter.
  • The artist wanted to go someplace warm, to study abroad, after sacrificing an earlier art career to serve his country.
 
 
  • Vincent was best man at his eldest brother Eddy's wedding in 1946 - in his first spring home after the war.
  • His niece Christine - only daughter to Ed - is born in the summer of 1947.
  • Christine would become a great source of inspiration in V's life and art.
 
Vincent as best man in his brother Ed's Wedding in 1946, and in 1950 with his grandmother and Ed's daughter Christine.
 
 
 
Smarkusz begins spending his winters studying painting in Mexico, partially funded under the GI Bill
 
1946/47 - Painting in Mexico over the winter
 
  • Vincent studied painting at the Escuela Universitaria de Bellas Artes, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
  • Guests included David Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, and Jose Orozco "The Big Three" Mexican muralists.
  • Both Rivera and the mystical painter Frida Kahlo were very active at the time, and lived only 20 miles away!
  • Smarkusz also visited the museums and state buildings of Mexico City where historic murals were on display.
 

            
            San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and the courtyard of Escuela Universitaria de Bellas Artes where Vincent studied.
 

  • In Mexico, Vincent developed his painting skills in the company of the founder Stirling Dickenson, and his instructors Simon Ybarra, Helmuth Wagner and Felipe Vasquez.  Dickenson and Wagner were accomplished naturalists as well as artists. 
 

            
 

Smarkusz returned home to Connecticut in late-winter of 1947 and re-enrolled at Hartford Art School
He continued to work toward a BFA degree, while working as a commercial artist doing illustration.

Dates on his art from Hartford and Mexico suggest he returned for the '47/'48 winter session as well.

 

1948
  • TIME Magazine (Jan. 5) named Bellas Artes in San Miguel as a "GI Paradise" in a three page article with several photos.
1949
  • Bellas Artes was forcibly closed, with its instructors arrested at gunpoint on trumped up anti-communist "Red Scare" charges.
  • Instructor Siqueiros allegedly assaulted the school's owner, who used his political power to deport instructors backing Sequeros.
 
 
 

1948 to 1949 - Lithographs in Connecticut after Mexico

  • Smarkusz resumed studies at Hartford Art School and began promoting his services as a commercial artist.
  • He created two additional self-portraits:  One a lithographic print, and another in oils.
     
  • He produced dozens of B&W lithographic prints in Expressionistic moods from 1947 to 1949.
     
  • One of them is named "The Funeral" - a somber Catholic scene of a burial in winter.

 

1950 - Move from CT and Hartford Art School to MA and The Museum School of Boston

"Vincent was in his last year at the Hartford Art School when I was just beginning [in 1950].  All of us younger students considered him to be the finest artist in school at that time.  He was very pleasant, not too talkative but liked to sing
'They call me Cuban Pete,  I'm the king of the rumba beat.'  Then he would laugh." 

 ~ Elsie Helena Breakey, classmate at Hartford Art School - quote from October 2012
 
  • Vincent obtained his BFA degree from Hartford Art School, which had recently become an accredited 4 year college.
  • In late 1950, V moved away from New Britain, CT with his sights set on Boston - after a term of study at Cranbrook Academy.
     

  
  Self Portraits from 1949 at age 30 - Lithographic print left, and oil painting right.                Vincent's Joy Street apartment with studio loft in Boston
 

1951
  • Smarkusz studied painting with Zoltan Sepeshy at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan during the spring of 1950.
  • He admired Sepeshy's use of abstraction in the creation of cityscapes and the expressionistic quality of his human figures.
  • Cranbrook Academy was also known as a preeminent American design university during the mid-twentieth century.
  • Vincent moved to Boston, settling into a 4th floor apartment, with a 5th floor studio loft, at 11 1/2 Joy Street in Beacon Hill.
  • He resided there for the rest of his life - twenty three and one half years - from the spring of 1951 to the fall of 1974
  • He lived 2 blocks north of Boston Common park, in the Beacon Hill area, which was a haven for artists and collectors.
  • His apartment was also with walking distance to night watchman job and day classes at the Museum School of Boston.
  • The mystical painter and sculptor Kahlil "George" Gibran (nephew to the poet) also had a studio on Joy Street.
     
  • Smarkusz worked as a night watchman at Jordan Marsh department store - and sometimes drove a taxi during the day.
  • He also received a small monthly pension for his five years of service and sacrifice in the U.S. Army Air Force during WWII.
  • He remained eligible for educational expense benfits on the GI Bill - to pay for his Museum School classes - until 1956.

     

1952 - From Figurative Expressionism into Mythomorphic "Fusionism"
 
  • Smarkusz enrolled under the GI Bill into the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (aka The Museum School).
    He studied when the school was directed by Karl Zerbe, and he familiarized himself with the Boston Figurative Expressionists painters, and the mystical painter / abstract sculptor, Kahlil "George" Gibran.
  • His work then shifted away from Figurative Expressionism - towards the abstract figurations we call "Fusionism"
  • It exhibits a hard turn from an expressioninst view of people and society, towards abstract mythical and mystical entitiies.

 

  
 

  • Sketching late at night at his security guard post, Vincent began experimenting with strange metamorphoses of the human figure.
  • "Fusionism" emerged as a fusion of Figurative Expressionism, Mythomorphic abstraction, and Symbolism.
  • He developed this unique imagery through three distinct stages from 1952 to 1960 - his Early, Middle, and Late Fusionism.

 

1953
  • Early Fusionism
  • First practiced with hundreds of India Ink on paper paintings or "brush drawings" of human and animal Mythomorphic figures.
  • He then painted abstract dreamscapes in a fusion of mythical themes, sensual forms, and mystcal beings.
  • "Dreams and Nightmares" is what Vincent often called many of his images from the 1950's - as quoted by his brother Hank.

 

 “I visited him once when I moved to Boston.  He had already been there for some time but I don't know how long.  I saw one of his exhibits at a gallery and was quite shocked at his subject matter.  It was of strange looking fish, almost human -dozens of them.  I wonder what period Vincent was in at that time.”
 ~ Elsie Helena Breakey, classmate at Hartford Art School - quote from October 2012

 


"Surreal" c. - 1954

 
1956 - Death of his brother
  • Vincent's older brother Edward suffered a sudden fatal heart attack at a golf course in New Britain, CT at the young age of 41.
  • His niece Christine was left fatherless at the age of 9.  Vincent cared deeply for her - just as her father Edward had cared for him.
  • Vincent was also greatly affected by the emotional toll the untimely death took on his mother, and on the mother of Christine.
  • He painted many pictures empathising with Christine's loss - creating imagery for his own recovery and inspiration to live.
 
  • Middle Fusionism  - Depression or "Black Period" 
  • Smarkusz created dozens of black on white paper India Ink paintings of Biblical and personal themes.
  • A box containing hundreds of mythomorphic and nightmarish figures in India ink on paper was found by family after his death.
     
  • A series of more colorful but chaotic Nightmare Fusion paintings were also produced at the end of his depression period.

1957 - Deepening Depression

  
 "The Storm"                                                                                           "Sanitarium"

 
One year after the death of his brother, Vincent's depression was at its worst - but he never stopped painting.
 
1958
  • Seasonal mood swings compelled Vincent to vacation in warm climates during the darkest days of winter.
  • The fall holiday season often triggered his mania, followed by depression, which peaked in February around his brithday.
  • He began to manage his depression with warm excursions - like he experienced while wintering in the Pacific and Mexico.
  • Late Fusionism
  • Fusionism entered it's final phase as its figures morphed into cubic fusions of human and animal Totems fused with the Earth.
  • Unlike Early Fusionism which appears more fluid and lofted, Late Fusionism appears more cubic and grounded.
     
1959
  • In December of 1959, Vincent traveled to Israel to attend the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Crafts in Jerusalem.
  • He produced 42 small paintings with Biblical themes - painting them in his Late Fusionism style.
  • He displayed them in an art show at Bezalel Academy before returning to Boston in early 1960.
     
  • After nearly ten years of abstract Fusionism, Smarkusz concluded the concept with a series of paintings in Israel.

                    
                    "Masada", 1959.

    
The Holy City of Jerusalem and the "Artist's House" at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, where Vincent stayed and exhibited his work.
 

In the '60s Smarkusz abandoned "Fusionism" to create "Eden Frolic" dreamscapes and "Aura View" portraits
His dark clouds of depression parted, and his art blossomed into colorful paintings of Mythic-realism.

 
1960 - Back in Boston through the 1960s
  • Eden Frolics - Smarkus created paintings in a unique Mythic-realism style from 1960 into the 1970s.
  • He primed smooth masonite panels and created panels laminated with linen to provide the fine surface needed for high detail work.
  • His lucidly visual, mythical, and whimsical scenes proved to be good sellers at art festivals, shops, and galleries.
  • His art sold well enough to finance the month long vacations to warm climates he needed to take each winter.
  • Family members and friends are incorporated into the narratives of his mythopoetic dreamscapes and fantasy portraits.
  • V used this bright and magical style of symbolic art to overcome the depression he felt for most of his adult life.
  • Smarkusz displayed and sold paintings, prints and drawings at the Boston Arts Festivals, the DeCordova gallery, and many shops.
  • He illustrated three grade-school slide presentations on Genesis, Abraham, and Jacob for The United Church Press of Boston.

 

                  
                 "Ruins of Rome" - c.1960s

 

1961
  • Aura Views -  He also painted simpler expressionist figure portraits interleaved with abstract fields of color
  • These works are a harmonious combination of a sensual but abstract Figurative Expressionism and abstract Color field.
  • Smarkusz continued painting detailed Eden Frolic scenes of Mythic-realism in addition to his Aura View portraits.

 

                
               "Adam" and "Eve" in Smarkusz's 1960s Mythic-realism dreamscapes.
 

  • Vincent painted “Eddie with Seagulls” in his Eden Frolic mythic-realism style, ten years after his brother Edward's death.
     
  • Smarkusz's Eden Frolic paintings in acrylic on linen panels continued to be popular with collectors of mystical art.
     
  • He painted a "Months of the Year" series of twelve Mythic-realism dreamscape images (See Mancent Collection).

 


 Smarkusz's "Months of the Year" series - "January" (left), "June" (center), and "December" (right).
 

 

1968
  • Vincent created two of his most endearing portraits, of the two most important women in his life - Christine and his mother.
  • Michalina was 73 and his niece Christine was 20 when Vincent painted their portraits in 1968.
  • The artist produced relatively few life like portraits of family freinds, or himself - choosing to represent them in Mythic-realism.

 

    
    Vincent painted this portrait of his mother in 1968.  In 2011 Christine sits next to her portrait in oils by "Uncle V", also from 1968.
 

1969
  • Smarkusz had developed a following of patrons in the 1960s with his New Age Mythic-realism and abstract portraits.
  • Eden Frolic dreamscapes and Aura View portraits were his final styles - both sold well in galleries and at art festivals each year.
  • Quick and simple abstract Aura Views generated steady income while he created client commissioned Eden Frolic dreamscapes.
  • V continued producing detailed dreamscapes and simpler abstract portraits by day, while working as "a night watchman" in Boston.
     


Vincent from 1965 to 1970.

 

1970
  • From the late 1960s until the autumn of 1974, Vincent escaped the heat of his fifth floor Boston studio each summer into fall, to enjoy long weekends in the cool Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts.  There he painted out of a second floor studio over a gallery that he helped renovate from a 130 year old barn.  It was twenty miles south of where Norman Rockwell (then in his 70s) was still painting out of his own red barn studio.
  • V's new country studio reminded him of the red barn "art club" he used to frequent as a boy in New Britain, CT - when he first started dreaming of becoming an artist in the 1930s.
  • The Tamarack Gallery and Artist Studios was owned by his close artist friend Mervine Chianelli - an inspired abstract figurative sculptor and owner of a beautifully renovated barn, located in Great Barrington, Mass.  The big red barn was surrounded by tall dark evergreen Tamarack trees, which turned golden every fall.
     
  • Mervine exhibited and sold many of V's paintings in her gallery, along with the abstract bronze figurines she created.
  • Smarkusz used her Gallery in the summer of '73 to prepare a selection of paintings for his first one-man show in NYC.

 


V's first art school as a boy, the red barn "Art Club" in CT (left), and Mervine Chianelli's Tamarack Gallery in the Berkshire Hills of MA (right).

 

Vincent Smarkusz's final show was in December 1973.  It was also his first solo show in NYC.

 

1973
  • "A Garden of Earthly Pleasure", a solo exhibit by Smarkusz, featured many selections from his Eden Frolic and Aura View paintings.
     
  • The show opened at the Hermitage Gallery in NYC on Nov. 27th, 1973, and ran past its original close date to January 1, 1974.
     
  • Smarkusz sold many of his most excellent and valuable paintings through the Hermitage Gallery that winter.
     

                                      
                                  "Freedom" - c. 1970 

 

On October 4, 1974, Vincent Smarkusz died of a heart attack while at home in Boston.
He was 55 years young.

   

       
       "Final Peace" - one of the last Aura View paintings Vincent created - is a dreamlike vision of his family's reunion in Heaven.

 

We the curators, like to imagine that while working in the Berkshires beneath a waning full Harvest Moon,
Vincent was suddenly lifted up to Heaven on the wings of his guiding spirits.
There were two full moons in the month of October, 1974.  The first on the 1st was the full Harvest Moon, and the second on the 31st was the full Hunter's Moon - which was also a Halloween Blue Moon on All Saints' Day (Nov. 1).

V would love the mythical idea and mystical vision of two Greek Goddesses on moonbeams escorting him up to Heaven.
Demeter the Goddess of the Harvest, and Artemis the Goddess of the Hunt.

On All Souls Day (Nov. 2), Vincent's family place candle jars and chrysanthemums on the graves of their dearly departed loved ones - inviting Wincenty, Edward and Vincent, to come home together for the Polish holiday of Zaduszki.
 

 

Awards and Exhibits:
 
  • Hartford Courant, First Prize 1942.
  • Gedney Bunce "Best work of the year award" 1943
  • Hartford Art School solo art show at the Wadsworth Atheneum 1946
  • Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem - Student art show in 1960
  • De Cordova, New England Art Show - First Prize 1961, 1962, 1966, 1968 and 1969
  • Rhode Island arts Festival  - Gold Medals 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1966
  • Boston Arts Festival - First Prize 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1972
  • Cambridge Arts Association Annual Show - First Prize 1966 and 1967
  • South Shore Arts Festival  - Gold Medals 1969 and 1973
  • Boston Public Library - Wiggins Collection 1949 - 1965
     
  • United Church Press of Boston - Biblical illustrations 1961, 1964, and 1965
     
Solo Shows:
 
  • Atwood Gallery, Boston
  • Nexus Gallery, Boston
  • Henri Gallery, Brighton Massachusetts
  • Rosalyn Gallery, Rosalyn New York
  • Hermitage Gallery, New York City 1973

1979 - Posthumous Exhibit - Elihu Burritt Library of Central Connecticut State College, New Britain, CT

 

Into the Future:

2000 - A New Century - and a New Millennium!

2007 - Grand Opening of The Vincent Smarkusz Gallery and Museum in Colts Neck, NJ
 
2012 - VincentSmarkusz.com is officially launched on the World Wide Web.

 

In the Works:

2019 - Centenary Celebration of Vincent Smarkusz's birthday on February 18th, 1919
 
2019 - Art and Social Activism "Special Project" - Sept. 26th to October 20th.
 
2020 - Publication of  "SMARKUSZ - the Life, Art, and Dreams of Vincent T. Smarkusz"
 
2020 - Release of  "VINCENT" - the motion picture.  Dates to be announced .....
 

 

It is hoped that more of Vincent Smarkusz's work will be discovered and presented on this site.
Owners of his work are encouraged to contact Dr. Sushil Mehandru at 732-713-1002

 

 

                 

 

 

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