Aaron Siskind: The Photographer as Abstract Expressionist

11 - 15 April 2016

To mark the 25th anniversary of his death in 1991, James Hyman Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of one of the greatest American photographers of the twentieth century, Aaron Siskind (1903 - 1991).

From the late 1940s Siskind increasingly abstracted his images of the urban environment, often using formal devices such as a front-on approach to emphasise the picture surface. A founding member of 'The Club', the New York School cooperative salon, his milieu was that of the Abstract Expressionist painters who were his friends and colleagues. The recurrent exploration of texture, graffiti and paint marks echo not just the walls that Brassai photographed in Paris, but also the language developed by Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Cy Twombly. The influence went both ways, In 1958 Kline named one of his paintings Siskind and Siskind in turn did a series entitled Homage to Franz Kline.

The exhibition focuses on Siskind's large prints of the late 1960s and early 1970s, in which an enlarged scale contributes to their dramatic wall presence.

James Hyman comments:

Siskind's modernist vision of front on walls, often daubed in paint drips and graffiti are some of the seminal urban images of the twentieth century. Formally simple, they nevertheless possess a richness of texture and details that continues to engage and re-engage. Accumulations of encrusted layers, like the rings on a tree trunk, reveal the passage of time.

About the Artist:

Aaron Siskind revolutionised the photographic medium through his exploration of abstract forms.

Siskind was the fifth of six children in a Russian-Jewish immigrant family in New York City. He studied literature and wanted to become a writer. But, in 1929, he was given his first camera as a honeymoon gift and soon became dedicated to the medium. In 1932, Siskind joined the New York Photo League and became an active social documentary photographer, creating series such as Harlem Document. Siskind was instrumental in establishing the Feature Group, which produced influential photo-series including, The Most Crowded Block in the World, Tabernacle City and Dead End: The Bowery.

In the early 1940s, Siskind left the Photo League and became involved with the New York School of Abstract Expressionism, becoming close to many of its members including; Motherwell, de Kooning and Kline. Guided by the philosophy of abstract expressionism, Siskind began photographing discarded objects as abstract compositions. In 1945, Siskind published, The Drama of the Objects and exhibited regularly with the prominent gallerist Charles Egan.

In addition to helping revolutionise the media, Siskind was an influential and passionate teacher. With an invitation from his friend, Harry Callahan, Siskind moved to Chicago and taught photography at the Institute of Design for 20 years. His works have had lasting impact on generations of photographers and have been collected by The Art Institute of Chicago, MoMA and the J. Paul Getty Museum, among others.