I loved the show, Jay Milder: Broadway Nonstop, Subway Paintings from the 1950s and 60s, so much that I went three times. The works are of people running to catch New York City subway trains. It’s one of those exhibitions that does not photograph well. I had shown my husband photos from the show, and I could tell he wasn’t quite as smitten as I was. The following week I took him to see the show, and he got it. The paintings are vibrant, heavily layered and stunning in person. The Eric Firestone Gallery is on one of my favorite streets, and absolutely lovely.
“Milder was inspired by the energy and motion, history, and constant flux of the city. The surfaces of his paintings are emblematic of layers of paint and grit on building walls. He experimented, early on, with spray paint, and added volcanic ash to pigment to create a coarse impasto. This, along with his subject matter of the subway, have led art historians to connect his work to street art. Over the decades, the constant in his work has been what he terms “figurative symbolism” and a belief that paintings should convey a sense of the connection between mystical experience and material presence. Milder says, “If you don’t have joy, you don’t have anything.” Milder co-founded, with Red Grooms, the artist-run City Gallery in their shared loft in the Flatiron District, giving Claes Oldenberg and Jim Dine their first New York exhibitions. In 1959, the City Gallery’s operations expanded to a studio loft run by Grooms, Milder, and Bob Thompson on the Lower East Side. The new gallery would become known as the Delancey Street Museum.” (Eric Firestone Gallery)
The “first solo exhibition of Milder’s early work in New York in several decades. Milder made New York City subway riders his subject; his paintings are characterized by their wilding impasto surfaces an expressionist paint handling. Faces and limbs are outsized, filling the canvases in ways that call attention to emotion and psychological connection.” (Eric Firestone Gallery).
“Jay Milder (b. 1934) grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. As a young person, Milder lived in Paris and studied with Ossip Zadkine and André Lhote. There, he became aware of the work of Chaim Soutine, who would be an important influence in terms of a gestural, painterly approach to Cubism enlivened by spiritual belief. Milder befriended painter Ed Clark, who showed him around the city, as well as Yves Klein and met writers Richard Wright and James Baldwin. Milder’s travels to Morocco and Mexico also informed his early development. After returning to the States, Milder studied briefly at the Art Institute of Chicago, and later at Hans Hofmann’s summer school in Provincetown. There, Milder met Bob Thompson, Red Grooms and Mimi Gross, and they, along with Alex Katz and Lester Johnson, showed together at the Provincetown cooperative, the Sun Gallery. His community included Gandy Brodie, Jan Muller, and Emilio Cruz: all later recognized for a style defined as Figurative Expressionism.” (Eric Firestone Gallery)