Printmaker, teacher, arts activist, Benton Murdoch Spruance has been all but forgotten in recent decades as the ascendancy of abstract art and post-modernism has eclipsed many once prominent social realists.
Spruance, despite his excursions into metaphorical and Biblical themes, was primarily a social realist, at least until the last decade of his life when his work too became increasingly experimental and abstract.
An exhibition of Spruance’s prints, The Long Night and the New Day, will be on view at the Mishkin Gallery from Friday, February 6 through Wednesday, March 4, 2009. Opening reception February 5, 6 to 8 pm. As part of the opening, there will be a gallery talk by collector Sigmund R. Balka beginning at 6 pm.
Born in Philadelphia in 1904, Spruance was primarily a lithographer. Continually experimenting with his chosen medium, he made important advances in color lithography, developing a painstaking method for printing multiple colors with a single stone. A teacher at the Philadelphia Museum School and Beaver College, Pennsylvania, Spruance depicted his home state and his environs throughout his life. His subjects ranged from subway riders to football players, as well as the locales, urban, suburban and rural, of his native Pennsylvania. Perhaps because he rarely strayed far from home, his American Scene prints and paintings have an appealing intimacy despite the fact that his themes were frequently existential in nature.
Spruance began his work as an artist in the 1930s and, like others of his generation, was influenced by the Great Depression and by World War II and its aftermath. He was deeply affected by human suffering, reflected in works such as Second Front (Subway Shift) and Untitled (Solder and Chaplain), both produced during the war years. In the 1950s, troubled by the specter of McCarthyism, many of Spruance’s images appear haunted, both elusive and fearful.
The current exhibition provides a capsule overview of the artist’s prints, spanning some four decades from the stubbornly enduring The City Tree (1930) to the mythological Ariadne and Dionysius (1965). Spruance died unexpectedly in 1967; at the time, his career as an artist was still evolving.
All 39 works in this exhibition are from the private collection of Sigmund R. Balka. A smaller exhibit of Spruance’s lithographs the Balka collection was also recently mounted by the Williams College Museum of Art.
The Mishkin Gallery at Baruch College is free and open to the public. The gallery is located at 135 East 22nd Street in Manhattan. Gallery hours are Noon to 5 pm Monday – Friday and Noon to 7 pm on Thursday.