About Arthur Secunda
Arthur Secunda is an internationally renowned artist whose career has spanned five decades. His one man shows have been seen worldwide in numerous galleries and museums in France, Sweden, Belgium, Holland, Spain, Israel, and Japan. In the United States, he is represented in most major museums of the country, including the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the UCLA Museum, the Detroit Art Institute, and the Phoenix Museum. Known for his brilliant collages and striking graphics, Secunda has mastered all types of printmaking, even making his own paper in France and Japan. His impressive body of work includes painting, mixed media, polyester assemblage, ceramics and welded sculpture. His studies began at the Detroit Art Institute as a teenager, and continued in New York at the Art Students League and New York University. After a stint in the Air Force as an artist, he then studied, thanks to the GI bill, in Mexico, Paris and Italy, with many great artists and teachers, beginning a lifelong propensity for travel-- living and working in other countries. For decades, he maintained studios in Paris and LA.
He considers himself a landscape artist, and has developed his own iconography in representing nature, the land and its forms, as well as corresponding inner landscapes. He is known for a specific kind of color gradation and blending of forms in many media. His work tends to oscillate between the serene--striated colors in landscapes--to the expressive, as in many of his oil paintings.
After years in Paris, Secunda has maintained a studio in Scottsdale for the last decade--doing what he has done in all of the other places he has liv ed and worked in the last 50 years--creating imagery.
He has worked as a jazz musician--in Paris in the early days to support himself, and as a milkman; as an art critic, lecturer, curator, writer and publisher. Periodically, he consults at NASA where he is an image visualizer, helping translate scientific data into visual images. Highly respected as a teacher, he will spend August in Lacoste, France teaching a master class in collage and the creation of handmade artists books. (Secunda has an international following of people who subscribe and collect his dada art "books".)
Next year, he will have a one man exhibition at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, presenting a never before seen series of expressive portrait monotypes of noted art personalities, after which he will exhibit early Mexican woodcuts at McMasters University in Hamilton, Ontario, in a two man display with Indian artist Mansaram Panchal.
Selected One man Exhibitions
Selected Group Exhibitions
At those rare moments over the past 50 years when I would think about the evolution of my artistic career it seemed as if the creative progressions developed on a roller coaster trip through a maze. In 1944 when I attended the High School of Industrial Arts in New York everything seemed clear - my life and artistic goals were simple in my innocent minds-eye. Yet, the more my art evolved and the more influences exerted upon it, such as teachers, family, fellow students, new landscape environments, great architecture, politics, sculpture, books, conversations, and ongoing personal spiritual quests, the more complex and winding the artistic journey became.
I was born in Jersey City, New Jersey on November 12, 1927 and have been told I am a double scorpio. I was raised mainly by women - my mother, my grandmother and various aunts. My dad, a writer, insurance adjuster and a linguist, died when I was five so I have almost no memory of him, save what has been passed down through relatives, namely that he was fastidious, intelligent, caring and handsome, which is verified by the photographs I still have of him as a sea scout serving military duty in Russia before the 1917 revolution. My mother was a beautiful dark outgoing person who loved good times and sang sad gypsy songs. She had a strong personality, with great resolve to raise her 2 children correctly, which she did. My older brother, Ken, an engineer, was born in Russia. The family roots and names are Sephardic, though Rostov on Don, from whence they came to America in 1923, was known as a Cossack enclave. The Secundas and Volkovitskys (my mother's side), and other Jews, suffered terribly from pogroms and other persecution by the regular Cossack raids. They all immigrated to the US via Great Britain.
Early in 1946, at the close of WWII, when I was 18 years old and living and studying at NYU, (my brother Ken was in the army engineers for 4 years, including the Normandy invasion). I was drafted into the Army Air Force, and served as a staff artist for a year with Special Services, I was discharged in 1947 and, thanks to the government sponsored GI Bill, I studied art at the Art Students League for a year (Harry Sternberg was my first painting teacher, but also influential were Reginald Marsh, Julian Levy and Robert Beverly Hale). I considered Black Mountain College and tried other art schools but not until I went to Paris and worked with Andre L'hote and Ossip Zadkine in 1948, did I begin to understand the meaning of life as an artist. I could see that it meant evolving a style with something personal to say, as well as finding a way to earn a living while maintaining my creative impetus, and I resolved to stay with it despite all economic hardship. At the time I was lonely and it was hard to endure.
Studying at academies in Paris, Rome and Florence over the next few years, the real influences were the people I met, the art I saw, and the books I read. (Proust, Mann , Hesse and Dos Passos). My paintings at the time were, as was the style de riguer in Europe, Cezanne and Picasso (cubist) oriented. What I sought was elusive. However, though the process was baffling it was fullfilling. I kept thinking the "answer" was out there somewhere around the corner.
I spent a year in Mexico (still on the GI Bill) studying sculpture and woodblock printing at the Instituto Esmeralda with Jose Ruiz and Antonio Lazo in Coyoacan. I was painting in encaustic and starting experiments in many media - metal, wood, canvas, duco, linoleum printing, and even creating tapestries. The horizontal bands of primary color of serapes was to leave an esthetic imprint on my mind for the rest of my life and work. At the same time I was working through the Well-Tempered Klavier of Bach and playing jazz piano at night. I found Mexico stimulating and mysterious. I was most impressed by the works of Orozco at the Guadaljara Orphanage and by the Sequeiros' murals at the Instituto in San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato.
When I returned to New York, having to make ends meet once more, I took jobs, in turn, designing and decorating pottery, making frames for an art store, teaching adult and childrens art classes, decorating neckties, cartooning, playing jazz piano gigs and laying out newspaper ads. In a strange way, each of these non-artistic jobs added something to my creative way of thinking, having put me in touch with a commercial world I was avoidi ng till this time. It helped me realize what I did not want to spend my life doing.
About this time I decided to sell shares in my art in order to support my next project, an uninterrupted working time for a year. I aproached a dozen friends and collectors who backed me up by purchasing a work of art they would receive a year later. For example, one share got them a print, 2 shares a drawing, 3 shares a watercolor 4 shares a small painting, and so forth. I then traded some art to an Italian ship owner in exchange for passage to Naples on the freighter, "Giacomo C", carrying dynamite. The voyage took 24 days through wild seas and intense daily conversations with the crew - by now I was fluent in Italian. I decided to go to the island of Ischia, between Capri and Naples, where I spent almost a year, drawing, painting and printing linoleum blocks. This period of isolation and artistic self-reliance shaped my thinking and future art concepts in many ways, understanding and living an island mentality in virtual solitude. Introspection and hard work were inevitable. When I returned to New York to "pay off' the shareholders, they were delighted to select the art they had coming, which they paid for a year earlier, not knowing what they would end up with, showing great trust in my art.
Back in New York again, I felt a nostalgia for some of the personal contacts and experiences I had earlier with FJ Temple, Julius Katchen, Giorgio deChirico, Pablo Casals, James Baldwin, Kenneth Noland and Fernand Leger. It seemed as though the contrast to the USA made me feel as if I was residing in a cultural desert. My bleak, sparse, New York life in a cold water flat in what was called Hells Kitchen, despite my continuous painting and esthetic searching, seemed to represent a period of treading water. I visited galleries and museums, I went to poetry r eadings (met Dylan Thomas and e.e. cummings) and I sought out friends who could help guide my career. These included Bill Rubin (later curator at MOMA) whom I met earlier in Paris, Saul Steinberg and the Panoras family, where I had my first one man show in their 56 Street gallery in New York City.
About 1955, I met Gladys Bullis, a concert violinist living across the hall from my flat, and after a courtship of some months, we married and went to Florence, Italy, where she studied music and I painted under the influence of Masaccio and other early renaissance masters. I befriended artists Rodolfo Margheri and Arthur Bressler, with whom I was able to exchange views and artistic issues of independence while living under the heavy influence surrounded by the works of Michelangelo, Leonardo, Botticelli and Fra Angelico. Trying to find our own personas in that time and place was a real problem.
Later, in 1956, my wife and I lived and painted in Mallorca, which was still under the yoke of Franco. This sharpened my already honed political consciousness, having lived through race riots in Detroit as a child and witnessed rampant racism in the army. In Deya de Mallorca, I painted thousand year old twisted olive trees, cubist tiled rooftops and the huddled hillside terraces of Banalnbufar.
By this time I was fairly fluent in French, Italian, Spanish and Russian (which I learned at home simultaneous with English). The ability to write and speak multiculturally expanded my perceptive horizons in every direction and no doubt helped me to experience higher levels of spiritual understanding.
Throughout this period as I approached the age of 30, I played jazz piano, sometimes supporting my art by doing gigs in New York. Many of my contacts in jazz were personal and I saw discrimination against blacks, Jews and others firsthand. This wielded an influence on my art. I admired Goya, Van Gogh, Soutine, expressionism and fauvism, and especially deKooning.
I felt a strong social consciousness that showed up in later years in the art I produced, such as the Watts riot suites (1965) and Vesuvius erupting (a kind of self portrait of my soul) a suite of etchings and later collages (1968 and 1970).
In 1958 I moved to Santa Barbara where I worked as a milkman during the day and painted at night until I injured my back and required a spinal operation. Upon recovery I was employed as curator of education at the Santa Barbara Art Museum, where I also produced and hosted a TV and radio program on station KTMS Channel 3 called Arts of All Times. In addition to my regular lectures I coordinated art festivals and national seminars with the University of California on such diverse subjects as German Expressionism, The Life of Leonardo, and Celebrating Picassos 80th Birthday. At Night, when I wasn't painting, I played renaissance music with Dr. Erich Katz and his Collegium Musicum.
Clearly, being married to a musician and having been immersed in classical and jazz music from an early age, music became a major inspiration for visualizing abstraction, phrasing and color. I was also illustrating monthly journals for the Robert M. Hutchins Center for Democratic Institutions at UCSB, and started a successful cooperative art gallery in Santa Barbara called Gallery 8. My relationship with the 7 other artists was dynamic, especially with the late artist John Bernhardt, with whom I often collaborated in assemblage and exchanged neodada views and verse.
Leaving this hub of creative activity was not easy, but Los Angeles beckoned in the 60s. I was offered a show at the Ankrum Gallery on La Cienega Blvd., thanks to the intervention of artists Hans Burkhardt and Lorser Feitelson, both of whom purchased works from my first exhibit for their personal collections. Beverly Hills Times editor Rudy Cole then offered me a job as art critic as a "fill in" for critic Jules Langsner. I was conflicted about being a critic of my peers but accepted. I soon found I was getting getting calls from around the country for other writing projects - Arts magazine, Art in America, Craft Horizons, Art Voices and others assigned work to me. I discovered another talent I had a bent for, and found that through my writing I could actually promote art and create a forum about what was going on in the art world. Far from alienating my artist colleagues, writing about art put me in touch with many I admired - Ed Keinholz, Philip Guston, Dennis Hopper, Jean Tinguely and Niki Saint-Phalle, to name a few. The artworks I was producing at this time were assemblages made of found objects and loose expressionist paintings with a geometric underpinning.
Now I was exhibiting regularly in Los Angeles and San Francisco. My impasto paintings reflected themes which recalled my European experiences, combined with Kandinskyesque symbolisms, such as planes of memory, form-bridges, cosmic lights at the end of the tunnel, roads leading beyond horizons. Despite my releasing of bottled up emotions and regardless of the subjects and style, my cubist background always prevailed as a strong core for my compositions and pictorial imagery.
In the late 60's, June Wayne asked me to write press releases and documentation for the invited artists at the new Rockefeller sponsored Tamarind Lithographic Workshop. I needed the money and enjoyed the work and the occasional personal contacts with luminaries such as Richard Diebenkorn and Anni and Josef Albers. I was stimulated by seeing the enormous talents gathered - printers, artists, artisans of various note - and by the skills and energies generated through common goals. Eventually, I was awarded a 3 month grant as an artist myself, and the following year went to the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque for another 3 month working grant. These Tamarind working collaborative relationships and subsequently learned technical innovations represented a giant step in my graphic understanding and confidence.
About this time, following a rocky but fascinating relationship, my wife and I developed irreconcilable marital problems. I was in a funk and entered psychotherapy for several years, helping to keep me on track with my art and life. I had to move on and change my life, so we separated. I continued working whether in Hollywood storefronts, cabins on hilltops and upstairs music lofts. Despite the personal trauma I was experiencing, my paintings were strong, viscous, and sculpturally built up. I was using thick, palette-knife techniques scooping wads of paint directly from cans of specially ground oils, in an emotionally charged manner, influenced by the brilliant colors of Stella and Noland of that time. I translated and adapted their thinly painted brilliant acrylic tonalities into to my own personal gestural impasto coloration so that my color took on the charged physical properties of weight and substance.
My first son, David was born in 1963. It was 1969-70 when I parted from Gladys. Those were 6 fabulous and horrible years. I understood the agony and the ecstasy. I loved my boy and I loved my art and often had to make difficult emotional and financial choices. All divorce is hard but when children and art are in the equation its especially painful. I took teaching jobs a Ond, when not painting or writing, taught at the Pasadena Museum, Otis Art Institute, Long Beach College and lectured at UCLA adult art courses.
Yet another difficult life decision was in the making for me at this juncture. Through the Ankrum Gallery, where I was exhibiting and my art was enjoying some success, I was introduced to John Irwin, who had been told about my art and writing by several galleries. One late night, after dinner at a bar with Joan Ankrum and her partner, Bill Challey in the back of a restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard in L.A., John and his wife Sandy, offered me the job of chief editor of his new magazine Artforum. I was flattered but understood the commitment this required. John felt he could work with me but was said he was fearful that the two San Francisco writers engaged, John Coplans and Phil Leider, were power brokers who would take control of the magazine away from him.
I recalled the wisdom of Ed Keinholz who said to me that at that point in my life and career that I must make a commitment to either writing or creating art. How right he was. I told John Irwin I would do it for a year and I became the L.A. editor of Artforum, eventually working under the aegis of Coplans and Leider, both of whom I enjoyed and respected. But by the following year I resigned as originally decided, despite the magazines important growing imprint on the art world. I did some good work for Artforum as the first editor, but never regretted leaving, considering the strides I made as a working artist internationally in the following years.
My friendship with Arnold Mesches developed about this time. We shared two studios that he converted from a huge storage area atop of the Artist and Writers Building in Beverly Hills. In the mid sixties, Arnold moved to New York and gave me his spacious atelier, where I worked (except for travel) on and off for the next 40 years. It was here that I launched my series of artists books and dada correspondence, the first of which was The President. It was also here that I created my first monumental collage, Volcano. And it was in this same studio that I laid out the first sketches of several hundred silkscreen print editions, later known as "torn paper" or "white line" landscapes.
When an invitation arrived from Sweden for me to exhibit at the Konstsalongen Gallery in Uppsala, I assembled what remained from my Watts series show at the Anhalt Gallery and University of California. Among them were about 10 welded sculptures (including The Destroyed City - referring to Watts, but an allusion to Zadkine's Rotterdam monument, and a 9 foot sculpture, The Tower of Babel, inspired by Bruegel's painting), several works referring to the Kennedy assassination, and a mix of collages made from news photos, using acrylic and other inventive graphic mixed media techniques. To my astonishment, my "social conscious" or protest work received immediate acceptance.
The exhibit was a success. Almost all the works were purchased by museums and public institutions. I was invited to exhibit elsewhere in Sweden and commissioned to create editions of prints based on my imagery of burning buildings, running figures, or looters. I also collaborated with Swedish artist Jan Thunholm on a painted wooden sculptural peace monument for the Swedish army in Gavle, and I was asked to exhibit my sculpture and prints in Ostend and and Ghent (Belgium).
The 70's represented a decade of giant leaps of progress for me. I was able to travel, work and exhibit in Paris and Arles, in Geneva and Lugano, as well as in New York and California. The artistic discoveries and influences were dynamic. After an exhibit in Montreal, a critic wrote that my work combined the geometry of New York with the color of California.
I lived with a creative photographer, Sue Rubinstein, who documented my life, our milieu and activities abroad and in the USA in beautiful graphic detail. The experiences and effects of this exchange made my art flower and developed an emblematic maturity and stylistic personality whose influence is apparent in my work to this day.
Among the highlights were a working grant from the Centre de Gravure Genevoise in Geneva; the commissioning of designs of modern fabrics made from new materials in San Gallo (Switzerland); living, working and exhibiting at Westbeth in New York as well as at La Cite des Arts, Paris; one man shows at the Musee Reattu in Arles, the Arras gallery in New York, Meissner Gallery in Hamburg and museums in Long Beach, Palm Springs and Santa Barbara in California; living and painting on Alan Watts' houseboat in Sausalito; creating and exhibiting my acrylic sculptures of embedded found objects nationally; discovering a system of matching, tearing and imaging chromatic tone/colors from hand-silkscreened papers allowing for the technical development of a personal style of "torn paper" collages and prints; and major exhibits at art fairs in Basel, Cologne, New York, Paris, London and Washington DC.
By 1980, I was represented by the John Bolen Gallery in Santa Monica and the Owl 57 Gallery in New York This arrangement exposed a large national audience to my collages and serigraphs, of which I was producing almost an edition a month. The dissemination of my art was augmented by a significant issue of popular posters of my collages, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, through Haddad Fine Arts of Anaheim. The system and cycle worked well for a few halcyon years during which my work toured Hawaii and later, went to Barcelona, where I exhibited my Lugano Suite at the legendary Galleria Joan Prats, with Jim Bird and Kenneth Noland. While there, I also produced several innovative lithographs at the Taller Poligrafa. Nissa Torrents from London University wrote an excellent monograph about me for this occasion.
On a working trip to Paris for exhibits at Galerie Chapitre in Paris and Galerie Patrick Cramer in Geneva, I encountered Italian designer Gaetano Pesce, who was moving his studio to New York and offered to sublet his large Paris atelier to me on Boulevard Brune. About this time I signed a contract with Nahan Gallery in New York so was able to afford this space, which I kept until 1990. It was here that I created many of my monumental oeuvres such the Sacre de Printemps, my de luxe "Egypt" suite for the Japanese publisher Iwasaki, an entire series of 20 wood painted wall sculptures, the Chippewah series of 6 works based on themes and symbols of the Northern tribes, and an exhibit of 16 large paintings for Nahan Gallery in New York, as well as numerous artists books and peripheral projects including Ergomania in Warsaw and illustrations for French poet FJ Temple's "Moments", and jazz album covers for saxophonist Steve Lacy.
I went to Japan in 1987, thanks to an arrangement made with Galerie Cramer in Geneva, where a major exhibit of 50 collages and 30 of my prints toured Nagoya, Tokyo, Fukui, Sendai and Osaka. I spent some time alone at a temple in Kyoto and was genially hosted by art dealer Yasuo Iwasaki, who took me to visit Humishi Choji at the Otaki Imadate-Machi paper mill --- where I was thrilled to survey papermaking as it was fabricated in the time of and for Hokusai. Being a guest artist, I was invited to create a few pieces, which I did, using a block-out twirling process I learned there and later utilized upon return to my own studio.
Through mutual friends in France I met artist Sandra Wolske. I fell in love and after a courtship of a year, married her. We lived at the Pesce studio where she assisted in some of my large projects. She expanded my social and personal horizons and, being fluent in French and aware of French art history, raised my cultural awareness through her own artistic experiences in Europe. We worked together and traveled extensively. After a time, she became pregnant and in 1991, our son, Alexandre was born at the Clinique de Belvedere in Boulogne. We continued living and working at the atelier Pesce but soon realized the impracticality of raising a baby in this unsecure environment, especially since the Nahan Gallery closed and concluded my contract.
We returned to Los Angeles and my studio at the artists and writers building in Beverly Hills, but now there was no gallery representing me either in France or in the US. My career took something of a dip following the collapse of the USSR and sudden political changes as well as in the tastes of the international art world marketplace, that is, away from easel painting and towards an apparent fascination with pop, minimal and conceptual art.
At the same time the apartment house I lived in for almost 15 years was torn down, and, amid race riots and earthquakes, Sandra and I decided to leave California for Arizona, where living seemed calmer and less expensive. I had been exhibiting at the Joanne Austin Gallery in Scottsdale so we decided to plant ourselves in that area.
When I was in Arles a decade earlier, my friends, the Clergues, started the Van Gogh Foundation, eliciting donations from dozens of noted artists such as Francis Bacon, Karel Appel and Robert Rauschenberg. I was also asked to donate to the foundation, and now, in 1990, the collection began to flourish and tour many countries in Europe and the far East, as a homage to Van Gogh. I participated in other group shows elsewhere but with few commercial positive results.
I attempted to rekindle interest from galleries that previously exhibited my paintings and looked for work writing or teaching but by now I was approaching 70 years of age, and though I still felt physically able and full of youthful ideas and energy, no one seemed to want to take a chance on me any more. Even the Palm Springs Museum, where I exhibited and taught for 10 annual spring sessions, no longer asked me to return. My wife and I did work and took jobs that we would rather not remember but through it all, we survived, made friends and continued being creative.
Our son, Alexandre, is now 11 years old. He is healthy, bright and talented. My wife is starting to design purses with my art works tastefully reproduced. And in the past 3 years I have had exhibits in Amsterdam, Ann Arbor, New York and Savannah. and am working on a 50 year catalog raisonne of my complete works, as well as creating art in a new studio in Scottsdale, painting images and in techniques that have the resonance of deja vu. I am expressing subject matter and ideas which escaped me in years past, but am now able to aproach with new clarity and confidence. Symbolic memories from life such as roads fading into horizons, lakes with great depth, unreachable houses on hills, auroras above earth stratas, and mountains looming as totems. I want to ennoble what I paint by "getting under its skin" and expressing it from the inside, so to speak. My inspiration is mother nature, often expressed through losing myself in memory, contemplation and a self-induced connection with my unspoken experiences of love, life and death, and spiritual seeking.
Recent One Man Solo Exhibits
Recent Invitational Group Shows