The Wartime Shipyard, Surrealist Works of 1942/45
Paintings and Drawings
Reception for the Artist: Saturday May 1, 4 to 6 PM
On View: May 1 through 22, 2010
The entire exhibition my be seen on the site:
Go to Exhibitions.
During World War II Hugh Mesibov (born 1916) was a First Class Ship Fitter --- one of more than 18,000 workers employed at the historic William Cramp & Son Shipbuilding Company in Philadelphia. Cramp’s, founded in 1830, had been closed since 1927, but was re-opened in 1941; the USS Miami, a Navy cruiser, was built there. On the last day, when the job ended in 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to the site. Mesibov remembers him waving to the crowd. Roosevelt died later that year, on April 12, 1945.
That day-to-day experience, combined with horrific wartime news, led Mesibov into a surrealist period. These paintings have smooth surfaces and solid blocks of pure color. In desolate and unstable landscapes shifting plots of land threaten to drift into space. They are littered with sharp, twisted shards of metal, and inhabited by grotesque machine-like creatures. These are dangerous post-industrial wastelands.
This work reflects the extremely difficult working conditions of the shipyard. There were real dangers; while there Mesibov received a shattered elbow and suffered severe hearing loss.
However, there were lighter moments as well. Once, when confronted by a new, blank bulkhead of the ship under construction he took the initiative. First he caged paint from the welders – they all had different colors so that their welds could be marked and then counted up; they were paid by the number of welds. With paints at hand and an empty surface Mesibov painted a 40-foot nude on the side of the bulk-head. When he was finished a supervisor came and asked, “Did you do that?” Nervous, but unable to deny his work, he admitted he had. “Good job” said the supervisor.
A work by Mesibov from this period was included in the landmark exhibition, Surrealism USA, at the National Academy of Design Museum, NY, 2005.