I always look forward to getting a catalog from Spanierman Modern. The swanky midtown Manhattan gallery specializes in modern and contemporary art. They consistently select gorgeous paintings and have some of the best art writers on their staff.
This week, I was quite taken by Autumnal, a tryptic by Syd Solomon (1917-2004). There was something about the painting that reminded me of camouflage.
Autumnal Tryptic by Syd Solomon, 1985. Oil and acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy of Spanieman Modern.
A native Pennsylvanian, Solomon painted as a teenager and later attended the Art Institute of Chicago. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Solomon enlisted into the armed services. He became responsible, in fact, for designing camouflage to disguise important naval and air bases during World War II.
“After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Solomon was enlisted to help create camouflage for the California coast around San Francisco. He arrived in England on D-Day 2 and met artists Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson. They worked together to create camouflage for ports on the English Coast. He later designed camouflage systems for the desert war in Northern Africa. The artist has said that the aerial reconnaissance he did during WWII, influenced his ideas about abstract art.”
Baybend by Syd Solomon, 1977. Oil and acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy of Spanierman Modern.
Confused, I poked around some more. From looking at the art, I was expecting to find a camouflage print for a uniform. What was this talk about the coastline? Solomon was responsible for creating an entirely different form of camouflage than what I had imagined. The California coast was the closest target for Japanese bombers during WWII. In order to disguise important factories and military bases, designers and artists that had enlisted during the war created props and decoys to confuse enemy pilots.
For example, here is the Lockheed-Vega aircraft plant before being covered in camouflage:
And here it is after:
A mission of this scale required that the designers spend many hours in flight to simulate a realistic looking front. Netting, fake foliage, and painted canvases were carefully positioned, creating false suburbs. The mission was known as Camouflage California, and the concept was later used in win other important battles during the war.
Aerial reconnaissance missions meant sketching out shapes and blobs of color that were seen from the air. Think about how different houses and landscapes look from a higher altitude. How could such an experience NOT influence abstract art?
Sanibel Island by Syd Solomon, c. 1959. Oil tempera on canvas.Image courtesy of Lee Corbino Galleries.
Arch by Margaret Tompkins. Image courtesy of the artist.
Tangle Island by Syd Solomon, 1954. Ink and gouache on paper. Image courtesy of sydsomonon.com
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