John Heliker: Drawing on the New Deal marks the rediscovery of a remarkable and largely unknown body of early work by an eminent American artist. Heliker (1909-2000) developed a highly personal and expressive approach to drawing during the WPA years. His early drawings compare to his Social Realist contemporaries Ben Shahn and Philip Evergood. Heliker shared in their political activism and produced many anti-fascist cartoons for The New Masses , some represented here. During WWII and the immediate Postwar years, Heliker earned critical acclaim for his bold experimentations with biomorphic and architectonic abstractions. By the late 1950s and in subsequent decades, his style became more muted, and he achieved a tonalist manner of great poignancy. Heliker developed a nuanced, impressionistic painting style in response to abstract expressionism - an approach that characterized his mature style. Heliker earned the Prix de Rome, a Guggenheim fellowship, and three Ford Foundation purchase prizes, among other honors, including a full scale retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art (1968).
He was connected with the abstract expressionist Philip Guston, who became a life-long friend. Heliker taught at Columbia University (1947-74) and later at the Art Students League of New York (1975-78). He co-founded the New York Studio School in 1965 (with fellow artists Philip Guston, Leland Bell and Mercedes Matter). Heliker was also associated with the composers: Carl Ruggles, John Cage, and Lou Harrison. He also created mask design for the dancer and choreographer, Merce Cunningham.
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