Sunday, December 17, 2017

Born Today in 1904: 'Magic Realism' Artist Paul Cadmus

Paul Cadmus was born today, December 17, in 1904.  He was an American artist. He is best known for his egg tempera paintings of gritty social interactions in urban settings. He also produced many highly finished drawings of single nude male figures. His paintings combine elements of eroticism and social critique in a style often called magic realism.

Paul Cadmus was born on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He traveled through Europe from 1931 to 1933 with fellow artist Jared French, who became his lover for a time.

After traveling through France and Spain, Cadmus and French settled in a fishing village on the island Majorca. In 1933, they headed back to the United States after running out of money, where Cadmus was one of the first artists to be employed by The New Deal art programs, painting murals at post offices.

He worked in commercial illustration as well, but French, also a tempera artist, convinced him to devote himself completely to fine art. In 1979, he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an associate member and became a full member in 1980.

Cadmus is ranked by Artists Trade Union of Russia amongst the world's best artists of the last four centuries.

In 1934, at the age of 29, he painted "The Fleet's In!" while working for the Public Works of Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). This painting, which featured carousing sailors and women, included a stereotypical homosexual solicitation and erotic exaggeration of clinging pants seats and bulging crotches. It was the subject of a public outcry. The painting was removed from exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery. The publicity helped to launch his career, and he stated at the time, "I had no intention of offending the Navy. Sailors are no worse than anybody else. In my picture I merely commented on them – I didn't criticize." 

In 1938, his painting Pocahantas Saving the Life of John Smith, a mural painted for the Parcel Post Building in Richmond, Virginia, had to be retouched when some observers noticed a fox pelt suggestively hanging between the legs of an Indian depicted in the painting. Cadmus used his then lover, Jared French, as the model for John Smith in the mural.

Cadmus was transfixed by the human body, both the ideal and the repulsive. His ideal was a stylized erotic version of the male body. He found the grotesque everywhere from Greenwich Village cafes, subway stations, the beach at Coney Island to American tourists in an Italian piazza. His art is a form of satire and caricature of his subjects.

From 1937 until 1945, Cadmus, his lover, Jared French, and French's wife, Margaret Hoening, summered on Fire Island and formed a photographic collective called PaJaMa ("Paul, Jared, and Margaret"). In between Provincetown, Truro, Fire Island, and New York, they staged various black-and-white photographs of themselves with their friends, both nude and clothed. Most of these friends featured in the photographs were among New York's young artists, dancers and writers, and most were handsome and gay. 

In 1938, Cadmus and French posed for a series of photographs with the noted photographer George Platt Lynes (1907–1955). These photographs were not published or exhibited while Lynes was living and show the intimacy and relationship of the two. In the photographs, 14 of which survive today, Cadmus and French vacillate between exposure and concealment, with French generally being the more exhibitionist of the two.

Later in the 1940s, Cadmus and his then lover, George Tooker, formed a complicated relationship with French and his wife. When the Frenches bought a home in Hartland, Vermont, they gave Cadmus a house of his own on the property, which French later took back and gave to his Italian lover.

In 1965, Cadmus met and began a relationship with Jon Anderson, a former cabaret star, in Nantucket that lasted until Cadmus' death in 1999. From the beginning of their 35-year relationship, the then 27-year-old Anderson was Cadmus' model and muse in many of his works.

In 1999, he died at his home in Weston, Connecticut, due to advanced age, just five days shy of his 95th birthday.

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