This Essay is a part of the ‘Maurice Golubov – Catalog from a multi-museum traveling exhibition organized by the Mint Museum’
Maurice Golubov is born on May 25, 1905, in the cellar of his family home in Vetka, Russia, during a pogrom which lasts several days. He is the first-born of six children to Abraham-Jacob and Chaya Golubov. Golubov’s father, of Chassidic background, was kidnapped off the streets by Czarist soldiers at the age of twelve, impressed into the Russian army, and trained to be a shoe and bootmaker. After his release at the age of twenty, he opens a cobbler’s shop in Vedka, where he meets his wife. He is of Khazan descent, whereas Chaya Turetsky Golubov comes from a very pious family of coppersmiths in Odessa.
Maurice’s formal training in Hebrew, Yiddish and the Talmud begins at the age of three and a half, as his parents intend for him to become a rabbi. Although he does not approach the Cabbala until many years later, Maurice is also introduced to the Zohar and Sepher Ytzirah before he is five, thus grounding his earliest religious training in medieval mysticism.
The family business, which is barely enough for the family’s survival, begins to do very badly, and finally folds in 1912. Ashamed, Abraham-Jacob Golubov decided to emigrate to the United States, start again, and bring his wife and family over when he has re-established himself. Sam, the fourth oldest and closest to Maurice in sympathy and encouragement, is born in 1910.
In 1914, the proximity of World War I to Vetka causes Mrs. Golubov to leave Vetka, where there is also mounting anti-Semitic feeling, and go instead to Kharkov to stay with relatives. Once there with her children, she decides that she will risk leaving Russia altogether and join her husband in the United States. A group of refugees headed toward Vladivostock comes through town, and the Golubov family joins them. On the Western route, just before they reach Petrograd (Leningrad), Maurice is accidentally separated from the rest of the family, who do not notice his absence for several days. After wandering on his own for weeks, Maurice joins up with a band of children who, away from any adult contact, survive by roaming through the woods and raiding small farms. This period lasts several months, during which his family arrives in Petrograd and waits for Maurice, who is reunited with them in late winter.
Having decided to forego the Western route, the Golubovs begin a long trek in the early spring to Finland. From here they find their way to Christiania (Oslo) where they board a ship for New York in late fall, arriving a month later. In Brooklyn, they are reunited with their Father, who soon leaves the home to live with a second wife and her family; the rest of his life is spent between the two.
For his Bar-Mitzvah, Maurice asks for and receives a box of watercolors, crayons, pencils and a pad of paper, which he begins to put into constant use. This activity he favors against his formal education, some of which occurs in the public school and some by tutoring. Maurice is told of an art class being taught at a nearby Hebrew Educational Society settlement house; the teacher is, coincidentally, John Sloan. During evening classes, which continue for six months, Maurice draws from models, nature and memory.
In 1920, Maurice drops out of his school against his parents’ wishes and announces his desire to become an artist. He apprentices himself at the Limners Fashion Studio, 114 Fifth Avenue, for $8 a week, believing that he will be able to learn art in this way. He begins by running errands, then is allowed to copy figure illustrations for stylists to work from. He quickly realizes that he has made a mistake, but decides to train as a detail artist anyway, seeing this approach as the most difficult and menial, but the one in which he is most likely to be able to have the optimum freedom if he succeeds, for it is also the most sought-after skill in commercial art.
Late in his first year as an apprentice, Golubov meets Mark Tobey, who is also working as a fashion illustrator and has been “farmed out” to the Limners Studio for a time. Tobey encourages the young man to continue his study of art more seriously, and his suggestion that Golubov try the National Academy of Design is eagerly taken. Maurice enrolls almost immediately in night classes, which he continues five times a week for four years, studying with George L. Nelson, Charles Curran and Ivan Olinsky.
In 1922, Maurice is awarded the Suydam Silver medal at the Academy for excellence in life drawing. Ivan Olinsky invites Maurice and other leading students to Woodstock for a week that summer. Maurice is captivated by the landscape and decides to return as soon as he is able.
During breaks at work, at home, and during his night classes, Golubov begins experimenting with the patterning of abstract, primarily geometric, designs. As yet he has not seen any experimental art, or even any significant older paintings. He quits both the commercial studio and the Academy within a few months of one another, in Spring 1923. He moves out of his home temporarily, but suffers a minor breakdown and returns, though this gives him impetus to begin working in a group studio on Greene Avenue in Brooklyn with money he has saved. He moves out again, this time successfully, in early winter 1923, rooming in a large apartment in the East Village with several other working boys.
In his studio, Maurice paints in gouache, watercolor, tempera and, gradually oils. He also models small figures in plastilene, which he uses as the basis for figurative paintings. Abstractions, composed spontaneously, are painted in gouache and watercolor. Visits the Metropolitan Museum for the first time in winter 1923-24, and begins studying Venetian and Flemish painting and glazing techniques. He develops the first stages of a lifetime reverence for Cezanne. Other daylight hours – he paints only at night – are spent studying Greek, Neoplatonic and American transcendentalist philosophy at the Public Library.
Golubov returns to commercial work in early 1924, this time at the Stone Van Dresser Co., 229 Fourth Avenue; beginning fulltime, this job soon becomes seasonal, allowing Golubov whole months in which to paint. He begins saving money fanatically, and associates freely with political radicals, most of whom are, however, fellow commercial artists or his neighbors.
By late 1926, he has begun frequenting other museums in the city, including the Museum of Non-Objective Art and the Brooklyn Museum. Exposure to modern art – Kandinsky and Picasso make the strongest impression – assures him that he is not “working in a vacuum.” He exhibits for the first time with a group called “The Eight,” at the Art Center, a storefront gallery in the West Village; fearful of showing his abstract work, he includes landscapes and still lifes only. By spring, 1927, he has begun making $5 an hour at Van Dresser Co., and begins renting his own studio at 10 East 14th Street, a neighborhood frequented by many working artists.
Having saved about $5,000 since 1920, Golubov decides to take a long break from commercial work and concentrate fulltime on painting. In his studio neighborhood, he meets a great many artists and is regularly exposed to other painters for the first and only time in his life. Among these are Raphael Soyer, Max Weber, Lyonel Feininger, John Marin, Man Ray, Theodore Roszak, Stuart Davis, Byron Browne and Arshile Gorky.
Spends the summer of 1928 by himself in Woodstock, where he does a great deal of work outdoors and in a makeshift garage-studio. This marks his first attempts to bring compositional organization into his abstractions which have been severely geometric to this point. Reference to landscape also begins to appear occasionally in the abstractions, and his palette becomes vivid and naturalistic.
On his return to New York that fall, he finds that he is one of the few artists around who have anything to live on, and decides not to make an application to the WPA when the mural and easel projects are begun, but continue commercial work if and when he needs the money. He is, to his recollection, “the only artist he knows” who takes this route.
Summers in the country and the rest of the year in New York become a regularity, although he extends his summers gradually to include most of October. In Woodstock he meets Milton Avery and David Smith. In New York, he attends meetings semi-regularly at the John Reed Club, which is next door to his studio, and there meets Moses Soyer, Ad Reinhardt, Saul and Eugenie Baizerman, Jean Liberte and William Zorach, among others.
Having run dry of savings, Golubov begins working fulltime at the William Becker studio at 7th Avenue and 25th Street, and moves into a rooming house on East 35th Street run by Rose Slatkowitz. As Beckers is a mail order studio, the work is no longer seasonal but has two month-long vacations during the year. Not finding this enough time in which to work, Golubov begins doing continuous work in miniature – with gouache and watercolor – on the job, secreting it successfully from his employers several times a day.
At a recital held at the Slatkowitz home, Golubov meets Sylvia Glasser, a pianist from Springfield, Massachusetts who had come to New York two years before at the age of sixteen to study at Julliard. After a courtship lasting six months, they are married in September, 1933, and move into an apartment on Clarkson Avenue in Brooklyn. Maurice gives up his studio, believing he will be able to work satisfactorily in the smaller facility, but finds out quickly that this isn’t so. He and Sylvia move again, this time to 318 West 105th Street in Manhattan, where they stay until 1939.
The Golubovs begin spending summers in Rockport, Massachusetts, he working in and around Cape Ann. Continues to work primarily in gouache and tempera, and most oil paintings are medium and large-scale figure compositions done in several partially thematic series: “Wanderers”, “Bathers”, “Metaphysical Figures”, etc. Abstract oils, done mostly in the falls and winters in New York utilize loose grids, dark colors and expressionistic surfaces. During this period he meets Lee Gatch, Reginald Marsh, Louis Lozowicz, Jackson Pollock, Hans Hoffman and Theodore Stamos. He also meets the dealer Hudson D. Walker, who agrees to handle some of Golubov’s work and is the first to show it commercially when he opens a public gallery.
He and Sylvia move back to Brooklyn to find larger quarters for working, settling temporarily on Ocean Avenue near Prospect Park, and later at 446 Ocean Avenue, a double floor through apartment which is large enough for separate studios for each of them. Golubov begins working regularly in medium and large-scale abstractions, although he is able to develop his figurative work alongside of his abstract for the first time.
In late 1939, he quits working for Becker Studios, having found the ideal seasonal job at Vogue Wright Studio, 229 Park Avenue South. Here he is able to work a 14-week season with a great deal of overtime, then take 24 weeks off for painting, an arrangement that lasts until his retirement in 1967.
The summer of 1941 is spent in Woodstock, where he meets Hugh Stix, who offers him a solo exhibition at the co-operative Artists Gallery, at 113 West 13th Street. Alice T. Mason and George L.K. Morris, who see it, invite Golubov to join the American Abstract Artists. Although honored, Golubov doesn’t apply until late the next year, and does not begin exhibiting with them until 1944.
Golubov is asked by Katherine Kortheuer, Curator, to have a one-man show of paintings at the Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina, during July 1943. Maurice stays with his brother Sam, who lives in Charlotte and has been instrumental in arranging the show, who lives in Charlotte and has been instrumental in arranging the show, while it is up. On his return to New York, he has a second exhibition at the Artists’ Gallery, from October 12 to November 1. He also participates in a print exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum and the 1943 Painting Annual of the Chicago Art Institue.
Only son Michael is born October 15 1943.
Golubov participates in the 1944 and 1945 American Abstract Artists Annuals, which he will continue for over thirty years.
Betty Parsons invites him to have a one-man exhibition at the Mortimer Brandt Gallery, and selects the show at Golubov’s home; the exhibition is from November 12 to December 1. Although gratified by the attention and increased sales, Golubov is troubled by his exposure to the art world; deciding he prefers showing with a co-operative gallery for the time being, he and Parsons decide not to continue the relationship.
During this period he occasionally goes to parties and openings, and meets Mark Rothko, John Ferren, Ilya Bolotowsky, Louise Nevelson, Giorgio Cavallon, WIlliam Baziotes, Burgoyne Diller, Adolph Gottlieb, John Sennhauser, Earl Kerkam and Franz Kline, as well as Joan Miro and Piet Mondrian.
The Golubovs begin spending summers in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Works less on canvas and more on board in order to economize, and the bulk of his work is now abstract, containing very low-key color variations, and utilizing a loose brushwork within an asymmetrical geometry. Abraham-Jacob Golubov dies of cancer in late 1946. Third one man show at the Artists Gallery, 11/24 – 12/13, 1947. Participates in Jewish Artists at the Jewish Museum, 9/19 – 10/17, 1948; included are S. Baizerman, Barnet, Gross, Walkowitz, Weber, Zorach, Lipchitz, Rattner, Chagall, Shahn and others. Participates in painting and sculpture annual at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1949.
In 1950, returns for the summer to Woodstock with Sylvia and Michael, where they will continue going until 1973. Sylvia has decided to begin lessening her focus on her own career and transfer it instead to her husband’s and to the family. Maurice decides accordingly that he cannot rely on sales of paintings to survive, but will provide for the family through his commercial job. This also causes him to relinquish most of the trappings of an artist’s life in New York for the sake of working and being with his family.
Fourth one-man show at the Artists Gallery is from 3/25-4/13, 1950. He exhibits with the A.A.A. at the Salon des Nouvelles Realistes, Paris, and regularly in group exhibitions in and around Woodstock.
Participates in Fifty Years of Abstract Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, and subsequent European tour, 1951-52. Is invited to the 1951 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Sculpture, Watercolors and Drawings (3/17-5/6, 1951) and the Whitney Annual of American Painting (11/8/51-1/5/52), both at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Has second one-man show at the Mint Museum, from 1/1 to 1/31, 1952; while in Charlotte he gives his only-recorded lecture on “Aspects of Design”.
By the summer of 1952, he has completed two lithographs, both in an edition of fifty, under the supervision of Margaret Lowengrund and Michael Ponce de Leon in Woodstock. During this year he participates in a print exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and in 52 Prints of the Year at the Contemporaries Gallery.
Joins and begins exhibiting with the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors. Participates in Contemporary American Prints exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, 1953. Has fifth and last one-man show at the Artists’ Gallery, which closes in 1956.
In spring 1954 Golubov is commissioned, much through brother Sam’s efforts, to execute an 8 x 13 foot painting for Purcell’s, a leading Charlotte department store just finishing refurbishment. The “mural,” as it is called, is completed in stages in Golubov’s ten-foot long garage studio in Woodstock, and is installed in October in a section of the store set aside especially for it. Spending three months completing it, Golubov is paid a generous $7,000.
In early 1956 he is invited by Virginia Zabriskie to participate in Artists in Two Mediums which is followed by a contract for a two-part solo exhibition, one part of figurative work and the other of abstractions. The cumulative show is from 3/7 to 4/9, 1956. Although well received, this exhibition and some of the pressures surrounding it convince the artist that for the time being he cannot exhibit abstractions at a major art gallery.
Has third and last one-man show at the Mint Museum under Kortheuer’s direction, 1956.
Meets Jack Mayer, who offers to represent Golubov’s figurative work, which he does for several years. A one-man show is held at Gallery Mayer, 762 Madison Avenue, 4/4-4/22, 1961, and at Kimbrough-Goldgate Gallery, Memphis later that year. His work is also being partially handled by Charles Mann beginning at this point.
Participates in Recent Painting USA: The Figure at the Museum of Modern Art, 5/21-9/4, 1962, and subsequent tour through 9/63.
In early 1965 Golubov decides that, as he has experienced a drastic reduction in sales of paintings and has as a consequence literally painted himself out of the studio, he will rent another studio at 27 East 22nd Street, which he will use until 1973. Later this same year he is commissioned by the Vice President of Vogue Wright Studios to paint a mural on the wall of the 18th floor lobby. Although he is not paid for the mural (painting it during regular work hours instead), he labors at it for several months, only to find it painted over upon his return from vacation. At this period of his work he has simplified in terms of shape, and utilizes distinct edges and areas of predominantly bright-keyed colors. His mother dies this year.
Early in 1967 he retires from Vogue Wright Studios with a gold watch, and again starts painting fulltime. To supplement his income, he takes part-time jobs for the next several years, including teaching drawing at Brooklyn Community College, painting at the 92nd Street YMHA and YWHA, and giving private lessons in his studio.
One-man show of figurative paintings at Morris Gallery, Waverly Place, New York, 1970.
In March, 1973 while working in the front yard, Sylvia Golubov suffers a heart attack and dies instantly. After months of secluded grief, Golubov gives up his studio and moves to Florida.
Resumes painting in January, 1974. Michael Golubov has work moved into private storage, and begins cataloguing the thousands of unsorted works his father has left behind. At Michael’s request, Golubov agrees to let his work be handled by the Tibor de Nagy Gallery and, in late 1975, to be represented by them. First one-man show there is of works from the 1930s, 5/8-27, 1976; this is his first exhibition of abstract work in twenty years. Paintings by him are included in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, Hassam Purchase Fund and Exhibition, 1976 and 1977.
Quits American Abstract Artists and Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors, 1976.
Marries Esther Klein, a former neighbor and close friend of several decades. Sam Golubov dies of cancer in Charlotte.
Is invited to participate in several group exhibitions focusing on the development of geometric abstraction in American at the Newark Museum, Annely Juda Fine Art (London), and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1977-79. Second and third one-man exhibitions at de Nagy, 1977 and 1979. Retrospective Maurice Golubov: Paintings 1925-1980 opens at the Mint Museum. Retrospective then travels to Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL; Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, IN; Columbus Museum of Arts and Sciences, Columbus, GA; Marion Koogler McNay Institute, San Antonio, TX; and culminates at the Jewish Museum, New York, NY in1981.
Continues to live and work in Hollywood, Florida.
Daniel Cameron is an artist and freelance curator who holds a BA from Bennington College and lives in New York City.
Postscript: In 1986, Maurice Golubov returned from Florida to stay with his son and family in Cortlandt Manor, New York. He died January 10, 1987.