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Seymour Tubis studied at Temple University in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum School of Art (1941-1942), the Art Students League in New York (1946-1949) with Vaclav Vytlacil, Will Barnet, Harry Sternberg, and Morris Kantor, l'Académie de la grande Chaumière in Paris (1949-1950), and L'Istituto d'Arte in Florence in 1950. A friendship with Georges Braque and Tubis' first solo exhibition in Paris led Tubis to apply for a Guggenheim Fellowship. He also studied under Hans Hofmann and served as Chair of the Art Department of the Institute of American Indian Art from 1963 to 1980.
Seymour Tubis was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1919. His family moved to New Jersey and Seymour grew up in a place of racial diversity, where he learned to appreciate the African-American culture that made up his community, and shared in some of the privations of the Depression years. In 1933, Tubis received a scholarship to study drawing and painting at the Fleischer Foundation. After graduating high school in Camden, NJ, he set up a studio to do poster art and sign painting. He studied painting and drawing at Temple University in Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Museum School of Art from 1941-1942.
In 1942, Tubis was inducted into the U.S. Army Signal Corps. After training, he served as an artist at a large Signal school, managed a training studio, and painted murals. Tubis served until 1946, after traveling to the South Pacific as a Cryptographic officer in New Guinea and the Philippines. He connected with some of the indigenous population, and, using whatever materials his family could send, continued to explore painting and drawing the land and people around him. In 1944, Tubis married Miriam Benson.
From 1946-1949, Tubis studied at the Art Students’ League in New York with Vaclav Vytlacil, Will Barnet, Harry Sternberg, and Morris Kantor. He was eventually appointed assistant instructor to Vytlacil and Barnet. Tubis won first prize in etching at the Society of American Graphic Artists in New York in 1948.
From 1949 to 1950, Tubis lived in Paris while studying at l'Académie de La Grande Chaumière. He traveled throughout Southern France and Italy, taking in the landscape and inspirations, as did the artists he looked to for inspiration- among them Cezanne, Monet, Derain, and Bonnard.
“I had the privilege of living in Europe as a young artist-student and of seeing first-hand the great works of the Renaissance as well as the historical development of Impressionism, Expressionism, and Cubism which flowered into the Art of the Twentieth Century.”
Tubis’ works from this period are clearly inspired by the movements of the twentieth century, notably his Cubist etchings and studies in light á la Vermeer. In 1949, Tubis had a chance encounter with Cubist artist Georges Braque and the two became friends. Tubis visited Braque’s studio, and Braque became a supporter of Tubis’; attending the opening of Tubis’ first one-man exhibition at Galerie St. Placide and recommending he apply for a Guggenheim Fellowship, which Tubis eventually did. Tubis continued his studies at L'Istituto d'Arte in Florence in 1950.
In 1951, Tubis returned to New York City. He studied with Hans Hofmann and taught at the Art Students League and the Brooklyn Museum School of Art. He was connected to the Expressionists and can in some ways be considered one himself. Abstract Expressionism was just beginning to take root in New York at this time, and Peggy Guggenheim had recently opened her gallery “Art of this Century.” Tubis often visited and recalled arguing with Jackson Pollock over his philosophy of art. Much of Tubis’ works from the early 1950s show explorations into both Abstract and figurative Expressionism, with a bold palette and decisive brush stroke, all the while building upon an Impressionist and Cubist framework. At the Art Students League, Tubis was part of a group which called itself “Indian Space Painters,” meshing the styles of Pacific Northwest Native American tribes with modern abstract graphics.
Throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960s, Tubis focused on teaching, raising his daughter, Nina (b. 1953), and exhibiting nationally; at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Diamond Jubilee, Art Students League, and various University exhibitions. From 1955-1960, he worked as an artist-consultant for the New York Times and New York World-Telegram.
In 1960, the Tubis family was living in New York and decided to travel for a year and visit the Southwest states. They went to Southern California, back to New York, and then in 1963, settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Tubis had accepted a position at the newly-formed Institute of American Indian Arts, a national school of art for Native Americans under the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs. Tubis established the Printmaking Department; organizing full-time studio courses as well as teaching painting and drawing. He served as Chair of the Art Department from 1963 to 1980.
New Mexico’s landscapes and organic materials served as a huge inspiration to Tubis’ art. In terms of printmaking, he experimented with rocks, old leather, wood scraps, shells, and other everyday items to create unique patterns and textures that could mimic those of the New Mexican landscape. This creative use of materials informed his teaching as well, and Tubis encouraged students to look outside of the standard materials, ultimately making printmaking accessible to more people. “I am hoping more persons will become involved in art on their own terms, not just be influenced by fashions and taste-makers.” By 1960 he had taken up sculpture, using natural found materials to illustrate the relationship between bone, bronze, wood, and stone and the life force energy of the Southwest.
Tubis felt a strong pull to make art with a political message, separate from his works inspired by nature. He had a strong feminist stance and created several pieces focusing on women’s lib themes. Although Tubis felt the pull of these dissociated topics, he managed to make work fulfilling both, and his ability to convey both a social consciousness and closeness to nature speaks to his character and developed voice as an artist.
By 1964, Tubis was collecting and organizing IAIA artist prints for exhibition and publication in a book. That year he had a major one-man exhibition at the Fine Arts Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe. He exhibited consistently throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, including shows at Jamison Gallery and the University of Calgary. In 1971, Tubis published a suite of etchings “The Ancient Beings Who Inhabit Bryce Canyon”. The U.S. Information Agency/ Department of State purchased 12 pieces for exhibition at U.S. Embassies in Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America.
Tubis continued to exhibit throughout the 1970s and 1980s, in New Mexico, Maryland, California, and New York. He enjoyed travel, mostly spending time in Europe painting landscapes and city scenes of Spain, Greece, Italy, France, Yugoslavia, and more. From 1981-1986, he lived and painted in Pacific Grove and Sonoma, California. In 1992, Tubis was honored with a retrospective at Masterpiece Gallery in Carmel, CA.
Tubis exhibited internationally and his works are represented in the Brooklyn Museum, Carnegie Institute, Dallas Museum of Art, Georgetown University, Library of Congress, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Royal Society in London, and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. He was a member of the Society of American Graphic Artists and a life member of the Art Students’ League.
“I would be happier if no work of art were signed or identified. Art should stand on its own merits. The biography of an artist may make for interesting reading but it is the art which will illustrate a life.” --Seymour Tubis, 1965 We would like to thank Nina Wooderson, Seymour’s daughter, for bringing his collection to our attention.