Jack Tworkov, “KTL #1,” 1982. Lithograph. Collection of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Gift of Pat and Ed Butler.
Jack Tworkov, “L-SF-ES #1,” 1979. Etching with aquatint, copyright proof #2 for subscriber’s edition. Collection of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Gift of Brian Butler.
Jack Tworkov (b. 1900 Biala Podlaska, Poland – d. 1982 Provincetown, MA)
Jack Tworkov was born in 1900 in Biala, Poland. He immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1913 and settled with them on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Like other immigrants arriving from ports around the world, he struggled to assimilate into American culture at the turn of the century. Tworkov began drawing in 1919, taking an evening class offered at a nearby settlement house. He had early ambitions as a writer and entered Columbia College. However, a first time encounter with the work of Cézanne in a 1921 exhibition on French painting at the Brooklyn Museum proved to be life changing. Cézanne became Tworkov’s path into painting. He rented a studio on the second-floor, across the hall from Willem de Kooning, in an old storefront at 85 Fourth Avenue. When one arrived at the top of the stairs, Tworkov’s studio was on the left and de Kooning’s studio was on the right. The artists’ close association, discussion, and exchange of ideas, factored into both artists’ development well into the early 1950s.
Tworkov arrived at BMC to teach painting in mid-June, 1952 with his family, wife Wally and two daughters Hermine and Helen. He was instantly taken by the experimental nature of the college as well as the amazing sense of community among the artists. Among his painting students that summer were Fielding (Fee) Dawson, Jorge Fick, Dan Rice, Dorothea Rockburne, and Robert Rauschenberg. Tworkov began one of his most important series at Black Mountain. He titled this series House of the Sun. For Tworkov, sun meant both sun and son with house playing the role of a spiritual house—a fusion of symbols.
Tworkov continued to play a prominent role in the Abstract Expressionist movement in America, but by the end of the 1950s he believed the movement had, for himself, become too predictable. Torn between the calligraphic and structural, the exuberance of movement and the rigors of meditation, Tworkov recalibrated his canvases and introduced bold linear structures supported by massive swaths of color.
In 1964, he had a mid-career retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art. That same year, Tworkov became the Chairman of the Art Department at Yale University. In 1982, the Guggenheim Museum mounted the last exhibition of Tworkov’s work during his lifetime, featuring a survey of the artist’s last fifteen years. The artist died at his Provincetown home in September, 1982.