|Death Date: 2011
|John Barnes Dobbs, a determinedly figurative painter launched his career in the 50s against the prevailing winds of Abstract Expressionism, lived to see a time when Realism would coexist with Abstraction, Minimalism, Conceptual Art and a variety of other artistic movements.
Born in 1931 in a small house by the Lackawanna Railroad in Nutley , New Jersey, where his grandfather had once worked as a railway express clerk, Dobbs grew up in a politically engaged family of artists, musicians and poets. Yet he credited the shinning rails that ran past their little house with giving him his first lesson in one-point perspective.
At 18, after graduating from high school, Dobbs hoisted a duffle bag onto his should and hitchhiked cross-country. He worked at a variety of odd jobs before returning to the East Coast to study painting with Ben Shahn and Jack Levine – both became life-long friends. Although he studied with several painters during his twenties, he always referred to himself as being self-taught.
In 1952, Dobbs was drafted into the Army and stationed in Germany and of course he brought along his sketch book and documented his army life.
After returning to the United States, Dobbs had his first one man show in New York in 1959. Four years later, painter Raphael Soyer included Dobbs along with Edward Hopper, Leonard Baskin, Jack Levine and eight other figurative artists in his large group exhibition. While Soyer devoted himself to paint from life, Dobbs worked from memory and imagination, employed both literal and symbolic imagery to invoke America’s collective preoccupations and dreams.
I’m not afraid to say I’ve made paintings that can be hard to live with, Dobbs wrote near the end of his life, responding to often-heard comments that his work is both beautiful and disturbing.