Syd Solomon


Syd Solomon Biography

American, 1917-2004

Written by Dr. Lisa Peters/Berry Campbell Gallery
“Here, in simple English, is what Syd Solomon does: He meditates. He connects his hand and paintbrush to the deeper, quieter, more mysterious parts of his mind- and he paints pictures of what he sees and feels down there.”
 --Kurt Vonnegut Jr. from Palm Sunday, 1981
Syd Solomon was born near Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in 1917. He began painting in high school in Wilkes-Barre, where he was also a star football player. After high school, he worked in advertising and took classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, he joined the war effort and was assigned to the First Camouflage Battalion, the 924th Engineer Aviation Regiment of the US Army. He used his artistic skills to create camouflage instruction manuals utilized throughout the Army. He married Ann Francine Cohen in late 1941. Soon thereafter, in early 1942, the couple moved to Fort Ord in California where he was sent to camouflage the coast to protect it from possible aerial bombings. Sent overseas in 1943, Solomon did aerial reconnaissance over Holland. Solomon was sent to Normandy early in the invasion where his camouflage designs provided protective concealment for the transport of supplies for men who had broken through the enemy line. Solomon was considered one of the best camoufleurs in the Army, receiving among other commendations, five bronze stars. Solomon often remarked that his camouflage experience during World War II influenced his ideas about abstract art. At the end of the War, he attended the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
Because Solomon suffered frostbite during the Battle of the Bulge, he could not live in cold climates, so he and Annie chose to settle in Sarasota, Florida, after the War. Sarasota was home to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, and soon Solomon became friends with Arthur Everett “Chick” Austin, Jr., the museum’s first Director. In the late 1940s, Solomon experimented with new synthetic media, the precursors to acrylic paints provided to him by chemist Guy Pascal, who was developing them. Victor D’Amico, the first Director of Education for the Museum of Modern Art, recognized Solomon as the first artist to use acrylic paint. His early experimentation with this medium as well as other media put him at the forefront of technical innovations in his generation. He was also one of the first artists to use aerosol sprays and combined them with resists, an innovation influenced by his camouflage experience.
Solomon’s work began to be acknowledged nationally in 1952. He was included in American Watercolors, Drawings and Prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. From 1952–1962, Solomon’s work was discovered by the cognoscenti of the art world, including the Museum of Modern Art Curators, Dorothy C. Miller and Peter Selz, and the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Director, John I. H. Baur. He had his first solo show in New York at the Associated American Artists Gallery in 1955 with “Chick” Austin, Jr. writing the essay for the exhibition. In the summer of 1955, the Solomons visited East Hampton, New York, for the first time at the invitation of fellow artist David Budd. There, Solomon met and befriended many of the artists of the New York School, including Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, James Brooks, Alfonso Ossorio, and Conrad Marca-Relli. By 1959, and for the next thirty-five years, the Solomons split the year between Sarasota (in the winter and spring) and the Hamptons (in the summer and fall).
In 1959, Solomon began showing regularly in New York City at the Saidenberg Gallery with collector Joseph Hirshhorn buying three paintings from Solomon’s first show. At the same time, his works entered the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, Connecticut, among others. Solomon also began showing at Signa Gallery in East Hampton and at the James David Gallery in Miami run by the renowned art dealer, Dorothy Blau.
In 1961, the Guggenheim Museum’s H. H. Arnason bestowed to him the Silvermine Award at the 13th New England Annual. Additionally, Thomas Hess of ARTnews magazine chose Solomon as one of the ten outstanding painters of the year. At the suggestion of Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the Museum of Modern Art’s Director, the John and Mable Ringling Museum in Sarasota began its contemporary collection by purchasing Solomon’s painting, Silent World, 1961.
Solomon became influential in the Hamptons and in Florida during the 1960s. In late 1964, he created the Institute of Fine Art at the New College in Sarasota. He is credited with bringing many nationally known artists to Florida to teach, including Larry Rivers, Philip Guston, James Brooks, and Conrad Marca-Relli. Later Jimmy Ernst, John Chamberlain, James Rosenquist, and Robert Rauschenberg settled near Solomon in Florida. In East Hampton, the Solomon home was the epicenter of artists and writers who spent time in the Hamptons, including Alfred Leslie, Jim Dine, Ibram Lassaw, Saul Bellow, Barney Rosset, Arthur Kopit, and Harold Rosenberg.
In 1970, Solomon, along with architect Gene Leedy, one of the founders of the Sarasota School of Architecture, built an award-winning precast concrete and glass house and studio on the Gulf of Mexico near Midnight Pass in Sarasota. Because of its siting, it functioned much like Monet’s home in Giverny, France. Open to the sky, sea, and shore with inside and outside studios, Solomon was able to fully solicit all the environmental forces that influenced his work. His friend, the art critic Harold Rosenberg, said Solomon’s best work was produced in the period he lived on the beach.
During 1974 and 1975, a retrospective exhibition of Solomon’s work was held at the New York Cultural Center and traveled to the John and Mable Ringling Museum in Sarasota. Writer Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. conducted an important interview with Solomon for the exhibition catalogue. The artist was close to many writers, including Harold Rosenberg, Joy Williams, John D. McDonald, Budd Schulberg, Elia Kazan, Betty Friedan, and Evan Hunter. He also had friends in the music world, including Mitch Miller, Eric Von Schmidt, Jerry Leiber, and Jerry Wexler. In 1990, the Ringling Museum of Art honored Solomon with a solo exhibition, A Dialogue with Nature. The artist died in Sarasota in 2004 after a ten-year struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease. 
Recently, Syd Solomon: Concealed and Revealed, a traveling museum exhibition, examined Solomon’s use of camouflage in World War II and how that impacted his abstract paintings. The exhibition opened at Guild Hall Museum in East Hampton and travelled to the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida in 2019. Syd Solomon: Concealed and Revealed is accompanied by a 96-page hardcover catalogue with essays by Michael Auping (former Chief Curator at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and curator of recent exhibitions of Frank Stella and Mark Bradford), Dr. Gail Levin (expert on Lee Krasner and Edward Hopper), George Bolge (Director Emeriti of the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and the Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, Florida), and Mike Solomon, (artist and the artist’s son).
1945, Ecole des Beaux-Arts
1935-1938, Art Institute of Chicago
Selected Solo Exhibitions
2016-2021, Syd Solomon: Concealed and Revealed, Traveling Exhibition
2018-2019, Syd Solomon: Views from Above, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida
2013, Syd Solomon: Along the Shore 1948-1989: Where Fishing and Abstract Expressionism Met, Longboat Key Center for the Arts, Florida
2009, Syd Solomon: On Black, Bob Rauschenberg Gallery, Edison State College, Fort Myers, Florida
2007, Survey, Greene Contemporary, Sarasota, Florida
2005, Windscapes and Lightscapes, Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, East Hampton, New York
2001, Syd Solomon Revisited, Ringling School of Art and Design, Sarasota, Florida
1998, Butler Museum of Art, Youngstown, Pennsylvania
1990-92, Syd Solomon: A Dialogue with Nature, Polk Museum of Art, Lakeland, Floria
1989, Benson Gallery, Bridgehampton, New York
1987, Vared Gallery, East Hampton, New York
1984, Canton Art Institute, Ohio
1981, The Flow of the Wilderness (Galapagos Series), Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, Florida
1979, The Seventies, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida
1979, Works on Paper with Antonio Tapies and Anita Gibson (coastal series), Adley Gallery, Sarasota, Florida
1977, Recent Painting, Boca Raton Center for the Arts, Florida
1973-74, Retrospective Exhibition, New York Cultural Center, New York and Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida
1969, Saidberg Gallery, New York
1964, James David Gallery Ltd., Miami Beach, Florida
1960, Tel Aviv Museum, Israel
1955, Associated American Artists Galleries, New York
1951, Clearwater Musuem of Art, Florida
Selected Group Exhibitions
2019, Summer Selections, Berry Campbell, New York
2018, 57th Street: America’s Artistic Legacy, Part I, Cavalier Gallery, New York
2018, Expressionism and the South, Greenville County Museum of Art, South Carolina
2016-2017, Materiality and Process: Selections from the Permanent Collection, Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, New York
2017, Group Show, Cavalier Gallery, New York
2014, Masters of Expressionism, Berry Campbell Gallery, New York
2012, Works from the Collection, Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, New York
2007-08, East End Artists Past and Present, Tefair Museum of Art, Savanah, Georgia
2003, Modern Art in Florida, 1948-70, Tampa Museum of Art, Florida
1998, Gift for a New Century, Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, New York
1990, East Hampton Avant Garde – A Salute to the Signa Gallery, Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, New York
1985, Vered Gallery, East Hampton, New York
1983, Painting in the South: 1564-1980, Virginia Musuem of Fine Arts, Richmond
1983, Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga, Tennessee
1979, Memorial and Hassam Fund Purchase Exhibition, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York
1968, Litografias de la Coleccion Mourlot, Museo de la Universidad, San Juan, Puerto Rico
1965, Some Recent Gifts, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
1964, Friends Collect. Seventh Annual Exhibition, Whiteny Museum of American Art, New York
1961, Sixty-fourth American Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, Art Institute of Chicago
1957, National Annual Exhibition, Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio
1952, American Watercolors, Drawings, and Prints, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Selected Collections
Adelphi University, Garden City, New York
American University, Washington, D.C.
Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland
Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama
Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio
Chrysler Art Museum, Norfolk, Virginia
Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio
Clearwater Museum of Art, Florida
Dade County Art Collction, Miami, Florida
Greenville County Museum of Art, South Carolina
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
J.M Kaplan Fund, New York
Kokuritsu Seijo Bitjutsukar, Tokyo, Japan
Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida
Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson
Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida
Museum of the South, Memphis, Tennessee
Naples Museum of Art, Florida
New Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana
Norton Gallery of Art, Palm Beach, Florida
Orlando International Airport, Florida
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania
John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida
St. Petersburg Times (Mural), Florida
Tampa Bay Art Center, Florida
Tate Gallery, London, England
Tel Aviv Museum, Israel
Temple Bath El, El Paso, Texas
Wadsworth Museum, Hartford, Connecticut
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York
Witte Memorial Museum, San Antonio, Texas