(1907 - 1984)
A painter and textile designer, John
Little is best known for gestural works filled with boldly explosive
color that reflect the influences of his teacher Hans Hofmann and for
his involvement in the Abstract Expressionist movement in East Hampton,
where he moved in the late 1940s. In East Hampton Little congregated
with Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and the other artists who were the
leading innovators in the New York School.
Little was born in
Sanford, Alabama. He left home at the age of fourteen to become an
artist, and moved to Buffalo, New York, in 1923. After spending a year
working as a stevedore on the docks to save money, he enrolled at the
Buffalo Fine Arts Academy and developed an interest in singing. In
1927 he moved to New York City where he continued his vocal work and
studied operatic literature. He also became involved in textile design,
opening his own store in 1920, called John Little Studios: Fabric and
Wallpaper Design. He ran the store until 1950.
Little resumed his painting studies at the Art Students League in New
York under the guidance of George Grosz (1893-1959). The following year
he made his first visit to East Hampton, Long Island, which he would
eventually call home. Later in the decade, he traveled to Paris where he
became familiar with European modernism. On his return to America, he
taught textile design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He hired
Josephine Watkins to work for him; she later became his wife. Little’s
textile store and teaching job gave him a financial security that was
rare during the Depression, and he never found it necessary to find
employment with the Works Progress Administration. At the end of the
decade, Little studied with Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) in New York and
Provincetown. Little was greatly influenced by Hofmann, particularly by
his views on color theory.
In 1942 Little joined the Navy as an
aerial photographer. In the late 1940s, he purchased a rundown house on
Three Mile Harbor Road in East Hampton, near where he had been
frequently visiting Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner. In 1948, he had
his first one-man show in New York at the Betty Parsons Gallery, where
he would continue to exhibit frequently in the years ahead. He closed
his textile business in 1950 and become a permanent resident of East
Hampton, although he still maintained a studio in the city. In 1957,
Little made an important contribution to the East Hampton scene when he
opened the first commercial art gallery—Signa Gallery—with his artist
friends Alfonso Ossorio (1916-1990) and Elizabeth Parker (1893-1975).
continued to exhibit widely and travel and paint until his death in
1984. Examples of his work can be found in many important private and
public collections including the Ball State University Museum of Art,
Muncie, Indiana; Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut; Dillard
University, New Orleans; Galeries Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland; Guild
Hall Museum, East Hampton; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the
University Art Museum, Berkeley, California.
John Little was born in 1907 in Alabama
and as a teenager attended the Buffalo Fine Arts academy from 1924 to
1927. Soon after he moved to New York, where he began operatic vocal
training and opened what became a very successful textile business
designing fabric and wallpaper. In 1933 he began classes at the Art
Students League with George Grosz, painting mainly Cezannesque
landscapes. In 1937 he started working with Hans Hofmann in both New
York and Provincetown, which pushed him towards abstraction and his
first serious involvement as a painter. At Hofmann’s school he met
artists such as Lee Krasner, George McNeil, Gerome Kamrowski, Giorgio
Cavallon and Perle Fine. In 1942 he went into the service as a navy
After the war he returned to New York and,
with nowhere to stay, moved into Hans Hofmann’s 8th Street studio where
his neighbors were Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock. The paintings of the
late 1940s reveal great experimentation and a growing interest in both
Surrealist automatism, Picasso, and the theories of Hans Hofmann. In
1946 Little was given his first one-man show at the California Palace of
the Legion of Honor in San Francisco with a follow-up solo show at
Betty Parsons in 1948. In the early 1950s Little abandoned the flat,
linear style of the 40s with new works painted in thick, gestural
buildup of paint. He also began a series of constructions created from
driftwood and beach-combing detritus. In 1951 he moved to East Hampton,
where he maintained a closed friendship with Pollock - the two had a
joint exhibition in 1955 at Guild Hall. In 1957 Little helped found the
Signa Gallery, an important outpost in East Hampton for the growing New
York art scene and host to many influential exhibitions. Little
continued to actively exhibit until his death in 1984.
solo exhibitions at, among others, Betty Parsons Gallery in 1948,
Bertha Schaefer Gallery in 1957 and 1958, Worth Ryder Gallery in 1963,
A.M. Sachs Gallery in 1971 and a retrospective at the Guild Hall Museum
in 1982. His work is part of the permanent collections of The
Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Guild Hall Museum, Ball State University
Museum of Art, Galerie Beyeler, Dillard University, The Bruce Museum
and the University Art Museum at Berkeley, CA.
Original Gouache on Paper
Image Size is 15" x 20 1/2"
Total Size is 20" x 23"
Condition: Image Excellent
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