1913 - 2006
Theme/Style – Modernism,
Surrealism, figurative works, portraits
Media – Oils, sculpture,
murals, frescoes, printmaking
Artistic Focus – A prominent
member of Los Angeles’s Post-Surrealist group during the 1930s,
Harold Lehman energetically and passionately created a body of work that
remains unique in its reflection of myriad influences. Inspired by the
Mexican muralist D.A. Siqueiros, Freudian and Gestalt psychology, Lehman
was committed to making art that he felt had social and political relevance.
Lehman’s greatest influences came from Michelangelo, El Greco, Piero
dello Francesca, Rembrandt, and Chinese and African sculpture. Among
the modern surrealists, he admired the work of Pablo Picasso and Giorgio
de Chirico. Total abstraction did not appeal to him.
Career Highlights –
• Harold Lehman was born in New York City in 1913,
and at the age of 16 moved to Los Angeles. At the city’s Manual Arts
High School, Lehman and fellow students Philip Guston and Jackson Pollock
studied under Modernist artist Frederick Schwankovsky; and Lehman also
counted Reuben Kadish among his friends.
• In 1931 Lehman, then a sculptor, won a scholarship to Otis Art Institute
where he studied with Roger Noble Burnham and George Stanley, and at
the end of that year received the Sculpture Award at the school’s exhibition
at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
• 1932 marked a turning point for Lehman, when he met Lorser Feitelson
and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Lehman joined Siqueiros’s Bloc of Painters,
a group that promoted socially relevant themes in their work – an idea
so controversial that their exhibition sponsored by the John Reed Club
was raided by Los Angeles’s “Red Squad” and frescoes by Lehman
and others were destroyed.
• In 1933 Lehman and Philip Guston had a well-received show at the Stanley
Rose Gallery in Hollywood. Also in 1933 Lehman won Second Prize in the
Los Angeles County Museum of Art Annual for his controversial painting
The Landlady, which caused an outcry due to its expressionistic, realistic
depiction of a hardened working class woman.
• Beginning in 1933, Lehman worked with Siqueiros for several years creating
portable frescoes. He also became an associate of Lorser Feitelson, both
as his student at the Stickney Memorial School of Art in Pasadena and
as a frequent visitor to Feitelson’s studio; and in 1934 Lehman participated
in the landmark New Classicist exhibition at Los Angeles’s Centaur Gallery,
where his work along with that of Feitelson, Helen Lundeberg, Lucien
Labaudt, Knud Merrild, and Etienne Ret introduced Post-Surrealism to
• Lehman continued to exhibit in Southern California as well as at the
Paul Elder Gallery in San Francisco, and in 1935 had his first solo exhibition
at Jake Zeitlin’s Book Shop in Los Angeles, to critical acclaim.
• Lehman returned to New York in 1935, where he helped Siqueiros organize
his experimental workshop; and, along with Reuben Kadish and Philip Guston,
participated in the Federal Art Project, creating murals through the
• In the early 1940s Lehman was in Woodstock, New York, where he created
Treasury Department War Bond posters and was active in the Woodstock
• After World War II Lehman returned to New York City, where he resumed
his independent work as a studio artist, as well as teaching and working
as a scenic artist for theme parks, television, and film.
• Lehman’s paintings were included in the traveling exhibition Pacific
Dreams: Currents of Surrealism and Fantasy in California Art, 1934-1957 (UCLA Hammer Museum, 1995); On-Ramps:
Transitional Moments in California Art (Pasadena Museum of California Art Inaugural Exhibition, 2002); and
Surrealism USA (National Academy of Design, 2005).
• Harold Lehman passed away in 2006 in New Jersey at the age of 92.
Additional biographical material and full bibliographic
references are available upon request.
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