Howard Daum was born in Poland. The family lived in Lodz until Daum was 14 when he and his mother emigrated. They went to Montreal, Canada, where he studied with the painter Alexander Bercovitch from 1934 to 1937. In 1938 Daum and his mother came to New York and settled in the Bronx.
Upon graduation from high school in 1940 Daum attended the Art Students League on a scholarship. He worked with Will Barnet, Cameron Booth, Morris Kantor, Harry Sternberg, and Vaclav Vytlacil (an important mentor). Vytlacil had studied with the modernist painter Hans Hofmann in Munich in 1921, and was a founder of the American Abstract Artists group in 1936.
In 1943 and ‘44, Daum served in the United States Army in Mississippi, and then returned to New York. In 1944 and ‘45 he studied with Hofmann at his Greenwich Village school. Daum’s work from this period became more abstract with clear, direct strokes of bright color. In the extremely shallow space objects such as figures and easels overlapped one another.
Among the artists who were important to Daum as colleagues, Robert Barrell, Peter Busa, and Steve Wheeler, had also studied with Hofmann. In 1940 they made a break with the gestural style of abstraction associated with Hofmann and started to work in a manner inspired by northwest Native American art. This work was of huge interest at the time and was the subject of a 1941 show, Indian Art of the United States, at the Museum of Modern Art. This new style, known as Indian Space, generally incorporated elements of nearly abstract flat space with an all-over pattern and complex figure/ ground relationships, undulating lines with interlocking shapes, and elaborately decorated motifs. Daum soon joined the circle and it was he who coined the term Indian Space; Daum also brought in Gertrude Barrer and Oscar Collier. Together they showed in “Semeiology or 8 and a Totem Pole” at the Gallery Neuf in 1946. AlsointhatyearDaum’swoodcut CatandBirdwasused on the cover of the first issue of Iconograph magazine.*
In 1945 Daum took a room, Studio K, on the second floor of the building at 30 East 14th Street just west of Union Square. He lived and worked there the rest of his life, adding a room, Studio O, on the fifth floor, in the late 1960s. In addition to his close friends Carl Ashby and Helen de Mott, other artists with studios in the building were Charles Keller, Leon Kotkofsky, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Edward Laning, Kenneth Hayes Miller, and Harry Sternberg.
In the mid-1940s Daum studied printmaking at Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17. Founded in Paris in 1927, the Atelier moved to New York City because of World War II. It opened in late 1940 under the auspices of the New School, and created a meeting
place where American and European refugee artists exchanged information on modernist movements. Most of the prints by Daum are from this period. His relief prints show an interest in the abstraction of Indian Space, while the intaglios reflect the influence of Pablo Picasso and a return to the figure. Daum embraced many aspects of modernism and revisited these early interests throughout his career.
Daum was the recipient of a Longview Foundation Award in 1963. Also in the 1960s, at the instigation of his friend Paul Resika, Daum taught in the MFA program at Parsons School of Design (now Parsons, the New School for Design). In the 1960s and ‘70s he worked painting scenery at CBS-TV and the Metropolitan Opera.
20. (Studio with Black Cat), about 1954
The first one-person show of work by Daum was held at the Ashby Gallery, NY, in 1946. Exhibitions followed at Gallery 35, 1950, Urban Gallery, 1954, Artists Gallery, 1952 and 1956, the Bianchini Gallery, 1964, Green Mountain Gallery, 1971, the Ashby Gallery, 1981, Gary Snyder Fine Art, 1991, and David Findlay Jr. Fine Art, 2004 and 2006. Work by Daum has been featured in numerous exhibitions including Indian Space Painting: Native American Sources of American Abstract Art, Baruch College Art Gallery, NY, 1991, Artists of 30 East 14th Street, Susan Teller Gallery, NY, 1992, and Indian Space Works From the Montclair Art Museum’s Permanent Collection, New Jersey, 2004-05. This current exhibition, Howard Daum, Modernist Drawings and Prints, is shown at the Susan Teller Gallery, May 16 through June 23, 2007.
Work by Daum is in the collections of the Art Students League, NY, the Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, the Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, and the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
* Artists associated with Indian Space are Will Barnet, Robert Barrell, Gertrude Barrer, Peter Busa, Oscar Collier, Howard Daum, Helen De Mott, Ruth Lewin, Lillian Orloff, Robert Smith, and Steve Wheeler.