Maurice Golubov first studied art as a teenager during evening classes with John Sloan at a Hebrew Educational Society settlement house.(1) At age fifteen Golubov dropped out of school and apprenticed himself to a fashion studio where he copied figure illustrations. A chance encounter with Mark Tobey, who also worked as a fashion illustrator, introduced Golubov to the National Academy of Design. There, Golubov spent week nights for four years studying with Ivan Olinsky, Charles Curran, and George L. Nelson. In 1922, his mastery of the academic régime was recognized when he received the Suydam Silver Medal for excellence in life drawing.
In the spring of 1923 Golubov left both the commercial studio and the academy. Although he had not yet encountered vanguard European, or even American art, Golubov was already making abstract geometric designs. He first visited theMetropolitan Museum of Art in the winter of 192324, studying Venetian and Flemish painting and glazing techniques. He was also studying Greek, Neoplatonic, and American Transcendentalist philosophy at the public library while he painted at night.
With funds running short, Golubov returned to commercial art in 1924. At first full-time, his position eventually becameseasonal, allowing him to paint for months at a time. By the late 1920s, he had discovered other New York museums. Kandinsky and Picasso joined Cézanne on his roster of revered masters. During the late 1920s, he determined to break from commercial work to concentrate full time on painting. He became friendly with a number of other artistsMax Weber, Raphael Soyer,Stuart Davis, Byron Browne, and Arshile Gorky. The summer of 1928 proved a turning point. Working in Woodstock, where he met Milton Avery and David Smith, Golubov began bringing compositional organization to his abstract experiments. Back in the city at theend of the summer, he brought a greater sense of confidence to his work and began attending meetings at the John Reed Club.(2)
In 1933, when his savings ran out, Golubov returned to full-time commercial work, though it left him little time to paint. The same year he married. During slow periods at work, he began doing miniatures in gouache and watercolor, which were often later worked out full-size. By the late 1930s, Golubov began spending his summers in Rockport, Massachusetts, and his winters in the city. He continued to move between abstraction and figuration. During thesummers, his oils were frequently figurative, while his abstract canvases, with loose grid structures, dark colors, and expressionist surfaces, were done primarily during the winter months in New York.
In late 1939, Golubov found a seasonal job at Vogue Wright Studios. At Vogue Wright, he worked long hours for several months and then took off about six months for painting. He continued this arrangement until his retirement in 1967. In 1941, Golubov had a solo exhibition at the Artists’ Gallery. Alice T. Mason and George L.K. Morris saw the show and invited Golubov to join the American Abstract Artists. Finally he began showing with the group in 1944.
By the late 1940s, most of Golubov’s work was abstract. He continued to exhibit at the Artists’ Gallery, as well as in groupexhibitions at the Walker Art Center, the Jewish Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 1943 and 1952, he had solo shows at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina. Even at this point, however, he had not completely relinquished figuration. In 1962 Golubov’s work was featured in Recent Painting USA: The Figure at the Museum of Modern Art.
Although Golubov’s abstractions began as experiments in design, he came to see them as a form of mental rather than visual realism. He grew up in a Hasidic household and as a child began studies toward a rabbinical education. Thus he was grounded in mysticism from an early age, and from his teenage years Golubov was captivated by the world of philosophy. He read Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Kant, Fichte, Berkeley, and Emerson, which along with Eastern philosophy and medieval Jewish theology, provided a basis for his philosophy of art. I could sense and feel more closely the things I felt were real and yet unseen. I didn’t feel comfortable trying to express these in words, however; instead, I started to find symbolic means to be able to represent them pictorially.” In his abstractions, Golubov sought to express the complexities of the world, a “world where endless moments are arrested into one whole ‘instant’ moment.”(3)
Golubov came late to the American Abstract Artists. The pressing discussions over the social relevance of abstraction, and the heated arguments over political issues were, by the mid 1940s, in the past. An admirer of Picasso, Kandinsky, and Céanne, Golubov recognized, but did not take to heart, the stylistic accomplishments of his European prototypes. While his work did pass through stages, and he developed a theory of dimensional space, Golubov looked to himself, not to others for the inspiration, and the means, to express the mystical, the magical, and the profound beauties of life.
1. Golubov experienced a very difficult childhood. His father immigrated to the United States after his precarious shoemaking business failed. As World War I approached in Russia, his mother decided to leave with her six children. Golubov became separated from the rest of the family, and roamed for several months with a band of children who survived by raiding small farms. Golubov was eventually reunited with the family in Petrograd. The family finally made its way to New York. For this and other information about Golubov’s life and career, see Daniel J. Cameron, ed., Maurice Golubov, Paintings 1925–1980 (Charlotte, N.C.: Mint Museum Department of Art, 1980)
2. At the John Reed Club, Golubov met Moses Soyer, Ad Reinhardt, Saul and Eugenie Baizerman, William Zorach, and others. Although Golubov has frequently been described as an isolated figure, he was friendly with a number of other artists,including Lee Gatch, Reginald Marsh, Louis Lozowick, Jackson Pollock, Hans Hofmann, Theodore Stamos, Theodore Roszak, and others. And, if he didn’t show with great frequency, his exposure was not significantly different from the other abstract artists during the 1930s and 1940s.
3. Undated, autobiographical typescript in artist’s files, National Museum of American Art Library, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Virginia M. Mecklenburg The Patricia and Phillip Frost Collection: American Abstraction 1930–1945 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Museum of American Art, 1989)