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Joseph Meert

 

Born in Brussels, Belgium, 1905

Studied at the Kansas City Art Institute, New York Art Students' League and in Europe

Instructor of painting, drawing and composition at the Kansas City Art Institute, 1935-1940.

MURALS

Executed three murals for post offices for Section of Fine Arts, Washington, D.C.: Marceline, Missouri, Mt. Vernon, Missouri and Spencer, Indiana.

PRIZES AND PURCHASES                                                

1935     1st Prize, Kansas City Sweepstakes Exhibition, oil

1936     1st Prize, Midwestern Exhibition, Kansas City Art Institute, oil

1938     Prize for Best Oil, Kansas City Art Institute

1939     Painting Purchased From World's Fair and Presented to Kansas City Art Institute

1940     Honorable Award, Hallmark Competition, oil

1950     Purchase from Whitney Museum by Hudson Walker, oil

1950     J. Henry Scheidt Memorial Prize, Pennsylvania Academy, oil

1951     Purchase from Ganso Gallery by Stanley Marcus, oil

1953     Purchase from Pennsylvania Academy, oil

SOLO SHOWS                                                                                                       

1936     Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center

1936     Denver Museum

1937     Woman's City Club, Kansas City Missouri 1949 Artists Gallery, New York City

1951      Ganso Gallery, New York City

1952     Ganso Gallery, New York City

1954      Ganso Gallery, New York City

1955      Ganso Gallery, New York City

1957      Nonagon Gallery, New York City

1961      Mari Gallery, Woodstock, New York


 

EXHIBITED IN FOLLOWING MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES

Dallas, Texas Museum, Drought (oil), 1936-1937; 1940-1941

Colorado Springs Fine Art Center, Picking up Coal (oil), 1936; Corner Store (oil), 1937; Winter Landscape, (oil), 1940; Still Life (oil), 1941 Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C., The Old Street (oil) 1936; Dark Sea (oil),1947

Library of Congress Print Exhibition, a serigraph, 1943

Whitney Museum Annuals, Color Movement (oil), 1944; Sewing Machine (oil), 1950;  Still Life with Grapes (oil), 1951; Classic Horses (water color), 1953

Brooklyn Museum Print Annuals, woodcuts, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954

Philadelphia Print Club, woodcut, 1951

Pennsylvania Academy, Still Life on Sewing Machine (oil), 1950

University of Minnesota, woodcuts, 1954

University of Minnesota, print, 1954

Pennsylvania Academy, oils, 1950, 1953, 1964

Audubon Artists Annual Exhibit, Abstract Composition (oil), 1945; Two Frogs (oil), 1946; Painting # 233. (oil), 1947; title unknown (oil), 1948; title unknown (oil), 1949; Church on Corner (oil), 1950; The Bride (casein), 1951; title unknown (water color), 1953.

Worchester Museum Virginia Museum Spiral Group Annual Exhibit, every year since 1946, at Riverside Museum and New School for Social Research, titles not known, not listed in catalogs.

American Abstract Artists Annuals

Mari Gallery, Woodstock, New York, Group Shows

Karlis Gallery, Provincetown, Massachusetts

Museum of Arts and Crafts, New York

Metropolitan Museum, New York, NY

COLLECTIONS

Nieman-Marcus

Hudson Walker

Lionel Baumann

Benjamin Gissin

Mrs. James Reefer

Pfizer (Charles and Company)

University of Massachusetts

 

 

"Applied in a free and spontaneous fashion, layer upon layer, flooding the surface of his canvases in a density of texture, the color glowing beneath it all...his paintings were extensions of himself, strong, lyrical statements."

 

That's how New York City artist Michael Loew described Joseph Meert's work. Thomas Hart Benton thought Meert one of his best students and invited him to teach with him at the Kansas City Art Institute.  Unbe­knownst to most people, Jackson Pollock thought highly of his work and counted him as one of his closest friends.  Loew summed up Meert's Artistic achievement by saying "he was one of our early innovators who helped launch American painting toward its current, prestigious position,"

 

Then why has no one outside of a few New York City artists ever heard of Meert?  "Something got beaten out of Joe" said Herman Cherry, a teacher at the New School.  "The toughness of life was too much for him."

 

But it wasn't always that way.  Meert was born in Belgium in 1905 and immigrated to Kansas City with his family five years later; arriving in wooden shoes he liked to say.  His father became a repairman on the Union Pacific Railroad and it was while carrying lunch to him one day that Meert had a sort of epiphany.  A painter was stenciling numbers on the side of a boxcar.  When he re­moved the stencil, the bold white numbers seemed to leap out at Joe from the solid red background.  Meert carried a sketchbook everywhere after that and eventually enrolled at the Kansas City Art Institute.  After three years of study with Anthony Angarola and Adolph Blondheim, he lit out for New York City and the Art Student's League.

 

There, he met another Midwesterner who had to buss dishes to pay tuition, Jackson Pollock.  Meert's paintings from this period of farmers, miners and itinerants show a strong compassion for the working class.  Like much of Pollock’s work during the thirties, the paintings are representational and defined by strong, curving lines, the imprint of their fiery-willed teacher, Thomas Hart Benton.

 

Benton liked both Meert and his paintings and asked him to teach with him at the Kansas City Art. Institute in 1935.  Meert grabbed his new bride Margret Mullin, an art teacher from Mamaroneck, and spent the next five years in. Kansas City.  But Meert was an artist, not a teacher and in a letter to a friend that fall he wrote "It really hurts me to give my time to those damned rich sophisticated students."

 

Yet something endured from Meert 's time back home.  Roosevelt was President and the government was commissioning artists to adorn public buildings.  From 1938 to 1939, Meert painted murals for the Treasury Department at the Spencer, Indiana and Marceline and Mt. Vernon, MO post offices.

 

Eventually however, all artists have to break with their teachers and discover their own style.  When he returned to New York in 1941, Meert quit painting for six months and did nothing but visit museums.  After that, he picked up a brush and hasn't put it down since.  The haunted, wraith-like figures that peer out of his canvases were painted in a style soon to be labeled abstract expressionism, a movement that would shift the capital of the art world from Paris to New York.

 

It was during this period that Meert began to play a crucial role in Jackson Pollock's life.  Writing in support of a Guggenheim grant in 1956, Herman Cherry said "it was my feeling that without Joe and Margaret, Jackson's life would have been shortened.  Many times late at night I would hear Jackson bellowing beneath my window for Joe and Margret to take him in.  When he was desperate and torn by conflicts and too drunk to be of any use - to himself and others - he always headed to the Meert’s for succor.  I tell you this because Joe won't, and I know if Jack were alive that he would have done everything to alleviate their condition.”

 

But as Meert's natural shyness began to assert itself, "he was like a wounded pigeon" said Loew, he became dependant on Margret and with­drew further.  In the late sixties, the Meerts bought, a house in the Catskills, isolating themselves from the few friends they had left in New York.  After Margret's death in 1979, Joe was moved to a rest home in Cheshire, Connecticut, where he became increasingly bewildered "I painted a whole life and don't, have anything to show for it."

 

Because he rarely showed his work, Meert's house was brimming with the creative output of a lifetime when it was opened in the fall of 1979. Canvases were stacked five and six deep against tables, on chairs and in crawl spaces.  Two Jackson Pollock's and an original photograph by Margaret Bourke White were discovered in the attic.  Stained glass filled the windows giving the house a sacred, chapel-like aura.  Four huge canvases, the seasons, lay propped against a workbench, the last one, winter, only partially finished.

 

But did reclusiveness hide great talent?  Is Meert another Van Gogh, waiting for posterity to discover him?  In the 1950s another Kansas City Native, lawyer and former Under Secretary of State, Fowler Hamilton took a passionate interest in Meert's work and bought his paintings for the next three decades.  "What one is trying to do in modern art" said Hamilton in 1982 "is to give rise to the viewer feelings that are similar to the painter's when he grasps the spiritual reality behind the physical facade.  It takes a very great, person to paint the feeling for the spiritual by excluding his own selfish, transient emotions."

 

Unfortunately, Hamilton died in 1984 while gathering Meert’s paintings for a retrospective.  So the answer, to Heart's artistic merit, the paintings themselves, lie sealed in a vault in New York City.

 

John Coolrick

Date unknown, from a scanned document

 

   

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