Manly Art: 18 Virile Artists From the Past to the Present

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My first exposure to art was in grade school when we had “art time.” My teachers were kind, middle-aged ladies who taught me to trace my hand and add colorful feathers to make a whimsical Thanksgiving turkey to take home to mom and dad. I finger-painted and made colorful Chinese lanterns. There were always big, bold, primary colors. The canvas of choice? Construction paper. While I enjoyed creating this simple, primitive art, I knew that there had to be more to it…that there had to be “real” art out there beyond just my amateur creations.

I then saw the Keep On Truckin’ image with those struttin’, free-wheelin’ bald guys, each with a huge left foot. There was a funny, “cool dude” vibe to the image that I liked.

From that point on, I started looking for cool “man art” in everything from TV Guide to humorousWacky Packages and MAD magazine. As time passed, my search progressed into a quest for different representations of manly art. I noticed the artwork featured in old Perry Mason episodes. It was back there on the wall behind some guy who was either holding a glass of Scotch or lighting a cigarette with the clank of a Zippo. Sometimes, there was violence and despair in the slashes of paint on those abstract pieces. Ironically, though, the finished piece ended as one of sheer elegance and sophistication. I soon realized that manly art didn’t necessarily have to look like a caveman’s dinosaur sketch on a rock wall. I also liked the dark, moody paintings that were featured at the beginning of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. I guess the darker subject matter represented the “snakes, snails, and puppy-dog tails” aspect of art for me. I later got my hands on some old Man’s Life, Popular Mechanics, and Field and Stream magazines from the 1950s. The illustrations depicted guys who were fishing, hunting, or in gut-wrenching peril out in the wild. With all of these images burned into my mind, my own interpretation of masculine art began to take shape.

I came to realize that in my case, masculine art could encompass one or more of the following: humor, danger, despair, violence, aggression (in depiction or technique), manly activities, and anything else of interest to a man. There was also sophistication, elegance, and beauty. So, who’s to say what constitutes manly art? Below we’ve shared more than a dozen artists, both classic and modern, famous and less well known, some of which have shaped my own art, and all of which have a special quality that Brett and I feel connects with the masculine spirit.

George Bellows (1882 – 1925)

Bellows was a member of the “Ashcan School” – a group of artists who sought to realistically portray the working-class neighborhoods of New York City. Bellows most famously applied this gritty realism to boxing matches – showcased with a dark atmosphere into which the fighters had been placed with bright, forceful brushstrokes.

LeRoy Neiman (1921 – 2012)

LeRoy Neiman first decided to be an artist while serving as a cook during World War II. When he wasn’t making pots of mashed potatoes, he painted murals on the kitchen walls, as well as on sets for Red Cross shows. After the war, he became one of the most popular artists in America, known for his colorful, impressionistic take on what he called scenes from the “good life” – oftentimes athletic events, but also leisure time and celebrities as well.

Jake Weidmann (1984 -)

We featured Jake Weidmann in our So You Want My Job series last fall, and his interview easily became the most popular of all time. Clearly we were not alone in admiring Jake’s disciplined quest to become one of only eleven “Master Penmen” in the world. Jake’s beautiful art combines his exquisite penmanship with evocative imagery – his pieces are truly one of a kind.

Thomas Moran (1837 – 1926)

Thomas Moran was a member of the Hudson River School, a movement of artists who strove to capture one of the manliest of themes: the sublimity and majesty of nature. Moran’s paintings of the West pulsated with the energy of exploration and discovery, as well as the feeling of man’s smallness besides such awesome natural features. The inspiration that such scenes can impart is palpable.

Roy Lichtenstein (1923 – 1997)

Lichtenstein was an American pop artist who became a leading figure of the new art movement of the 60s. He drew inspiration from comics and advertising.

C.E. Monroe

Monroe’s art appeared on numerous covers of Field and Stream magazine during the 1950s and 1960s. He also created classic ad art for Winchester rifles and Savage Arms during those years. His work respectfully depicts men at work and play during a period of the 20th century when men were unapologetically depicted as not only strong, but as living examples of class and style.

Frederic Remington (1861 – 1909)

The preeminent artist of the Old West, Frederic Remington is most famous for his depictions of cowboys and Native Americans. Unlike his contemporaries, he focused on the men and animals of the West, rather than the landscape. He also painted military scenes; commanders of the Western Army would invite him into the field to do their portraits. He even went along with Theodore Roosevelt, an admirer of his work, as a war correspondent during the Spanish-American War, and captured the Rough Riders charge up San Juan Hill.

Diego Rivera (1886 – 1957)

Rivera was a controversial Mexican artist – both praised for his rich, storytelling murals and frescoes, and criticized for his left-leaning politics. He often depicted the heroism and struggle of the worker, and preferred public murals as his medium for their ability to bring art to the masses.

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