Pol Mara, American contacts and Pop Art influences
- Peter Pauwels and Emmanuel Van de Putte
The Belgian painter Pol Mara's first contact with the USA originated in the summer of 1963 when the director of the Carnegie Institute visited his atelier in Antwerp, in order to select works for the Pittsburgh International. Von Groschwitz was accompanied by the Washington socialite and art historian Meda Mladek, who immediately took to the painter and his wife. Enthusiastic about his work, she encouraged him to exhibit in the States and even found him a gallery in Washington, the recently opened Mickelson Gallery, patronised by the Kennedy set. Mara and his wife Maria arrived in January 1964 in New York, their luggage full of paintings. Again through Mladek they were introduced to collectors and contacted the Belgo-American lawyer Harry Torczyner, well established in the New York Art World and a great collector of Magritte. On this first trip they visited art museums and galleries, including those of Sidney Janis and Castelli. The exhibition at the Mickelson was a big success and prompted the idea of another one in the autumn of 1966, this time in New York at Bertha Schaefers Gallery. In New York Mara renewed his contact with American Pop Art. One of the few Belgian painters to do so in the Sixties, Mara visited the States almost annually, staying mainly in the big cities, such as New York, Washington, Pittsburgh, … but extending his view on the American way of life, with long rides through Arizona in 1966 and several weeks in California in 1967. In 1968 he found an engaging new dealer in the active Holly Hemingway, who showed his work at her New York premises, had it included in group exhibitions and organised publicity in big art magazines. Drawn on the artist's own extensive archive of letters, notes, catalogues, and reviews, made accessible for the first time to the authors, the contribution aims to give an insight in Mara's American contacts, dealers and collectors. It will focus on the remarkable influence the repeated stays in America had on his work. The contact with a thoroughly new society and invigoratingly fresh art undeniably had a huge impact on Mara. The figurative elements had already discretely re-entered his abstract paintings from the end of 1962 on, a year before his first arrival in New York. Mara had been active for years as a graphic designer and was obviously interested in advertising techniques, which originated in the States and only gradually reached Europe. Beginning in 1965 and more blatantly from 1966 on, and very similar to other Pop artists who sourced imagery from the modern world and popular culture, pictures in magazines and advertisements became the foundation of his work. Speed, sport, city life, movies, photography, mass consumption turn up in his paintings, and above all sex, in the beguiling form of the new woman, a mixture of Lolita, pin-up and the beautiful girl-next-door. These pictures of "Mara-women" in their daily occupation are stirring with vitality. The use of advertising and photographs in glossy, and even soft-porn magazines lead to a thoroughly up-to-date image, that is direct, in a way immediately understandable, and yet often mysterious. In several articles and reviews from that period Mara is qualified, in Europe but also in the States, as a "Pop"-artist, but was he really? An incredibly gifted draughtsman and colourist, Mara achieves the popular silkscreen effect without the use of modern technology, but with traditional pencils and brushes. His colours are, with a few exceptions, never as flashy as those of typical Pop Art. Many Pop Art related elements can be found in Mara's work, but at the same time aspects of Nouveau Réalisme, hyperrealism, and even a kind of symbolism. The paper aims to confront arguments pro and contra.
Peter J.H. Pauwels (°1963), Master at Law (University of Antwerp) and Notarial Law (University of Ghent), Honorary Notary Public, Master in Art Sciences (University of Ghent), is preparing a PHD on the cultural networks of M. Naessens, E. Langui and G. Nellens, and working on monographies on Marthe 'Tour' Donas and Albert Saverys
Emmanuel Van de Putte (°1979), Master in Political Science (University of Antwerp), is specialist in impressionist and modern art and has worked for several auction house: Kunsthaus Lempertz in Brusels/Cologne (2002-2006) and Christie's Brussels, London and Paris (2006-2010). Actually he is art consultant for Chester Collections (Geneva)
The authors are currently working together on the inventory of the Pol Mara archives and a catalogue raisonné of his oeuvre.