Dead, Solomon “Sol” LeWitt on April 8, 2007, at the age of 79, he was an American artist linked to various movements, including Conceptual art and Minimalism.
Born in Hartford, Connecticut to a family of Jewish immigrants from Russia on September 9, 1928, his mother took him to art classes at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford.
After receiving a BFA from Syracuse University in 1949, LeWitt traveled to Europe where he was exposed to Old Master painting.
Shortly thereafter, he served in the Korean War, first in California, then Japan, and finally Korea.
LeWitt moved to New York City in 1953 and set up a studio on the Lower East Side, in the old Ashkenazi Jewish settlement on Hester Street.
During this time he studied at the School of Visual Arts while also pursuing his interest in design at Seventeen magazine, where he did paste-ups, mechanicals, and photostats.
In 1955, he was a graphic designer in the office of architect I.M. Pei for a year.
In 1968, LeWitt began to conceive sets of guidelines or simple diagrams for his two-dimensional works drawn directly on the wall, executed first in graphite, then in crayon, later in colored pencil and finally in chromatically rich washes of India ink, bright acrylic paint, and other materials.
Since he created a work of art for Paula Cooper Gallery’s inaugural show in 1968, an exhibition to benefit the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, thousands of LeWitt’s drawings have been installed directly on the surfaces of walls.
Between 1969 and 1970 he created four “Drawings Series”, which presented different combinations of the basic element that governed many of his early wall drawings.
In each series he applied a different system of change to each of twenty-four possible combinations of a square divided into four equal parts, each containing one of the four basic types of lines LeWitt used (vertical, horizontal, diagonal left, and diagonal right).
In 2005 LeWitt began a series of ‘scribble’ wall drawings, so termed because they required the draftsmen to fill in areas of the wall by scribbling with graphite.
The scribbling occurs at six different densities, which are indicated on the artist’s diagrams and then mapped out in string on the surface of the wall.
The gradations of scribble density produce a continuum of tone that implies three dimensions.
Sol Lewitt’s most recent retrospective was organised by the San Francisco Museum of Art in 2000 and then travelled to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and the Whitney Museum of American Art New York.
His works are found in the most important museum collections including: Tate Modern London, the Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Amsterdam, Musee National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, Australia, Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Dia:Beacon, the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
LeWitt’s conceptual pieces often did take on at least basic material form, although not necessarily at his own hands.
In the spirit of the medieval workshop in which the master conceives of a work and apprentices carry out his instructions based on preliminary drawings, LeWitt would provide an assistant or a group of assistants with directions for producing a work of art.
Instructions for these works, whether large-scale wall drawings or outdoor sculptures, were deliberately vague so that the end result was not completely controlled by the artist that conceived the work.
In this way, LeWitt challenged some very fundamental beliefs about art, including the authority of the artist in the production of a work.