John Philip Hultberg Biography

John Philip Hultberg




John Phillip Hultberg, painter, printmaker, educator, and poet, was born to Swedish parents in Berkeley, California on 8 February 1922. His formal art education began in 1939 at Fresno State College where he majored in English literature. Upon receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1943, Hultberg enlisted in the United States Navy.

Upon his discharge in 1946, Hultberg enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). Using his G.I. benefits, he studied with Mark Rothko, Clay Spohn, and Clyfford Still. Fellow artists at the CSFA included Richard Diebenkorn, Frank Lobdell, Walter Kuhlman, James Budd Dixon, and George Stillman, all of whom would participate with Hultberg in the landmark Abstract Expressionist Drawings portfolio of 1948. They would subsequently become known as the “Sausalito Six” as several had studios in the Industrial Center Building on the waterfront in Sausalito just north of the Golden Gate bridge. The artists met informally in one of the studios and shared models and ideas. They also exhibited at the Contemporary Gallery and the Seashore Gallery of Modern Art in Sausalito. Hultberg’s first solo show took place at the Contemporary Gallery in 1949. This same year, he was awarded an Annual Prize by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, as well as, the Albert Bender Grant which allowed Hultberg to move to New York and enroll in courses at the Art Students League.

In 1952, Hultberg participated in his first New York show at the Museum of Modern Art’s New Talent Exhibition in the Penthouse: Goto, Hultberg, Kruger. He moved to Paris in 1954 where he met the gallerist Martha Jackson who exhibited his work for the next twenty years. In 1955, he was awarded First Prize for Oil Painting at the Corcoran Biennial in Washington, D.C. Hultberg was given a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1956 and his work was featured in a solo exhibition at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York that same year. Between 1959 and 1960, he participated in exhibitions in Paris, Milan, and Brussels, and upon his return his began exhibiting extensively throughout the U.S.

Hultberg met fellow artist Lynne Drexler in Manhattan at a gathering for Abstract Expressionists in 1961. They soon married, traveling for three years before returning to New York where they lived at the Chelsea Hotel. In 1971, they purchased a home on Monhegan Island, Maine and divided their time between the island and New York City. They would continue to work and exhibit from these two locations until Hultberg, unable to take the harsh island winters, bought a house in Portland, Maine. By the 1990s the two artists were estranged, though they never divorced. 

Hultberg was awarded a MacDowell fellowship in 1971 and he won the Pollack-Krasner Foundation Fellowship for painting in 1998. He continued to exhibit regularly, with shows in New York, Maine, and Europe. In 2005, his book Sole Witness (W.W.P. Press, 2005) was published as a compilation of essays and poems he wrote in Paris and New York in the 1950s. In addition to his teaching career at the Art Students League (1991 - 2005) he also taught in Hawaii and California.

John Hultberg is represented in the collections of the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, New York; the Bates College Museum of Art, Lewiston, Maine; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Portland Art Museum, Oregon; the Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., and the Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts.

John Phillip Hultberg remained active as an artist and teacher until the week before his death in New York City on 15 April 2005.