John Philip Hultberg Biography

John Philip Hultberg




John Hultberg, painter, printmaker, educator, playwright, and member of the Bay Area Figurative Movement, was born in Berkeley, California, on February 8, 1922. Showing an early aptitude for visual arts, Hultberg first began using oils at age 14. His formal art education began at Fresno State College from 1939-1943. After graduation, he joined the U.S. Navy where he achieved the rank of lieutenant in World War II, and upon completion of duty he returned to his studies on the GI Bill. He enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), studying under Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still, with whom he would later study at the Art Students League of New York. 

Hultberg's cohorts at the CSFA included Richard Diebenkorn, Frank Lobdell, Walter Kuhlman, James Budd Dixon, and George Stillman, all of whom would participate in the landmark Abstract Expressionist Drawings portfolio of 1948. They would subsequently become known as the "Sausalito Six" due to the location of the press, as well as the artists' residences in the now-famous fishing village just north of the Golden Gate bridge. This same year, he was awarded an Annual Prize by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, as well as the Albert Bender Fellowship. This allowed Hultberg to move to New York the following year, where he enrolled in courses at the Art Students League. There, he participated in his first New York show at the Museum of Modern Art's 1952 exhibition of new artists, followed by a group show at the Korman Gallery. He spent a year living and exhibiting in Paris (1954-1955), finding critical success at the Nina Dausset Gallery and Galerie Rive Droite.

By now, Hultberg's artistic reputation as an Abstract Realist was cemented in the Modernist world, and he was invited to participate in various national and international exhibitions. After his return to the States Hultberg entered his work into the 1955 Corcoran Biennial in Washington, D.C., where he won First Prize in oil painting. The following year, he was granted a Guggenheim Fellowship and was given a solo show at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York. From 1959 to 1960 he expanded his international reach with exhibitions in Paris, Milan, and Brussels, and on his return his began exhibiting extensively throughout the U.S.

In 1961 he met the artist Lynne Drexler at The Artist's Club in Manhattan at a gathering for Abstract Expressionists. They soon married, traveling for three years before returning to New York where they relocated to the Chelsea Hotel. In 1971 the two artists 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 remained active as an artist and teacher until the week before his death in New York City on April 15, 2005. In 1998 he won the Pollack-Krasner Foundation Fellowship for painting. He continued to exhibit regularly, with shows in major venues throughout New York, Maine, in Paris, and more. 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 Hulberg's works are in the collections of the Guggenheim Museum (NY); the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY); the Whitney Museum of American Art (NY); the Museum of Modern Art (NY); the Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo (NY); the Portland Museum of Art (ME); the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art (PA); the Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois; and the University of Arizona.