Irving Norman Biography

Irving Norman





Irving Norman, painter and printmaker, was born Irving Noachowitz on 10 January 1906 in Vilna, a community that is now the capital of Lithuania. As a child, Irving loved to draw and his uncle promised to send him to a school devoted to art. Unfortunately, the advent of World War I and the Russian Revolution ended that opportunity. He was instead apprenticed to learn the trade of barbering.

In 1923, Irving immigrated to the United States to live with relatives in New York City. He had a deep concern for the poor and disenfranchised and felt a strong call to participate in a political movement for social reform. For a brief time, Irving became a member of the Young Communists League working to ease the burden during the years of the Great Depression. By 1934 Irving had left New York City and was co-owner of a barbershop in the seaside town of Laguna Beach, California.

Irving volunteered for service in the American Lincoln Battalion and spent 1938, the final tragic year of the Spanish Civil War, as a member of the XV BDE, Lincoln-Washington Machine Gun Company fighting to defend the Spanish Republic against the Fascist forces of General Francisco Franco. The horrors Irving witnessed during that year profoundly affected him for the rest of his life and in large measure was the catalyst that drove him to search for a means of creative expression.

Irving moved to San Francisco in 1940 where he attended the San Francisco School of Fine Arts, studying under William Gaw and Eric Spencer Macky. In 1942, Irving had his first solo exhibition of drawings and, in 1945, his first major solo exhibition of drawings and paintings garnered an Albert Bender Memorial Prize. With the cash award he returned to New York City in 1946 to study at the Art League with Reginald Marsh and Robert Beverly Hale. During that same year Irving traveled to Mexico to study the large murals of Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siquerios.

In 1954 Irving met Hela Bohlen, a recent émigré from Germany who was a photographer and landscape designer. They were married in January 1955. From the beginning of their marriage, Irving and Hela came to an agreement: Irving would work on Saturdays to keep his barbering skills sharp while Hela would work during the week allowing Irving the time and freedom to concentrate exclusively on painting.

By 1962 Irving and Hela had created a home in the quiet coastal valley of Tunitas Creek, south of Half Moon Bay, California. For twenty-seven years Irving found the isolation he needed to paint and from his tiny studio he created the majority of his large and highly complex canvases. His work is represented in the collections of the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California; the San Jose Museum of Art, California; the Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History, Lithuania; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

Irving Norman passed away on 21 July 1989.