Jack Beal Biography

Jack Beal




(Walter Henry) Jack Beal Jr. was born in Richmond, Virginia to Walter Henry and Marion Watkins Beal on June 25, 1931. He studied biology, journalism, and art at the College of William and Mary, Norfolk Division, before moving to Chicago in 1953 to enroll in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) where he met his wife. They were married in 1955 and moved to New York City in 1956 to begin their careers in the art world. Beal’s first major solo exhibition in New York was at the Allan Frumkin Gallery, now called the George Adams Gallery. He was a figurative painter that influenced others as one of the dominant forces in the revival of figurative art, beginning in the 1960s and 1970s.

Many neighbors may remember seeing the twelve-foot square mural paintings at the farm studio in progress before they were installed in the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. The paintings depict “The History of Labor in America” century by century, beginning with “Colonization,” then “Settlement,” “Industry,” and “Technology.” Local people and friends from New York City were models for the works. Costumes were borrowed from SUCO and research was done in the libraries of both Hartwick and SUCO. The murals were dedicated in 1977 at a ceremony that included dignitaries and many of the people who posed for the murals.

Every day, thousands of New Yorkers pass by two of Jack Beal’s major works of art. His two glass tile mosaics are imbedded in the walls of the 41st Street IRT mezzanine in the Times Square Station. Each of the 7’ x 20’ works (commissioned by the Art in Transit Initiative) updates the Greek myth of Persephone being abducted by Hades, thus initiating the arrival of winter, and her release which brought the bountiful return of spring. The setting for this retelling of the myth is the New York subway system, and Beal included himself and friends in the crowds watching Persephone. In one mural he appears as the operator of a jack hammer, pun intended; and in the other he is the man looking hopefully towards the heavens.

In the monograph Jack Beal (Hudson Hills Press, 1993), author Eric Shanes wrote that the artist’s “pushing of representational forms to their interface with abstraction has been responsible for the creation of some of the most striking and unusual images of the period.” His work can be seen by the public in many museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Virginia Museum of Art and the National Portrait Gallery. Beal was awarded honorary degrees by the Art Institute of Boston, Hollins College, and State University of New York at Oneonta.

Jack Beal died August 29, 2013 in Oneonta, New York.

copied from the obituary of the Oneanta Daily Star.