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Jack Tworkov papers, circa 1926-1993

Biographical Note

New York School painter Jack Tworkov (1900-1982), best known for his Abstract Expressionist paintings and as a highly regarded teacher, lived and worked in New York City and Provincetown, MA.
At age 13, Tworkov (born Yakov Tworkovsky) emigrated from Poland with his mother and sister to join his father already in the United States. In America, they chose to use the name of distant relatives, the Bernsteins, who were their sponsors. Eventually, Jack and his sister, Janice, reclaimed and shortened their name to Tworkov; later, she adopted the name of their hometown in Poland and became the painter Janice Biala.
As a high school student in New York City, Tworkov attended drawing classes. After graduating from Columbia University, where he had been an English major and considered becoming a writer, Tworkov instead turned to art. He studied with Ivan Olinsky at the National Academy of Design between 1923 and 1925, and from 1925 to 1926 attended painting classes taught by Guy Péne Du Bois and Boardman Robinson at the Art Students League. During his college years, Tworkov began visiting museums and became a great admirer of Cézanne. Tworkov's early paintings - still life, landscapes, and portraits - showed the influence of European modernism and Cézanne.
Tworkov spent his first summer in Provincetown while still a student and subsequently returned to study with Ross Moffet. In Provincetown he met and was greatly influenced by Karl Knaths and developed a lifelong friendship with Edwin Dickinson. By 1929, Tworkov was painting there year round. Over the years, Tworkov and his family continued to return for long stretches, and in 1958 he purchased a house in Provincetown.
During the Great Depression, Tworkov participated in the Treasury Department's Public Works of Art Project until 1934, and then moved to the easel division of the WPA Federal Art Project. He felt uncomfortable with the growing ideological and political influences on art and found it depressing to paint for the WPA rather than for himself, so he left the WPA in 1941. Tworkov, who had studied mechanical drawing while in high school, spent most of the War years employed as a tool designer and draftsman at an engineering firm with government contracts.
By the 1940s, Tworkov was painting in the Abstract Expressionist style. Between 1948 and 1953, he leased a studio on Fourth Avenue that adjoined that of his friend Willem de Kooning. During this time, they mutually influenced each other as they developed into mature Abstract Expressionists. At Yale in the 1960s, Tworkov became close friends with fellow student Josef Albers. Alber's influence on Tworkov resulted in a turn to geometric compositions of small, systematic, and repetitive strokes defined by a grid. He experimented with diagonal compositions, and later geometric work that featured large areas of color and soft texture.
Tworkov's first teaching experience was during 1930-1931 when he served as a part-time painting instructor at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School. His teaching career began in earnest when he joined the faculties of Queens College, 1948-1955, and Pratt Institute, 1955-1958. During the summers he taught at various schools, most notably Black Mountain College's 1952 summer session. Tworkov was a visiting artist at the Yale University School of Art and Architecture, 1961-1963, and became chairman of its Art Department from 1963 until his retirement in 1969. In retirement he lived in Provincetown and was a visiting artist for both short and extended periods at various universities and art schools.
An avid reader of literature and poetry, Tworkov also wrote poems and essays. He published essays in It Is, Art Digest, and Art In America; his most notable piece, "The Wandering Soutine," appeared in Art News, November 1950. Tworkov also kept a journal for 35 years (1947-1982) that recorded his thoughts on a wide range of subjects concerning professional, personal, and philosophical issues, as well as details of everyday life.
Tworkov was among the founders of the Artists' Club or The Club in 1949, and for a decade actively participated in the stimulating discussions for which the group was known. In 1968 he helped to establish the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Its residency program enabled younger artists and writers to advance their careers and kept Provincetown's historic artists' colony active year round.
He was the recipient of the William A. Clark Award and Corcoran Gold Medal from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1963; Skowhegan School of Art's Painter of the Year Award, 1974; and Distinguished Teaching of Art Award from College Art Association, 1976. Tworkov was appointed to serve on the Massachusetts Art Commission, 1970-1971, and in 1981 was named a Fellow of The Cleveland Museum of Art and of the Rhode Island School of Design.
Following his second divorce in 1935, Rachel (Wally) Wolodarsky became Tworkov's third wife and their marriage endured. They had two daughters. Hermine Ford (b. 1939) is an artist married to fellow painter Robert Moskowitz. Helen Tworkov (b. 1943) is the founder of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and the author of a book about yoga.
Tworkov remained physically and intellectually active after a diagnosis of bone cancer around 1980, and continued to paint until shortly before his death in Provincetown on September 4, 1982.