“Gravel Art” Mosaic – artist unknown – circa 1957
The mid-20th Century in America brought about many changes – social, political, and economic. The American middle-class flourished and began buying, among other things, art that was being mass produced.
Some call it kitschy, some call it crass, I just love most of it.
Take the “gravel art” piece shown above. These were made from kits which came complete with gravel, string (for the border edges between colors), glue and a design pre-printed on a board. Like the paint-by-number kits of the day these came in a wide variety of designs. The one shown above – hip, cool and oh, just so mid-century – is one of the nicest we have ever seen and the best executed. Truly a work of art.
Mass produced prints also provided many in mid-America with access to art as they had never had before. Once again, designs varied, but images began shifting from the traditional and religious prints which were so popular before the War to more modern works.
Vladimir Tretchikoff was one of the most commercially successful artists. Chinese Girl, shown below, is regarded as one of the top selling art prints of all time.
Chinese Girl– Vladimir Tretchikoff – 1950
Tretchikoff was said to be second only to Picasso in popularity and his prints sold widely throughout the world.
Vladimir Tretchikoff died just a little over year ago in Cape Town. The New York Times obituary tells the wonderful story of “The King of Kitsch”.
Zulu Maiden– Vladimir Tretchikoff – 1952
There are many other great examples of this type of art – everything from Picasso and Rothko prints to paint-by-numbers kits and paintings from Sears and Roebuck. Everyone needed some art for their new home in the suburbs and there were artists and manufacturers ready to provide art to the new middle-class in America.
As Andy Warhol said, “An artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have.”
While I certainly appreciate and collect fine art there will always be place in my heart, and in my home, for little of this high-stlye, low-brow art.