The Little-Known Legacy of American Modern Master Seymour Fogel
A student at the prestigious National Design Academy, and a member of the legendary Art Students League, Seymour Fogel left school in 1933 and pursued an apprenticeship with Diego Rivera. The Mexican muralist was working on a major mural in Rockefeller Center, and Fogel joined the project as an assistant; the notorious mural, Man at the Crossroads, was destroyed shortly after its unveiling due to its blatant political allusions. Cutting his teeth in a polemical atmosphere where art infiltrated politics, Fogel left the experience well-versed in the language of Social Realism and the intricacies of large-scale mural making, both of which would lead him to an accomplished artistic career grounded in the Depression era. The native New Yorker went on to garner over 20 historic mural commissions from the WPA’s Federal Art Project, which led him across the United States.
Fogel’s story—including stints working alongside major modernists like Philip Guston and Ben Shahn—has been described as “a ‘who’s who’ in midcentury American art.” Unlike many of his Social Realist contemporaries, Fogel ventured beyond figuration and experimented with style and material. Following the end of the Depression he moved to Texas where he was a professor at the University of Texas in Austin, and pursued his own career through investigations into regionalist themes, Cubism, and Abstract Expressionism, ultimately developing his own variety of abstraction. While his murals were mostly figurative, highly accomplished and vibrant visions of labor and economic recovery, Fogel’s abstract works range from energetic constellations of line and shape, to carefully balanced dialogues on color and form.
Although Fogel never became a household name, his success is recognized today through a long career of achievement. The artist himself once said, “The real success in a truly creative man’s world is the awareness that comes in time that his road is the right one for him, that his search will never yield anything but a little series of truths that give him, however briefly, a glimpse into something incomprehensible but grand; something cosmic that he, in his small way, has been able to touch.”