His work has been displayed at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the San Francisco Art Museum, and many other venues across the United States. Now, visitors to Spring Arbor University’s Ganton Art Gallery can enjoy a retrospective of the art of Philip C. Curtis, a Jackson-born painter who achieved notoriety across the United States for his signature brand of Surrealism.
In 1936, after studying at Albion College, the University of Michigan, and Yale, Philip Curtis worked in arts administration under the federal government’s Works Progress Administration, and traveled to Phoenix Arizona on assignment to help launch the Phoenix Art Center (now the Phoenix Art Museum). The vast horizons of the Arizona landscape worked their way into Philip Curtis’ own paintings, and from the late 1950s until his passing in 2000, he produced a large body of work portraying the Arizona landscape in the visual language of Surrealism.
Visitors to SAU’s exhibition Philip Curtis: Coming Home will find a generous cross-section of his work, ranging from his early watercolors (sympathetically depicting life on New York streets during the Great Depression) to his later Surrealist style, for which he is most known. Though Surrealism is associated with the 1920s and 30s, Curtis worked in the style late into the 20th Century. His dreamlike paintings evocatively re-imagine Arizona landscapes, but Curtis famously inserted imagery gleaned from the Victorian era. And while the Surrealism of the 20s was politicized and philosophical (rooted in the writings of Sigmund Freud), Curtis’ works, by contrast, read as whimsical, at times nostalgic, remembrances of 19th Century Americana.
Philip Curtis: Coming Home features 49 oil paintings, lithographs, and watercolors on loan from the Phoenix Art Museum, Albion College, and the Curtis Family. The exhibition is free of charge, and runs through March 12.
Author: Professor Jonathan Rinck