(1906 - 1956)
| Born in Cairo, Egypt in 1906 of Italian parents,
O. Louis Guglielmi was sensitive to the changing social scene during his
50-year life. The family soon moved to Italy, traveling as required by the
father's employment as a violinist. In 1914, they made Harlem's Italian
slum in New York City their home. Personal experience with homelessness,
hunger and society's unfortunates strongly affected young Guglielmi's artistic
In 1920, he commenced several years of painting classes, until 1925, at the National Academy of Design, concurrent with sculpture studies at the Beaux Arts Institute and a Tiffany Foundation fellowship. He painted murals and had several jobs in commercial art as well.
The WPA and Public Works Administration employed him between 1934 and 1939. During these years, Guglielmi combined symbolism with his manipulation of light, color, space and scale. After three years in the army, he quickly resumed painting, winning prizes and appearing in major exhibitions.
Guglielmi's "Memory of the Charles River," protested the controversial trial and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927. His "One Third of a Nation (Tenements)," depicting deplorable housing conditions, initially included in a traveling exhibit of modern art abroad, caused the State Department to cancel the tour.
Until about 1933, his paintings, displaying simplified architectural motifs, were linked with Precisionism. After that date, a new moodiness and use of muted colors, and an evident knowledge of the strange world of empty spaces and isolated objects in Giorgio de Chirico's metaphysical art, brought Guglielmi closer to Magic Realism and Surrealism.
On the other hand, his subject matter remained prosaic. He compassionately portrayed the lives of ordinary people, especially the disadvantaged, showing them sitting in front of tenements, bored by the tedium of unemployment or forced onto welfare rolls, their dignity barely intact ("Relief Blues," 1939-40). The use of modified Surrealist idioms in a socially conscious art was termed "Social Surrealism" at the time, and Guglielmi was its leading practitioner.
His "Mental Geography," 1938, which shows a twisted and blasted Brooklyn Bridge, was intended to warn humanity against the spread of destructive forces unleashed by the Spanish Civil War. After 1945, Guglielmi turned toward more formal concerns, developing a stylized quasi-realism of fragmented vistas, objects and color planes akin to the manner of Stuart Davis. In his last years, he painted completely abstract works.
Before his death in 1956, Louis Guglielmi taught at Louisiana State University and the New School for Social Research in New York City. His work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, as well as the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. and the Newark Museum in New Jersey