Self #11, Ego, oil on board, 17 1/2 x 20 inches, 1934, signed top left, dated top right, title verso, exhibition label verso; likely exhibited at Singer’s 1935 one-person show at the Baldwin Museum in Massillon, Ohio, (according to a December 4, 1935, article in The Evening Independent (Massillon, Ohio), the exhibition included a number of self-portraits).
About the Painting
Self #11, Ego, is among Clyde Singer’s earliest self-portraits as a professional artist. It dates from December 1934, less than a year after he returned to Ohio from studying at New York’s Art Students League. Although Singer had a life-long love of New York City, he returned to Malvern, Ohio, in May 1934, finding it too difficult to make ends meet on a modest artist student’s income. Singer had been a well-respected and liked student at the League, but when he told his favorite teacher, John Steuart Curry, about his plans to return to Malvern, Ohio, Curry said, “Oh, you are going home to paint the American Scene! Good!.” Curry’s enthusiasm for Singer’s return to Ohio is not surprising, since many of the leading proponents of regionalism professed a distain for big city America, despite the fact many of them were sophisticated cosmopolitans themselves. For many of these artists, including Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood and Curry, real America and real Americans were to be found in the largely rural middle of the country. In Self #11 Ego, gives us subtle signals concerning his rural hometown. He wears a heavy workman’s coat and a farmhand’s blue overalls. The arrangement of the overalls is telling because Singer unnaturally shows the strap going over the right shoulder of his coat as if to call attention to this part of his outfit, and the background of the portrait is atypically gritty with heavy brownish impasto calling to mind the native soil itself. Singer stares back at us with a cigarette dangling from his lips and an intense gaze, like a Depression Era James Dean from Rebel without a Cause. Throughout the rest of his career, Singer would return time and again to his own reflection, marking the passage of time in a career that would span more than six decades.
About the Artist
Clyde Singer was an Ohio American Scene painter whose work spanned over six decades. He was equally adept at capturing rural small-town America and New York City. Born in Malvern, Ohio, Singer studied at the Art Students League in New York, where he won praise for his early work in 1933, including a painting called Medicine Man, which Reginal Marsh praised for its “remarkable color sense and feeling of form.” In addition to John Steuart Curry, Singer’s teachers included Kenneth Hayes Miller, who had a profound impact on Singer’s work. Singer considered himself to be a successor to the Ashcan School and accordingly, he counted John Sloan and George Bellows among his heroes. Singer had a long association with the Canton Museum of Art and the Butler Institute of American Art. He exhibited extensively during his long career. He had significant success during the 1930s when his paintings were exhibited at major museums across the country and won awards at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Denver Art Museum. During an eighteen-month period in 1935-36, Singer participated in eight-two exhibitions in fifty-six cities. Singer continued to exhibit and have his works placed in important museum collections through the 1980s. He is listed in Who was Who in American Art and all other standard references.