LAMA Artists & the G.I. Bill

November 10, 2017

In honor of Veterans Day, Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) has compiled a list of artists who used the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the G.I. Bill, to further their artistic education and careers. The bill was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to allow veterans and servicemen access to continued education, the ability to buy a home, and extended health benefits.

Karl Benjamin

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Lot 221, Karl Benjamin, Untitled, 1955
May 19, 2013 Modern Art & Design Auction

Thanks to a boost from the G.I. Bill, Chicago native Karl Benjamin made his way to California in 1946 to pursue a college degree at the University of Redlands, after having served three years in the navy during World War II. He graduated in 1949 with a degree in History, English, and Philosophy, and later continued his education at the Claremont Graduate School, where he received his MFA in 1960. At the latter institution Benjamin began experimenting with the ways in which wildly different colors could influence one another.

Roy Lichtenstein

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Lot 37, Roy Lichtenstein, Reverie (from 11 Pop Artists Portfolio, Vol. II), 1965
October 22, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction

Drafted into the army in 1943, Roy Lichtenstein was obliged to put his studies at Ohio State University on hold until he was discharged after World War II came to a close in 1945. Lichtenstein briefly stayed on in Paris to work on his French language skills and roam the Louvre. Not long after he returned stateside, Lichtenstein returned to his studies with the assistance of the G.I. Bill at the School of Fine Arts at Ohio State, where he graduated with an MFA in 1949. There Lichtenstein received instruction under American Social Realist painter Hoyt L. Sherman, who would have significant influence upon the artist’s later work.

Sam Francis

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Lot 228, Sam Francis, Untitled (SF56-003), 1956
October 7, 2012 Modern Art & Design Auction

Before serving as a fighter pilot during World War II, Abstract Expressionist Sam Francis had toyed with pursuing a career in the field of medicine. After he was injured during an emergency landing during his flight training, Francis developed spinal tuberculosis and subsequently was bedridden. Due to the nature of his condition, the artist was forced to lie on his stomach for four years in order to properly heal. During this period Francis devoted his limited energies to copying works of art from books in watercolor. The loose-wristed techniques he developed during this time would later translate onto larger canvases. After receiving his master’s degree in art from Berkeley, Francis traveled to Paris on the G.I. Bill in 1950, where his work gained almost immediate success.

Ellsworth Kelly

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Lot 20, Ellsworth Kelly, Yellow over Yellow, 1964-65
May 19, 2013 Modern Art & Design Auction

From 1941 to 1943 Ellsworth Kelly studied art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, but was forced to put his studies on hold to serve in the army during World War II. In 1945 Kelly returned to the States to continue at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from 1946 to 1948.  Shortly after, in 1949, Kelly took advantage of the G.I. Bill and moved to France to study at the École des Beaux-Arts. Kelly would later admit that most of his artistic education took place outside the academy in discussions with other artists and by wandering galleries filled with ancient artifacts. During the six years he remained in Europe, Kelly became acquainted and infatuated with Byzantine and Romanesque art and architecture. During his time in Paris, Kelly also became familiar with Neo-Plasticism and Surrealism, which would eventually introduce elements from automatic drawing and geometric abstraction into his own hard-edged, non-painterly abstractions.

Arthur Espenet Carpenter

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Lot 113, Arthur Espenet Carpenter, Wishbone chair, Executed 1969
October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

Arthur Espenet Carpenter was set to become a businessman after earning a degree in the field of economics from Dartmouth College. However, after enlisting and serving in the navy in the Pacific Theater, Carpenter changed his mind and determined to instead pursue a career in a field he truly enjoyed. After attending the “Good Design” show at MoMA in 1951-52, Carpenter determined to try his hand at making his own hand-turned objects. Moving to San Francisco shortly thereafter, Carpenter applied for and received a small business stipend under the G.I. Bill and opened his own woodworking shop in the Mission District. The support he received from the G.I. Bill would enable him to hone his craft, moving beyond bowls to his now iconic furniture, characterized by sleek lines and distinctive, scalloped sides.

George Rickey

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Lot 252, George Rickey, Divided Quadrilateral III, 1978
October 9, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

From 1942 to 1945, sculptor George Rickey served in the Army Air Corps, where he first began experimenting with making the linear steel mobiles now so readily associated with his name. During his service in the Army, Rickey worked in a shop, where he was tasked with improving aircraft weaponry and tackling mechanical issues. The experience he gained during the war would translate into a lifelong interest in physics and geometric forms, which would in turn drive and influence his later sculptural designs. After the war, Rickey took advantage of the G.I. Bill, enrolling in courses at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts and the Chicago Institute of Design.

Paul Jenkins

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) May 21, 2017 Auction

Lot 184, Paul Jenkins, Phenomena Wind at the Foot of the Anvil, 1975
May 21, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction

One of the foremost American Abstract Expressionist painters of the postwar period, Paul Jenkins served in the U.S. Maritime Service and the U.S. Naval Air Corps during World War II. After the war Jenkins moved to New York City, where he studied at the Art Students League of New York under painter and printmaker Yasuo Kuniyoshi on the G.I. Bill. During this time Jenkins met artists Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko, relationships that would ultimately seal his association with Abstract Expressionism and the New York School.

Peter Voulkos

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Lot 152, Peter Voulkos, Vase, 1960
October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

A pioneer of Studio Craft, Peter Voulkos was drafted into the Army Air Corps in 1943 and served as an airplane gunner in the Pacific. After he was discharged in the late 1940s, Voulkos pursued an MFA at Montana State College under the G.I. Bill, where he initially studied painting and printmaking before turning to ceramics. Voulkos would ultimately go on to transform the traditional landscape of works in clay through his experimentation with form and surface.

Robert Rauschenberg

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Lot 102, Robert Rauschenberg, Lattice (Hoarfrost), 1975
December 16, 2012 Modern Art & Design Auction

In 1943 Robert Rauschenberg was drafted to serve in the U.S. Marines. After refusing to fire lethal shots at targets, the Marines quickly learned that Rauschenberg wasn’t quite cut out for the battlefield and assigned him to a post at the Navy Hospital Corps as a medical technician in San Diego. After the war came to a close Rauschenberg took advantage of the G.I. Bill to enroll in art classes at Kansas State University in 1947, and later at the Académie Julian in Paris.

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