Idelle Weber (born 1932) is an American artist most closely aligned with the Pop art and Photorealist movements.
Weber was born in Chicago, IL in 1932. Adopted as an infant, she lived in Wilmette, Illinois until the age of eight, with a businessman father and a mother devoted to her cultural development. Early childhood gifts of a Brownie camera and a large magnifying glass were meaningful. She was curious and creative as a child. Her mother took her on weekly visits to the Art Institute of Chicago, her favorite works in the collection being those by Rembrandt, Edward Hopper, and the Thorne miniature rooms. She also spent a lot of time copying her Brenda Starr and Dick Tracy comic books.
At the age of eight, Weber's family relocated to Southern California in an effort to treat her severe allergies. The museum scene there was not as robust as in Chicago, but she found plenty to support her passion for art. She would ride her bicycle to Frank Perls' gallery for critiques on her own artwork. She was exposed to the work of modern masters Matisse, Rodin, and Degas. Her high school dissertation looked at the seemingly disparate work of Edward Hopper and Jackson Pollock. Receiving a full tuition, she attended Scripps College in Claremont, California. Briefly, Weber attended the Aspen Design Conference, which was deeply influential to her developing artistic style, introducing a graphic and bold aesthetic. She went on to study at UCLA, with William Brice, Frederick S. Wight, and Stanton MacDonald-Wright. She received a BA in 1954 and an MA in 1955. After school she shared a studio with Craig Kauffman and Walter Hopps and the three of them became engaged with images of New York School abstraction.
In 1956, Weber's work Observation of Sound, a charcoal work of the previous year, was selected from 5,000 entries by curator William S. Lieberman for inclusion in the Museum of Modern Art's show Recent Drawings USA. She showed under her unmarried name, Feinberg. In light of this success, Weber moved to New York to work and to secure a gallery affiliation. Sam Hunter, then curator at MoMA, arranged for her to meet art historian H. W. Janson, who admired Weber's work but stated that he did not include women painters in his books. Charles Allen, owner of the Allen Gallery, similarly indicated that he did not show women artists. Weber attended an illustration and design class taught by Alexander Liberman at the School of Visual Arts, but when she asked Robert Motherwell if she could audit his class at Hunter College, he responded that married women with children were not permitted to audit classes because they would not continue painting. Weber had married earlier that year. In 1958, her son was born, followed by a daughter in 1964, yet she continued painting.
She attended classes at the Brooklyn Museum and studied under Theodoros Stamos at the Art Students League, rented a studio in Brooklyn Heights, and showed her work in several group exhibitions. Finally, Weber signed with Bertha Schaefer Gallery in 1962. Her first solo show was there in January 1963 and featured her silhouette paintings. The Albright-Knox Gallery purchased Reflection (1962) from that show. She had two solo exhibitions at Bertha Shaefer Gallery. (Weber would be represented later by a string of galleries, including Hundred Acres, OK Harris, Schmidt-Bingham, and Jean Albano.). It was also around this time that she came to know Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, James Rosenquist, and other Pop artists through her contacts at the Castelli Gallery. She became particularly close with Yayoi Kusama, Lucas Samaras, Claes Oldenburg, and Agnes Martin.
During the early 1960s, Weber's work mainly consisted of silhouette paintings against brightly colored, checkerboard backgrounds. Her preferred subjects were anonymous figures engaged in everyday activities, such as a group of friends playing cards (Hearts, 1964), or business men riding escalators (Munchkins I, II, & III, 1964). Munchkins was the largest work she ever created; it was painted on three canvases butted together. She painted each canvas in a different room in her small apartment. She began making large-scale Plexiglas sculptures in 1965. Jumprope Lady was her first successful attempt at transposing her silhouette paintings into three-dimensions.
In the late 1960s, Weber switched from her early Pop aesthetic to Photorealist techniques. Working from photographs and slides of New York City, she made highly detailed paintings of fruit-stands (Bluebird, 1972), trash and litter (Heineken, 1976), which would become her dominant themes over the next several years. Weber became a leading member of the Photorealist movement and formed friendships with Duane Hanson, Robert Cottingham, Richard Estes, John DeAndrea, John Salt, and Ralph Goings, among others.
Weber taught graduate drawing and painting at NYU in the 1970s and would later teach art at Harvard University, the Art Barge in Amagansett, NY and the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne, Australia, where she was also artist-in-residence.
While teaching at Harvard in the 1990s, Weber began working in monotypes and created a series of small black and white works inspired by television coverage of the Gulf War. Moving from small to large scale, the experience working in monotype resulted in a dramatic change in her painting style. A severe allergy to most solvents forced her to stop working with oil paint in 1995. In 2000, she began working in collage, culminating in a major installation, Head Room, at the Contemporary Gallery at the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn, NY. Weber continues to live and work in New York City.
In 2013, the Chrysler Museum of Art acquired her painting, Munchkins, I, II, & III (1964), showing silhouetted business men riding the escalators of the PanAm Building, which had been completed in New York the year before. Online art publication Blouin ArtInfo announced the acquisition with the headline, "Chrysler Museum Acquires Original “Mad Men” Painting by Neglected Pop Artist Idelle Weber". The story also reported that the work was one of three by Weber acquired by the museum at that time. The other two paintings, High Ceiling—You Won’t Get This and Mr. Chrysler also reference the gender stereotypes of the American workplace in the 1960s. The titular Mr. Chrysler made the work all the more appropriate for that museum's collection. The purchase occurred at a time that Weber was resurfacing with renewed critical interest.
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