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Artist: Joseph Milton Glasco (American, 1925 - 1996)

Date: 1952
Medium: Gouache with incised lines on scratchboard
Overall: 13 7/8 x 11in. (35.2 x 27.9cm)
Inscribed: Verso, upper left (graphite): "#3"
Credit Line: Edward W. Root Bequest
Object number: 57.150
Text Entries

Glasco enjoyed early success in the postwar New York art world and created the MWPI drawing at this notable time in his young career.(2) While his work of this period is ostensibly figurative, Glasco perceived his representational subjects (primarily figures and animals) in terms of their formal components and expressive potential.(3) The main form of the MWPI drawing, for example, depicts the head of a boy who may be wearing a peaked hat.(4) The head is framed by margins at the left, right, and top, where a green band runs behind it. However, there is nothing naturalistic about the composition. Like his New York School con- temporaries, Glasco is committed to surface.(5) In the MWPI work, he built up layers of media and then scratched into them to create a unified, uninterrupted skein that undermines pictorial illusion.

The MWPI drawing can be interpreted as an image mined from deep within the artist. The physical layers of pigment function metaphorically as layers of memory whose distortions are made visible. On the first level, Glasco used a vibrant mix of opaque watercolors to differentiate shapes. Over the watercolor pigment, he loosely brushed a layer of varnish in selected passages. The varnish adds a glossy luster to the deep magenta, jewel-toned areas on the sides but accentuates the vitriolic greenish-yellow of the top border and head. The varnish is applied thickly in the head area and drips in pools and rivulets that contribute to the surface activity. Finally, Glasco scratched obsessive patterns into the whole of the image. While some of the scratches suggest eyes or lips, it is hazardous to attribute facial features specifically because the same kinds of marks are used elsewhere without any referent.

Glasco’s compulsion to work the surface busily, to saturate it with color, brush stroke, and pattern, creates a feeling of claustrophobia that is enhanced by his use of naïve space, in which the flattened perspective tilts forms upward. One reading of the composition would place the boy in an enclosed area such as a yard. The scratched vertical parallel lines at the bottom of the image could then serve as a picket fence, while the yellow-green band with crossed lines could be a chain link fence or a hedge. That the boy’s head occupies most of the picture’s space amplifies the sensation of being boxed in.

The distorted form, coupled with the obsessive quality of surface mark-making, at once resembles the work associated with outsider artists and betrays indebtedness to surrealist sources and the art brat of Jean Dubuffet. Glasco himself described his work as a “primitive expression.”(6)


1. The Catherine Viviano Gallery label attached to the original backing board for the drawing gives the title “Boy” but does not date the work. The 1953 checklist for the Edward W. Root collection exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, however, dates the work 1952.

2. In 1952, at the age of twenty-seven, Glasco was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition “15 Americans," a show that also featured Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Clyfiford Still, and Bradley Walker Tomlin. See Dorothy Miller, ed, 15 Americans (New York: MoMA, 1952), 33-35. By that time Glasco already had had three one-artist exhibitions in New York galleries and had work in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

3. See artist’s statement, Miller, 15 Americans, 33: “Painting for me does not consist in something I have seen but in something I am, There is no ‘subject matter.’ My heads are perhaps landscapes and my landscapes heads. They are interior thoughts that exist in my heart and mind and not in my eyes." In a glowing review ofa Glasco exhibition at the Catherine Viviano Gallery the previous year, Henry McBride, Art News 50 (May 1951): 46, described the artist’s work in virtually the same way: “[Glasco] is abstract. Most of his compositions are based on heads, but his variations on these themes lead him so far afield that the ordinary viewer would sooner suspect them to be landscapes than heads." Moreover, William Goyen, in his essay “The People of Joseph Glasco" for the artist's 1953 Viviano Gallery exhibition brochure, referred to Glasco’s work as “landscape-heads.”

4. The MWPI drawing is characteristic of Glasco’s work of the period; see also Big Head #1, 1951, in Maurice Tuchman and Carol S. Eliel, Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art (Los Angeles, Calif, and Princeton, N.J.: Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Princeton University Press, 1992), 314, fig. 244.

5. See Marti Mayo, “The Art of Joseph Glasco," in Joseph Glasco, 1948-1986 (Houston, Tex.: Contemporary Arts Museum), 11: “It occurred to me one day when I was drawing that you really do not have to look up at something and then try to repeat it on paper. I could look over at the figure and back to the paper and record what I had remembered. I explored and found the surface of the paper. From then on, it was a question of making the paper turn on, not the figure. It was a very intense moment. I could go from the bottom left of the page to the top of the page and make the figure secondary to the paper."

6. Miller, 15 Americans, 33.


Presumed copyright: the artist or the artist's representative/heir(s).