Zimmerli brings 'Pop' of color to campus with new American art exhibit
He was born George Overbury Hart. Then as a young adult, seized by a fierce wanderlust, he traveled to Tahiti and Samoa, where he grew a long, Biblical-like beard. Upon his return home, he was greeted by his friends with the name "Pop," a nickname meant to poke fun at his aged appearance — and the name stuck.
“He kept the nickname because he was a very informal guy," said Marilyn Symmes, the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum’s curator of prints and drawings and director of the Zimmerli's Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts. "He was a very unconventional guy, but he was a very gregarious guy and it just seemed an informal name that was in keeping with him,” Symmes said. “He went by the nickname ‘Pop’ for the rest of his life, from 1904 on.”
"Pop" Hart, an American artist interested in everyday life and authentic means, pursued affordable and extended trips abroad to exotic locations in Latin America to paint and sketch. His aesthetic is currently on display at the Zimmerli as part of the exhibit, "Vagabond Artist: "Pop" Hart in Tahiti, Mexico, and the Caribbean."
As opposed to other American artists in his day who preferred to visit Europe in order to perfect their artistic skills or to pursue styles inspired by avant-garde work, Hart preferred extended trips abroad to more exotic and affordable destinations, according to the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum’s website.
“Imagine he’s traveling to these faraway countries," Symmes said. "He’s not going to take oils, brushes — he wants something that (is) portable and inexpensive. Watercolors are relatively inexpensive ... he just needed to take a lot of paper."
Starting in the early 1900s, Hart began traveling for the purpose of exploration and art to Latin America, and his last trips were to North Africa and Cuba some 30 years later, according to the website. These excursions were the primary source for his art throughout his career.
Symmes said the pieces in the show span from 1903 to just about the end of 1928, which was basically his mature career.
The exhibition, which is primarily watercolors and black and white prints with a handful of color prints, spotlights more than 40 watercolors, drawings and prints from his journeys abroad.
“He worked completely from life," Symmes said. "He was totally interested in everyday life. He sketched constantly. What really interested him most was finding those places that were not tourist infested, but those faraway places where he felt the activities were authentic to the locals."
She said the prints that he did were all based on drawings. He would often quickly sketch out small moments inspired by day-to-day life, like cockfights, market, carnival and street scenes and views on a railroad.
“He was very adept at watercolor,” Symmes said. “It really was his medium of choice.”
Danielle Newman, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said she enjoyed Hart’s art because he was not interested in manipulating reality.
The simplicity of his lifestyle translates through his artwork.
“He lived in modest cabin in Fort Lee, but he also lived this gregarious life," Symmes said. "He would meet at the bar with his artist buddies and be very social there."
Hart had made artist friends when he first came to New York in the early 1900s, and he settled in the neighborhood of Fort Lee, New Jersey, where he met a lot of New York-area artists who liked to sketch there. He then met Walt Kuhn, an important figure in the New York art world around 1912, 1913 and afterwards, Symmes said.
Because Kuhn was one of the curators of the big Armory Show that introduced New Yorkers to Avant Guard European art, he was already part of the art world. The two men were good friends when Kuhn was also living in New Jersey. Kuhn introduced Pop Hart to John Sloan and other such artists in the New York area, while also being influential in introducing Hart to New York art dealers and art galleries, she said.
“(I am) looking forward to seeing (Hart's art) ... I really enjoy art,” said Linda Pollard, a Rutgers alumna.
"Vagabond Artist: “Pop” Hart in Tahiti, Mexico, and the Caribbean" will run from Sept. 1, 2015 to Feb. 8, 2016.