American painter Maxwell Gordon (1910—1983) gained notoriety in the New York art scene in the 1940s and ‘50s for his rich landscape and still life paintings. The Ohio native was living on the Bowery, balancing work and his passion for painting. After many years in New York and a difficult divorce, Gordon left for Mexico City to devote all of his time to painting, and largely disappeared from the art scene for the remainder of his life. Though his work has been exhibited at such prestigious venues as the Museum of Modern Art, The Hirshhorn Museum, The Corcoran Gallery, Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City, and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the artist—survived by his daughter, Stephanie—never received wide-spread acclaim.
One man, however, is committed to preserving and sharing Gordon’s legacy.
“Most artists are not recognized until after their death. This is a guy who deserves it,” said Luis Stephens, long-time mentee and friend of Gordon. Stephens, an art-lover and painter himself, recently spoke with AHAlife about the artist, a man he remembers as a brilliant mind with a down-to-earth demeanor and rough vernacular. A man who painted about life, death, marriage and birth, and fancied bold colors and rich graphic treatments. “He wasn’t a conceptual painter,” said Stephens. “He was a painter, painter.”
Stephens recalled the first time he saw Gordon’s work at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City. “I was going up the staircase to the exhibition and suddenly saw these paintings,” he said. “What an aha! it was! I was so struck by the quality of this man’s work. It had a tremendous impact on me.”
He soon after bought five of Gordon’s paintings, marking the start of a decades-long friendship, during which Stephens studied art under Gordon, introduced family and friends to his work, and later bought his paintings on a monthly basis, affording Gordon immigrant status in Mexico City as well as time necessary to expand his paintings to large-scale works.
The Stephens family has continued to promote the late artist’s legacy through various projects. In February, Charles Stephens (Luis’s brother) published a book of reproductions of Gordon's work titled Farwell the Tranquil Mind: The Art of Maxwell Gordon. AHAlife was introduced to the artist by Luis’s daughters, Phoebe and Annette Stephens of Anndra Neen. And Luis Stephens himself hopes to one day publish a manuscript he’s been working on—a peek into Gordon’s unique personality, following many years of recorded conversations with the artist.
“He is an unknown artist,” said Stephens, “but is absolutely at the level of any celebrated American artist. He will one day be recognized as a major figure.”
You heard it here first.
Artwork pictured above is by Maxwell Gordon, courtesy of Luis Stephens.
From Top: "The Temporary Disaster, or, The Last Sarape", 1965, Mexico City; "Coqueteria: Flirtation", 1962, Mexico City; "East Houston", 1950, New York City.