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Works of NJ muralist and abstract artist in two exhibits at JCC
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Works of NJ muralist and abstract artist in two exhibits at JCC

THE WORKS OF “New Jersey’s most important muralist” and those of an abstract artist whose aim is to “get the viewer to see” will be shown at the Leon & Toby Cooperman JCC in West Orange this spring.

JCC MetroWest presents “Looking Forward, Looking Back: The Paintings of Michael Lenson (1903-1971)” in the JCC’s Gaelen Gallery East through June 24. A concurrent exhibit in the Arts/Theater Lobby and Roland Exhibition Corridor will feature works by abstract painter David John Rush.

Michael Lenson and his family immigrated to America from Russia in 1911. By his mid-20s, he was studying painting with Ivan Olinsky at the National Academy of Design in New York. In 1928, Lenson won the $10,000 Chaloner Foundation Prize.

After four years of study in London and Paris, Lenson returned to America in 1932 and had several successful solo exhibitions in New York. During the Depression, he moved to New Jersey, where he became director of all mural installations for the state under the Works Progress Administration (WPA). He also painted murals of his own in Newark City Hall,
Weequahic High School, the New Jersey Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair, and other sites. After the WPA’s end, Lenson established a studio in Nutley, where he continued to paint until his death in 1971. He also served as art critic for the Newark Sunday News and taught painting at the Montclair Art Museum (MAM) and elsewhere. “Who Was Who in American Art” calls him “New Jersey’s most important muralist.”

Lenson’s paintings are in the permanent collections of, among other institutions, MAM, New Jersey State Museum, Newark Museum, Rhode Island School of Design, and Princeton University Art Museum. 

Rush was a friend and colleague of Lenson. “My paintings are not political or opinionated,” says Rush. “They take no side or try to force themselves on anyone’s ideas. They are but an attempt to get the viewer to see.” 

“As a rule, color and design are often enemies, and have no balance; one or the other is dominant. My use of geometry and color theory manipulation narrows that gap and gives the viewer a better sense of harmony.”

Gaelen Gallery East is open Monday-Thursday, 5:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, 5:30 a.m.-6 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Contact Lisa Suss at 973-530-3413 or lsuss@jccmetrowest.org.

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