JOHN STEUART CURRY was born on a Kansas farm, the descendant of many
generations of farmers. He lived in a country of sudden and fearful changes
He saw the cornfields and the early vegetation of the far-off slopes
shriveled to the ground by the southwest wind; he saw tornadoes come crash
ing down the broad valley with families scurrying into cellars, and white
eyed horses running madly before the storm.
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Every day of his life he heard
the weather discussed, and read in the eyes of men and women the appre
hensions born of the constant threats of the destructive forces of nature. As a
boy on the farm he made sketches of storms and animals; and in after years,
painting the same subjects, he won great renown.
The subjects were important to him, as his interpretation of them is
important to the understanding of American life.
Curry enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago in 1917, and at the end of
two years succumbed to the lure of magazine illustration in New York. His
success in this department was less than moderate, and discouraged by his
lack of cleverness, he went abroad to improve his draftsmanship. He passed
a cheerless winter in Paris,
returned to America with no prospects, revisited
Kansas, and with iron determination set out to prove his capacities as a painter
of the wheat lands, On his first trial he produced the celebrated Baptism in
Kansas and, during the next four years, a succession of Western dramas which
placed him in the front rank of American artists.
It would be hard to name a less derivative painter than Curry: he seemed
to know by instinct the field he was to make peculiarly his own. His materials
were common property,
yet no one else was disposed to adapt them to paint
ing. He is the most poetic American artist since Albert Ryder, but he is no
fantasy builder: he works directly from realities and natural phenomena;
and in the act of putting his materials together, he instills into them his love
for the homeland with the intimacies and memories he has preserved in all
Curry’s genius is no antique presence wheedled out of the old
masters; nor is it a synthetic agent evolved from modernism. It is a living
spirit springing out of the ground like the growing wheat, or out of the threat
ening elements like a storm cloud.
In his delineations of elemental disturbances he is in a class by himself,
his Line Storm, for example, being a masterpiece in which earth and
sky and the whole landscape together with
the frightened animals are transformed into an enormous personality alive
with dramatic terrors.