Jacob Lehman (1887-1972) was a Los Angeles-based artist who produced an impressive body of work late in life. His drawings are informed by his struggles as a Polish immigrant throughout the most turbulent years of the 20th century. His portraits of friends and neighbors possess a simple and direct beauty. Set against backdrops of irregular bright stripes, his subjects stare straight at the viewer with elongated eyes and melancholy expressions, while his writhing floral drawings exude a fragile innocence and are redolent with nostalgia for a youth spent in rural Polish villages.
Lehman grew up in the shtetls of Poland, where as a young man he learned the craft of woodcarving, elements of which can be discerned in his drawings. He emigrated to the United States as a refugee at the outbreak of the First World War and settled in New Jersey, where he got by as a cabinet maker. After his wife died he made it through the Depression as a door-to-door salesman. Eventually, he settled in Los Angeles, where he was an active labor organizer for the United Furniture Workers Union – notable for being composed mainly of minorities – and was frequently on the receiving end of violent opposition.
Lehman had always wanted to make art but it wasn’t until after his retirement that he was able to focus on it. He attended weekly art classes at a local recreation center and began to produce pastel and crayon drawings, immediately lighting upon his distinctively personal style of portraits composed of distinct shapes and colors, sometimes verging on abstraction. His life of travail and privation is visible in the features of his subjects, and furniture, the source of his survival, is frequently depicted.
In the last year of his life, at the age of 85, an exhibit of his work was held at a library in West Los Angeles. The Good Luck Gallery is delighted to draw attention to a unique local artist whose work is deserving of wider exposure with a show opening November 5, 2016 through December 18.