Irving Kriesberg (b. 1919, Chicago; d. 2009, New York) developed an aptitude for art at an early age by filling notebooks with drawings of museum taxidermy he encountered at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. This early experience of biological rendering made a lasting impression on Kriesberg, who manifested his own animal imagery and phenomenal aesthetic environments throughout his career.
After graduating from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1941, Kriesberg lived in Mexico for three years. He studied at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas and immersed himself in mural painting and printmaking, exhibiting his prints with the Taller de Gráfica Popular art collective. Arguably, it was the passion and ideology of the Mexican people that inspired him to develop his unique style of Expressionism, which integrated spiritual themes with contemporary messages. This style developed steadily over the course of sixty years, fueled by his global experiences and insights into the relationship between past and present cultures.
Kriesberg moved to New York City in 1945, where his work caught the attention of the legendary gallerist Curt Valentin, who became Kriesberg’s first art dealer and introduced his paintings to The Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) curator Dorothy C. Miller. In 1952 Miller included Kriesberg in her landmark exhibition at MoMA, 15 Americans, alongside Jackson Pollock, William Baziotes, Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko.
In the mid-1960s Kriesberg traveled to India on a Fulbright Fellowship. In India, Kriesberg was introduced to Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, each of which became life-long sources of inspiration and profound influences on his imagery. Studying and practicing Eastern spirituality and mindfulness directly influenced his artistic development, in particular the mysterious and often amiable relationships between human and animal subjects. Subsequently Kriesberg spent time at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado during the 1970s. In the mid-1980s he returned to live and work in India, and subsequently also in Japan. From his studio in Japan, Kriesberg was able to experience its culture and contribute to the spirit of the Japanese art scene. He was immersed in both traditional Japanese aesthetics and eager to learn from his contemporary peers and local master artists.
Kriesberg was steadfastly mysterious when discussing his own art, although he permitted that “dreamlike images have mystical intent.” These supernatural elements signify an artist who never operated in a binary framework and was deeply involved in both learning from and actively participating in a wide range of cultural and aesthetic mindsets simultaneously.
Irving Kriesberg has been the subject of over forty solo exhibitions in galleries and museums, and his work is represented in over fifty public collections in the United States, including The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney, Brooklyn Museum, The Detroit Institute of Art, The Dayton Art Institute, Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, The Jewish Museum, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
The poet and art historian George Nelson Preston said of Kriesberg, “He has never consciously sought a counter aesthetic through purely painterly means. He has been a leader in innovation through eccentricity of composition and exposition of an internal mental dialect of polarities. The means by which this has been carried out are largely through the presentational motifs of proscenium, setting, and encounter.”