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Richard Merkin
Large Richard Merkin Painting Harlem Jazz Club, New Yorker Magazine Cover Artist

1997

About the Item

Richard Marshall Merkin (American, 1938-2009) Gladys and Half-Pint Hand signed 'Merkin' (center right), Titled, inscribed, dated, and initialed 'GLADYS BENTLEY AND FRANKIE 'HALF-PINT' JAXON 1997/R.M.' verso. Oil on canvas 37 1/2 x 72 in. (95.3 x 182.9 cm) framed 39 1/4 x 74 x 2 in. Gladys Alberta Bentley (August 12, 1907 – January 18, 1960) was an American blues singer, pianist, and entertainer during the Harlem Renaissance. Her career skyrocketed when she appeared at Harry Hansberry's Clam House, a well-known gay speakeasy in New York in the 1920s, as a black, lesbian, cross-dressing performer. She headlined in the early 1930s at Harlem's Ubangi Club, where she was backed up by a chorus line of drag queens. She dressed in men's clothes (including a signature tailcoat and top hat), played piano, and sang her own raunchy lyrics to popular tunes of the day in a deep, growling voice while flirting with women in the audience. On the decline of the Harlem speakeasies with the repeal of Prohibition, she relocated to southern California, where she was billed as "America's Greatest Sepia Piano Player" and the "Brown Bomber of Sophisticated Songs". She was frequently harassed for wearing men's clothing. She tried to continue her musical career but did not achieve as much success as she had had in the past. Bentley was openly lesbian early in her career, but during the McCarthy Era she started wearing dresses and married, claiming to have been "cured" by taking female hormones. Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon, born Frank Devera Jackson was an African American vaudeville singer, stage designer and comedian, popular in the 1920s and 1930s. He was born in Montgomery, Alabama, orphaned, and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. His nickname of "Half Pint" referred to his 5'2" height. He started in show business around 1910 as a singer in Kansas City, before travelling extensively with medicine shows in Texas, and then touring the eastern seaboard. His feminine voice and outrageous manner, often as a female impersonator, established him as a crowd favorite. By 1917 he had begun working regularly in Atlantic City, New Jersey and in Chicago, often with such performers as Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters, whose staging he helped design. He served slightly less than a year in the United States Army in 1918–1919 and rose to the rank of sergeant. In the late 1920s he sang with top jazz bands when they passed through Chicago, working with Bennie Moten, King Oliver, Freddie Keppard and others. He performed and recorded with the pianists Cow Cow Davenport, Tampa Red and "Georgia Tom" Dorsey, recording with the latter pair under the name of The Black Hillbillies. He also recorded with the Harlem Hamfats. In the 1930s, he was often on radio in the Chicago area, and led his own band, titled Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon and His Quarts of Joy. Jaxon appeared with Duke Ellington in a film short titled Black and Tan (1929), and with Bessie Smith in "St. Louis Blues" (1929). Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher" (1931) is based both musically and lyrically on Jaxon's "Willie the Weeper" (1927). Richard Merkin, Sometimes described as Rhode Island’s most famous New York artist, Richard Merkin has led a dual life for nearly 40 years - teaching at RISD while enjoying a celebrated painting career based in New York City. He has exhibited in countless gallery and museum shows in the US and abroad and is represented in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution, The Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, the RISD museum and many others. In addition to contributing drawings and paintings to The New Yorker (along with, Art Spiegelman, Saul Steinberg, Harper’s, The New York Times Sunday Magazine and several books on Erotica and Baseball, he is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair and a former style columnist for GQ. Merkin’s honors include a Tiffany Foundation Fellowship and the Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Museums and Selected Collections : The American Federation of Arts, New York, NY Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA First city Bank, Chicago, Ill Fisk University Art Gallery, Nashville, TN Hallmark Collections, Kansas City, MO Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA Maimi-Dade Junior College, Miami, FL Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI Minnesota Museum of Art, Minneapolis, MN Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, RI McClung Museum, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN Pennsylvania Acadamy of the Arts, Philadelphia PA Prudential Insurance Company, Boston, Ma Prudential Insurance Company, Newark, NJ Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA Sara Robey Foundation, New York, NY Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC State University of Brockport, Brockport, NY Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY Selected Publications : 1986-Present Contributing Editor, Vanity Fair ..1988-Present, New Yorker... 1988-Present, style column, GQ...1997, Text and Illustration for The Tijuana Bibles, published by Simon & Shuster, 1995, Illustrated book, Leagues Apart: the Men and Times of the Negro Baseball Leagues published by Morrow. 1967 Cover of the Beatles “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” Album (Mr. Merkin appears in the back row, right of center) RISD: MFA in Painting, 1963; Professor, Department of Painting special skill: Merging his role as flaneur (connoisseur of city life) with his role as painter and social historian, Merkin retrieves lost cultural artifacts – a Turkish cigarette, a gangster, a bowler and generally “things most people don’t know about” – and reconstitutes their Jazz Age virtues on canvas in cubist, comic-laced landscapes of tropical color. (ala Robert Crumb and Ben Katchor) breaking in: Perpetually on the fly from his middle-class Brooklyn background, Merkin found the perfect escape in the mid ‘60s in George Frazier, a dapper Boston columnist who inspired the emerging New York painter’s overnight reinvention of himself. The elements of structure, stability and surprise he admired in this well-dressed dandy – a cool linen suit, a splash of suspender, a polka dot scarf and pearl-handled walking stick – soon surfaced in paintings peopled by impeccable underdogs of café society along with his personal pop heroes: William Burroughs, Bobby Short and Krazy Kat. He was also a friend of the novelist Tom Wolfe and was influenced by the artist R.B. Kitaj
  • Creator:
    Richard Merkin (1938 - 2009, American)
  • Creation Year:
    1997
  • Dimensions:
    Height: 39.25 in (99.7 cm)Width: 74 in (187.96 cm)Depth: 2 in (5.08 cm)
  • Medium:
  • Movement & Style:
  • Period:
  • Condition:
    minor wear, shows well.
  • Gallery Location:
    Surfside, FL
  • Reference Number:
    1stDibs: LU38212146352
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