Jon Naar
FAITH OF GRAFFITI 4, 155th St, Subway Station NYC 1970s

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Genre: Photographic
Subject: Cityscape
Medium: Silkscreen, Photograph
Surface: Archival Paper
Country: United States
Dimensions: 20.5" x 28"

Street Art, Urban

Jon Naar is a British-American author and photographer celebrated for his pioneering images of New York City graffiti in the 1970s. Still active in his nineties, Naar has had a multifaceted career as an intelligence officer in World War II; a globe-trotting executive during the postwar years; and an environmentalist, with nine published books to date.
Born in London in 1920, Naar graduated at 15 from the private Mill Hill School. Too young to attend an English university, he crossed the Channel to study French and German at the Sorbonne. At this point, Naar had yet to develop a special interest in photography, but his artistic and design sensibilities were being shaped by his Parisian influences, particularly the street photographs of Brassaï. Four years later, his matriculation at the University of London cut short by the outbreak of World War II, Naar was conscripted. Thanks to prior experience in the Officers' Training Corps at Mill Hill, he would spend the next six years on intelligence work, including service with the British Special Operations Executive, on clandestine assignments that took him through the Middle East and Italy. At war's end, by-then Major Naar emigrated to New York City and secured American citizenship.

Through the 1950s, armed with a Super Ikonta rangefinder camera and later a Praktica single-lens reflex, Naar was developing his eye as a "weekend" photographer, roving his Greenwich Village neighborhood and seeking out subject matter while on foreign corporate assignments.

It was not until Naar's early forties, after influential photographers Nickolas Muray and André Kertész—both impressed by his hobbyist portfolio—offered encouragement, that he resolved to seek wider exposure as a photographer. A series of street scenes Naar shot in Mexico City in 1962 was featured in a 1963 solo exhibition in Coyoacan titled "El Ojo de un Estranjero." His 23-page photo essay on Germany, 20 years after the death of Adolph Hitler, appeared in the Italian design magazine Domus. New York Times critic Joseph Deschin, reviewing Naar's 1965 one-man show at New York University's Loeb Student Center, extolled his "flair for design and an eye for the unexpected, his pictures generate the kind of excitement that one associates with discovery of newness in the familiar." The striking image "Shadows of Children on Swings" was selected by Ivan Dmitri for the Metropolitan Museum's "Photography in the Fine Arts" exhibition, and for its permanent collection. Within the span of a few years, Naar had not only transformed himself into a professional photographer, but was in demand as a contributor to major publications like The New York Times, The Saturday Evening Post, Vogue, Fortune, Elle, and Schöner Wohnen.

If Naar had a specialty at that time, it was photographing artists and architects amidst their creative (and created) surroundings. One of his earliest and most enduring images featured a young Andy Warhol sprawled on a red plush sofa, surrounded by glistening objects in the infamous "Silver Factory." Other subjects over the years included Luis Barragán, Marcel Breuer, Christo, Alexander Liberman, Heinz Mack, Marino Marini, Henry Moore, Barnett Newman, Saul Steinberg, and Günther Uecker. His portrait of Josef Albers accompanied that artist's obituary in the New York Times.

By the 1970s, Naar's reputation was well established and he was redirecting his energies toward on-location corporate work for a diverse range of clients.Then in 1972, a commission for the London-based design firm Pentagram morphed into a full-length book project, with the 1974 release of The Faith of Graffiti (UK title Watching My Name Go By)—the first book-length examination of New York City graffiti art. Featuring an introduction by novelist Norman Mailer, the controversial collection would become "like a bible to later graffiti artists," in the words of Brian Wallis, chief curator at New York's International Center of Photography. Naar "legitimized" graffiti "a decade earlier than anyone else, and he came at it with a graphic design sensibility—he understood color and composition and bold design." It is for this groundbreaking series that Naar himself remains in demand, with numerous recent retrospectives and a 2007 collection, The Birth of Graffiti, which includes 130 previously unpublished photographs from the original assignment.

Major exhibitions
1963 Galeria Coyote Flaco, Coyoacan, Mexico, El Ojo de un Estranjero
1965 Metropolitan Museum, New York, Photography in the Fine Arts
1976 Musee d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
1977 Museum of Modern Art, New York
2005-6 Jan Cunen Museum, Oss, the Netherlands, Jon Naar Retrospective
2007 Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, Artists, Designers and Architects
2008 Rider University, Lawrenceville, New Jersey, Retrospective
2013 New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, New Jersey, Jon Naar: Signature Photography


    Jon Naar (1920, United Kingdom)
    Creation Year
    20.5 in. H x 28 in. W
    Seller Location
    Bal Harbour, FL
    Reference Number
About the Seller

1stdibs seller since 2014

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Located in Bal Harbour, FL

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