Archive for May 11th, 2018

George Bellows painted everything like it was raw meat. Even his more pastoral pieces have this feeling, one of freshly ripped fiber and blood. One of the earliest blogposts I wrote here focused on his boxing scenes from the early part of the last century. I have included it below along with several more of his paintings and a video I came across that couples  Rhapsody in Blue from George Gershwin with the paintings of Bellows. Take a look: 


Bellows Stag at SharkeysThis is Stag at Sharkeys, painted by George Bellows in the early part of the 1900’s. Bellows was part of the Ashcan group of artists who depicted the reality of the time in their paintings, creating gritty scenes of city life and all that this entailed- street scenes, nightclubs, tenements, etc.Bellows Both Members of this Club

I’ve always been drawn to Bellows’ work, particularly his several scenes of club fights. There is such great movement and rawness in these pieces that you get the real sense of the fury of the violence taking place. This is enhanced even more by the high contrast between the brightness of the fighters’ skin and the great blackness of the open space above the ring. It all creates a great feeling of drama.

These paintings always bring to mind my grandfather, who was known as Shank. This was his time and this was his world. He had been a club wrestler which was the predecessor to professional wrestling except that it was real wrestling where one competitor might put a painful leg lock on the other and hold it for a long time until his opponent gave in. This ability to clamp on and not let go was how Shank came to his nickname.

The matches could last an several hours. I found an article in the local newspaper from that time, around 1907, documenting a match of his that went for four hours without either wrestler winning a fall. The match was suspended and they came back the next night to wrestle for another two and a half hours. Shank wrestled professionally for several years then later went on to be a stage manager at on of the many vaudeville theaters that once populated our city.

I remember as a kid, going to play bingo at the American Legion and this old city cop, Sailor Devlin, who was at the time the oldest active police officer in the country as recognized by Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Serving as security for the event in his late 80’s, Sailor would amble over to our table to talk with my dad.  He had known Shank, who was at this point dead for several years, and would always comment on him, calling him the toughest guy he ever met. That really resonated with me and I always valued toughness after that, putting high regard for those who could, as they say, take it.

Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to these images.  The guys in these paintings can take it.

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