Article Gallery Presents Paul Spina: A Lifetime in Art

Artist and Illustrator Paul Spina (1937-2017) lived and worked in New York City. His professional career spanned the New York art world decades between Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. Paul attended Pratt Institute and received his BFA in 1960. He studied with teachers Richard Lindner, Alex Katz and Fritz Eichenberg. As a freelance illustrator, Paul worked under Milton Glaser at New York magazine. His illustrations were featured in the New York Times, National Review, New York Daily News and many other publications. Paul served on the adjunct faculty staff of the School of Visual Arts and the Fashion Institute of Technology, teaching general illustration.

Paul Spina’s work has been brought to Cleveland by his partner, Esther Trepal. “I met Paul in 1980. We lived in his artist loft in Chinatown. It was a large unfinished space.” Esther recalls the years of studio hopping in Soho and the Lower East Side. “There were open studio gatherings at artists’ lofts most every night, but they were unannounced happenings. People just showed up.”

Paul’s work rotated between painting and commercial illustration. He drew upon personal images, narratives and symbolism of the decade. His iconography included World War II references, military aircraft, war, sharks, women, and businessmen. Weapons of destruction, propaganda, the looming Cold War and the angst of nuclear annihilation were his common themes. Paul’s signature multicolored Good and Plenty candy shape became a sugar-coated symbol encapsulating the rough parts of contemporary life.

Paul’s formal training and command of commercial illustration began years before the advent of computer graphics, photoshop and digital sampling. He worked in the Madison Avenue world of modern advertising. His paintings are quickly deciphered symbols. They have a hard-edged irony, cynical humor and commercial directness pitting cartoon characters, dictators, and dime store toys alongside our deepest anxieties and subconscious desires.

Esther Trepal moved Paul to Cleveland in 2016 where she could care for him in the eastern suburbs where she grew up. He was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s and their rugged New York studio loft life was no longer feasible. Paul’s entire collection of paintings, graphics and sculpture was carefully packed up and brought to Cleveland where Esther is currently involved documenting and curating it.

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