John Urbain

2 entries
  • "Fond memories of John from Block Island - Our sincere..."
  • "A wonderful legacy as beautiful as his art is his..."
    - Meg Greene
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URBAIN--John, of Block Island, RI, died peacefully on April 8, 2009, in Milford, CT at age 88. A devoted father, husband, poet, and artist-- his talent, insights, humor and warm spirit, inspired and touched the lives of many. Born in Brussels, Belgium in 1920, he immigrated with his parents to Detroit, Michigan in 1922. Drafted into the US Army in 1941, John was an infantry Corporal whose skill as an illustrator led him to create army training graphics and murals. Wounded during WWII, he later depicted the pathos of war in his own artwork. Under the G.I. Bill, John studied art at Black Mountain College, where his most influential teacher, Josef Albers, opened his eyes to new approaches to design, color, matiere, and collage, that soon became the dominant perspective from which John would create his art. In 1946, John and his new wife, fellow artist and Black Mountain student, Elaine Schmidt moved to Paris where they studied art at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere. John worked as Art Director for Philip Morris for over 25 years, where he was instrumental in acquiring an outstanding corporate art collection. John's own work has been in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Detroit, Houston and North Carolina Museums of Art, the Asheville Art Museum, and in numerous private collections and galleries in the US and abroad. Throughout his life, John worked pro bono for the civil rights and anti-war movements; taught neighborhood children painting and stained glass; and served as an inspiration to countless artists. John also studied poetry and was published in the New York Quarterly and Yankee Magazine. In an exhibition catalogue, he wrote: "I offer here a portrait of my life - not as a finished piece, but rather as a work in progress-- not so much about what I have produced as it is about the journey itself. I am continually struck by my indebtedness to friends and family who have helped at every juncture along the way. Art, in the end, is a reflection of existence: yearning, suffering, epiphany and love." John is survived by his son, Michael, of Peekskill, NY, and his daughter, Catherine, and granddaughter, Carina, of Milford, Connecticut. A memorial service will be held on April 18th in Scarborough, NY. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be sent to the Block Island Nature Conservancy. The family is in the process of establishing the John Urbain Memorial Scholarship to support the study of art for students at the Block Island School. For details, contact Catherine Urbain at: 203-260-1449.

Published in The New York Times on Apr. 16, 2009
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