1927 - 2015
Born 2 April 1927 New York City; deceased 19 July 2015 Schagen, Netherlands
American artist Sam Middleton died peacefully on Sunday, July 19th in Schagen, Netherlands at the age of 88. He was born in New York City in 1927 and grew up in Harlem. In his youth he often visited the nearby Savoy Ballroom and music-jazz and classical-became important inspirations for his artistic endeavors. Middleton primarily worked with mixed media, and particularly collage. He developed a personal style in the language of abstract expressionism, often basing his color, line, and compositions on sound and harmony. The Dutch landscape and the visual environment of the Netherlands, his home since the1960s, greatly influenced his work as well.
Middleton joined the Merchant Marines in 1944. Upon his return to New York City in the 1950s, he relocated to Greenwich Village, meeting and befriending writers, artists, and jazz musicians. In the early 1950s, Middleton was part of New York's Cedar Tavern scene, which included his friends Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline. Middleton was part of the considerable contingency of expatriate African American artists in Europe. In 1955 he moved to Mexico, then Spain, Sweden and Denmark, finally settling in Holland in 1961. In the Netherlands, Middleton taught at Atelier 63 in Haarlem and the Royal Academy of Art in 's Hertogenbosch. He exhibited regularly in Holland; the exhibition Sam Middleton: Poems to Life in 2003, organized by the Cobra Museum voor Moderne Kunst, included dedications to Middleton by James Baldwin, Romare Bearden, Ted Joans and others.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Middleton's work was regularly shown in American museums, including New York's Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum in New York and the Baltimore Museum of Art. His work was featured in the Studio Museum in Harlem exhibition, An Ocean Apart: American Artists Abroad (1983). From Europe he sustained his reputation in the United States, resulting in his inclusion in several prominent books on African American art. Middleton's work is found in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, Hampton University Museum in Virginia, the Phillips Museum of Art at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.'s Howard University. Collected internationally, Middleton's work is held by museums in Australia, Israel and The Netherlands, including Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum and Venlo's Van Bommel Van Dam Museum, which organized a Middleton retrospective in 1997.
He is survived by his wife Hansje Kalff of Schagen, three children, a stepson, eight grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Published in New York Times from Jul. 29 to Jul. 30, 2015.