A midcentury printmaker celebrates machine age New York City

As the machine age took hold in the United States in the early 20th century, some artists took a darker view of the mechanization of urban society—seeing isolation and alienation amid skyscrapers, automobiles, and steel bridges. Painter and printmaker Louis Lozowick, however, found something to celebrate.

“Allen Street,” 1929

Lozowick isn’t a household name, but his backstory will sound familiar. Born in Ukraine in 1892, he immigrated to New York City in the early 1900s, according to Artnet. He took classes at the National Academy of Design, studying with Leon Kroll, a painter and lithographer who often depicted the industry of Manhattan from the city’s bridges and rivers.

“Through Brooklyn Bridge Cables,” 1938

After traveling in Europe, Lozowick returned to New York in 1926 and worked as an illustrator for the leftist social reform periodical, New Masses. Influenced by Bauhaus and precisionist artists, he was also producing his own photorealistic, sometimes Art Deco style works—many of which heralded “the power of men and machines,” as the National Gallery of Art put it.

“Backyards of Broadway,” 1926

Lozowick spoke about this theme in 1947. “From the innumerable choices which our complex and tradition-laden civilization presents to the artist, I have chosen one which seems to suit my training and temperament,” he said in a publication called 100 Contemporary American Jewish Painters and Sculptors (via the Metropolitan Museum of Art website).

“Third Avenue,” 1929

“I might characterize it thus: Industry harnessed by Man for the Benefit of Mankind,” he continued.

Rather than isolation or alienation, there’s a sense of optimism in Lozowick’s wondrous, finely drawn images. His urbanscapes of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, many of which feature Manhattan, are dynamic and active. Might and power seem to be in the air.

“Slum Clearance,” 1939

Lozowick gives us a majestic city from soaring vantage points—the Brooklyn Bridge and the Third Avenue El—as well as forgotten pockets and corners under elevated tracks and along Manhattan’s industrial edges, where the new and old New York sometimes collide.

Though his focus is on how machines transformed the look and feel of the city, Lozowick doesn’t lose sight of the humanity driving the trucks and trains, powering the factories, and building the skyscrapers.

“57th Street,” 1929

“Following the advent of the Great Depression, Lozowick increasingly incorporated figures of laborers into his compositions—focusing less on the utopic promise of the machine and more on its impact on and relationship to the worker,” stated Emma Acker in a writeup about Cult of the Machine: Precisionism and American Art, a 2018 exhibit in San Francisco and Dallas that included Lozowick’s work.

“Traffic,” 1930

Of all the images in this post, only “Third Avenue” includes no human form. But humanity is there; someone is at the controls of the train.

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15 Responses to “A midcentury printmaker celebrates machine age New York City”

  1. Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

    “Third Avenue” looks like NY in the recent pictures of the pandemic that you have to ask, ‘Where is everyone?’

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I think the city population is back to where it was more than two years ago. It’s just that now, more shady characters are hanging around.

  2. countrypaul Says:

    “Industry harnessed by Man for the Benefit of Mankind” – a perfect description. Of all the artists you have featured, i think Lozowick has risen to the top, or at least top three, of my favorites. This is powerful work; my love for it is immediate and strong. Thank you for rediscovering him; he feels new yet eternally familiar to me,

  3. burkemblog Says:

    Extraordinary art–thanks for posting this–he’s a new figure for me.

  4. Greg Says:

    Very interesting stuff. Similar to Mark Freeman, which is not surprising given they were contemporaries.

    http://markfreemanartist.blogspot.com/

  5. velovixen Says:

    Thank you for bringing Lozowick to our attention. I wasn’t aware of him until now. “Third Avenue” reminds me of the pandemic in the way “Mick” described, but the curved track also lends a kind of mystery. What’s around the bend?

    The prints with workers remind me, somewhat, of Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing.” They have that same sort of optimistic energy, even in shades of gray!

  6. Kathleen McGee Treat Says:

    Please can you tell/show us more of the writers and illustrators of The New Masses, and The Daily Worker? My parents wrote the children’s pages for the latter, and my Mother contributed illustrations to both, I think. Kathleen McGee

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I have to admit I don’t know too much about the contributors of The New Masses or Daily Worker, but I will keep an eye out. I’m more likely to find artists and illustrators.

  7. Carol Ann Siciliano Says:

    I deeply appreciate this post (and, actually, all of your well-researched and -illustrated pieces). Scrolling through Lozowick’s images from top to bottom reinforced your point: how he never lost sight of humanity amid the machines. Thank you for introducing us to his work.

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