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On July 2, 2017, Robert Solomon was appointed right holder of the entire Joseph Stapleton Drawings Collection via a Settlement Agreement with Stapleton's remaining family, handled for Solomon in a Federal Court proceeding by Duane Morris LLC. The Collection consists of nearly 5,500 never before seen drawings removed from the artist's Tri-be-ca studio upon his death in January 1994 and moved to a storage facility in Lower Manhattan. The drawings date from 1938 to 1993. Solomon has been researching for the official Stapleton biography since August 2014.

Joseph Stapleton was known by his fellow second-generation abstract expressionists as one of the most intelligent artists of that period. While attending grammar school, he was selected to participate in a special art program offered at Pratt. Every day after high school classes, in addition to being selected to study in a WPA anatomy class, Stapleton stayed until evening at the New York Public Library main branch, teaching himself Japanese calligraphy. This research would have a major impact on his work into the 1950s.
Joe Stapleton graduated summa cum laude from St. John’s University with a degree in Romance Languages and Sociology. During the war, he served as one of General Douglas MacArthur’s intelligence officers and Japanese interpreters. Upon his return to New York, Stapleton registered for classes at the Art Students League, studying with Will Barnet, Valclav Vytlacil, Morris Kantor, and Carl Holty, among others, from 1947-1952.
In December 1950, Vytlacil selected one of Stapleton’s paintings for a major Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition, American Painting Today 1950. In 1951, his work was chosen by Associated American Artists member Karl Fortess for their New Talent exhibition Proteges, and in 1953, Stapleton’s lithographs were included in a group exhibition at Gallery East. Stapleton had his first solo exhibition of paintings and drawings in May, 1955 at Carlen Gallery in Philadelphia, and his work was included in a 5-person exhibition at Perdalma Gallery on 23rd Street in December of that year.
In May 1957, Stapleton, along with his ASL classmate Knox Martin, and sculptor Shirley West, were all chosen to be co-directors of Avant Garde Gallery at 166 Lexington Avenue at 30th Street (this was during the height of the so-called artist-owned gallery era in and around Tenth Street). Included in their May 1957 opening exhibition, in addition to their work, were Julius Hatofsky, Reuben Nakian, and Elias Goldberg. Stapleton had a solo exhibition at the gallery in December 1957 following Knox Martin’s solo exhibition a month before, reviewed by Dore Ashton for the New York Times.
It was about this time Knox Martin introduced Stapleton to his friend gallery-owner Charlie Egan. Egan was instrumental in launching the careers of several key New York School painters, including Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, Louise Bourgeois, Robert De Niro Sr., Julius Hatofsky, Franz Kline, Reuben Nakian, Elias Goldberg, Robert Rauschenberg, etc. Martin had a solo exhibition there in 1954. Stapleton’s solo exhibition followed at the Egan Gallery in September 1963. In his September 14, 1963 New York Times review of that show, Brian O’Doherty said of Stapleton’s drawings:
Stapleton is showing concentrated drawings of definite interest. The drawings, nameless and preserving a similar reticence about their subject matter, send pointed, thorny forms windmilling around with the help of feathery strokes. These forms, densely psychological, are jointed in ways that suggest human and animal life, and at times look like tattered up-to-date Dürer.
John Gruen (New York Times, September 15, 1963) said of Stapleton’s Egan Gallery exhibition:
Of the very few one-man shows that opened last week, the paintings and drawings by Joe Stapleton at the Egan Gallery showed both quality and distinction…steeped in the vocabulary of Gorky and Matta, an emotional force and a deep sense of dedication (felt particularly in the drawings) give his abstractions true solidity.
In 1966, Charlie Egan selected several Stapleton drawings and paintings for a group exhibition in a Washington D.C. gallery that included Knox Martin, Reuben Nakian, and Elias Goldberg.
Only a handful of second generation Abex-ers “made it.” Stapleton wasn’t one of them. Research shows there were many missed opportunities in his professional lifetime, including his ignoring a late-1960s offer from the owner/director of the now defunct Miami Museum of Art for a solo exhibition there. From research it has been determined Stapleton sold less than $30,000 in work in his lifetime, or about $230,000 today, and most of that was through his European agent who was moonlighting in his position with Radio Free Europe. Stapleton supplemented his art income with concurrent teaching positions at Pratt Institute and Art Students League.
In February 1994, following Joe Stapleton’s death a month before, world renowned printmaker Will Barnet had this to say about his ASL student of 6 years while speaking at a memorial event for Stapleton at Art Students League:
Joe was perfect for the period in which he lived. Some of Joe’s work had a little bit of a mixture of the French school of expressionism like [Pierre] Soulages and others, and some of it had a little bit of American. And combined together, it was Joe Stapleton. And that was the interesting part about his work. When you looked at his work you could see the images were a reflection of his own vision and they were very strong in their structural arrangements, which gave them a certain power…There was also a certain poignant quality about his work. There was also a certain poignancy about Joe. You would have to call him one of the younger generation of abstract expressionists.
More recently, after viewing more than 200 of the Stapleton self-portraits, Jonathan Ribner, Associate Professor of Art History and Director of Graduate Admissions, Department of History of Art & Architecture, Boston University, had this to say of the work:
Characterized by incisive, economical contour, Stapleton’s impressive drawings deserve to be more widely known. Within the narrow confines of a repeated self-portrait format, Stapleton was able to demonstrate a surprising variety of touch. Thanks to the initiative of Robert Solomon, this unique figure has been brought closer to receiving long overdue attention.
We are currently seeking venues for the first exhibitions of drawings by Joseph Stapleton in more than half a century. Based on both historical and current assessments, Stapleton’s drawings deserve a place in the history of Abstract Expressionism’s Second Generation.
Exhibitions will be complimented with a comprehensive two-hour lecture Rediscovering Joseph Stapleton, presented by Robert Solomon. Solomon has been lecturing about Stapleton since February 2015, with the most recent presentation given at Art Students League of New York where Stapleton taught for more than 20 years.
The following series of drawings from the The Joseph Stapleton Drawings Collection are available for exhibition (For details and/or sample images, please contact Robert Solomon Art through this site):
The Self Portraits: 1948-1987
The Erasure Drawings: 1950-1980
The Calligraphy Drawings: 1949-1953
The New York Times Series: 1949-1953
The Matchbook Drawings: 1960-1988
The Viva Drawings: 1975-1982
The Wartime Drawings: 1941-1945
The Art Students League Sketches: 1948-1952
The Portraits and Classical Drawings: 1938-1955
The Lithographs: 1947-1952 (as student of Will Barnet)

Note: Portraits by Stapleton's close friend and internationally acclaimed artist Knox Martin can be included in an exhibition of Stapleton portraits. Knox Martin (1923-  , serves as a principal advisor to Robert Solomon on this project. Martin was a Stapleton contemporary, a fellow student and fellow instructor at the Art Students League. His recollections have been invaluable to Solomon's research for the Stapleton biography.
The Joseph Stapleton Drawings Collection is currently being uploaded to, with an expected launch date of January 1, 2019. Upon completion, levels of access will be granted via password to curators and collectors to view collection images and metadata, and to assemble exhibitions.
Beginning with Stapleton’s Self-Portrait series (the first series to be registered and copyrighted to Robert Solomon Art). the Collection will be available to instructors and students on ITHAKA’s Artstor platform by January 1, 2019.
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