NARRATOR: The viewpoint in John Sloan’s Backyards, Greenwich Village is casual, almost accidental. It offers us a view of everyday life in the city; a girl looking out a window, children playing in the backyard.
REBECCAZURIER: Beyond that fence at the back of the yards, we look to see more buildings, more yards and all across the top laundry hanging from a clothesline, which is also something that you seen in a lot of Sloan’s art. You’re looking at an undressed up part of the city.
NARRATOR: Rebecca Zurier is an Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Michigan. She’s written several books on the Ashcan School.
REBECCAZURIER: This is pretty typical for Sloan, who said he wanted to paint life in the city; but the neighborhoods that he was most drawn to were the lower middle class areas, upper working class areas, working people who still lived in very close communication with each other.
NARRATOR: Sloan was a socialist. He celebrated the life of working people in cartoons and illustrations in various publications, including the radical magazine “The Masses.”
REBECCAZURIER: Sloan, like a number of his friends from Philadelphia who became known as the Ashcan school, started out as a sketch artist for newspapers. And that kind of formed where he eventually looked for subject matter as an artist, but it also informed the way he handled his materials. He kind of draws with paint, a very light quick line, that in the newspapers would have suggested spontaneity and things happening in a very casual way and then carries over to the way he handles paint. In a way he’s suggesting, as many more avant-garde artists among his peers were suggesting, that things change quickly in a city and you can’t really pin it down.