Pavia, Phillip

Pavia, Phillip (1912-2005)

Phillip Pavia was one of the founders of the New York School of abstract expressionism, often called the first “American” style of art. He was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1912, the son of a stone cutter and carver. He attended the Yale School of Fine Arts, dropped out, and then went to New York City to attend classes at the Art Student League. At the League, Pavia met Jackson Pollack and Arshile Gorky, the latter of whom introduced him to the works of Picasso. In the 1930’s he went to Paris and “soaked up” the importance of the avant garde from the artist Henry Miller. He rejected surrealism as “unsuited to the American Character.” (“Phillip Pavia,” Times Online)  He returned to the United States and from 1936-37 worked for the WPA Federal Arts Project in Connecticut, finishing seven pieces of sculpture. He returned to New York City in 1938 and lived there during the Second World War. The end of the war began a tumultuous period for the arts in the city. Pavia himself had read writer William James and concluded that art was “an inner reflection of the direct and tactile experiences of life.” (Ben Sisario, NY Times)  James also rejected surrealism.


In 1947 he founded an informal organization that later became known asThe Club, a group of artists including Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollack, and other artists he had met during the WPA. They felt strongly about new artistic styles and other issues and frankly expressed their opinions. Pavia wanted to recreate the give and take between artists that he had found in the cafes on the Left Bank of Paris in New York City. He saw his role as stirring up the pot of debates and intellectual differences at meetings. As reporter Kay Larson wrote in the New York Times,


“The Club was home to a rampantly individual generation of irascibles who thought ideas were worth fighting for, and who brandished egos like closed fists. The meetings healed the isolation of the studio and spread combustible enthusiasms through a small and impassioned community on the verge of important discoveries.”


These artists would pioneer the art form of abstract expressionism.


In 1955 Pavia left the Club and started a newsletter entitled It Is. He set up lecture series which included artist colleagues and “writers, composers, critics, dealers, poets and philosophers” such as Thomas Hess, Harold Rosenberg, Hannah Arendt, James Campbell, Sydney Janis, E.E. Cummings, John Cage, and many others. It is not possible in this entry to convey the energy and free thinking of the intellectual ferment in New York City during the late 1940’s and 1950’s.


For the rest of his life, Pavia created sculpture and exhibited his work in one person and group shows in the New York City. Toward the end of his life, he was recognized by art historians as one of the important founders of abstract expressionism. Pavia died in New York at the age of 94.



Sources:  WPA Artist’s Work Card; AskART; Obituaries: Ben Sisario, “Phillip Pavia, 94, an Avant-Garde Sculptor, Is Dead,” New York Times, April 15, 2005; “Philip Pavia, 94; N.Y. Sculptor Known for Large-Scale Works,” Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2005,;  “Philip Pavia,” TIMESONLINE, May 23, 2005, ; Phong Bui, “A Tribute to Philip Pavia (1912-2005),” The Brooklyn Rail; Critical Perspectives on Arts, Politics and Culture, December 2005/January 2006 [The following are cited on account of their information about Phillip Pavia and background on the founding of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism.] Newspaper Articles:  “What Is?” Time, August 10, 1959,,9171,811230,00.html?promoid=googlep; “A Letter to the New York Times,” New York Times, February 26, 1961; Brian O’Doherty, “Art: Four Sculptors Manipulate Third Dimension,” New York Times, April 24, 1961; Marylin Stout, “Sculptors Chip Away At Vermont En Masse,” New York Times, August 18, 1968; Robert Reiff, “A Sculpture Project in Vermont,” Art Journal, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Summer, 1969) p. 405; “Marble Is Sculptors’ Draw,” Hartford Courant, August 18, 1968; J. Scott Craig, “Bold Carvings in Vermont,” Hartford Courant, November 3, 1968; Richard Tourangeau, “Silvermine ‘School-In’ Show To Feature Rock, Jug Music,” Hartford Courant, December 13, 1968; James R. Mellow, “Visual Arts Gallery Promises Much,” New York Times, November 17, 1973; Sally Bedell, “WNET’s Board Passes A ‘Barebones’ Budget,” New York Times, June 24, 1982; John Russell, “Art: Marden on Marble, on Canvas And On Paper; [Review],” New York Times, November 12, 1982; Grace Glueck, “Critic’s Notebook; Developers Play Dress Up With Art,” New York Times, October 20, 1983; John Russell, “A Rare Opportunity To See Giacometti By The Dozen; [Review],” New York Times, September 27, 1985; Michael Brenson, “Art: Works by Gourfain at Brooklyn Museum, New York Times, April 3, 1987; Phyllis Braff, “An Artist’s Eye Behind the Lens,”New York Times, October 26, 1986; Roberta Smith, “Reviews/Television; Robert Motherwell’s Achievements,” New York Times, August 26, 1991; Vivien Raynor, “Art; Sculpture Show Fills the Housatonic Museum’s New Gallery; [Review],” New York Times, January 12, 1992; Carol Strickland, “For Vicente, ’There’s No End’ to Maturing,” New York Times, April 26, 1992; Carole Vogel, “Inside Art,” New York Times, July 23, 1993; Carol Vogel, “Settlement In Lawsuit Against De Kooning,” New York Times, October 7, 1993; Carol Strickland, “Shining a Light on the Other de Kooning,” New York Times, November 21, 1993; Joan Ullman, “Half a Century’s Softball, Celebrity and Silliness,” New York Times, August 23, 1998; Phyllis Braff, “Madrid Museum Gives Bridgehamptonite a Room of His Own,”New York Times, March 21, 1999; Kay Larson, “ART/ARCHITECTURE; The Art Was Abstract, the Memories Are Concrete,” New York Times, December 15, 2002; Ben Sisario and Joel Topick, “Who Pocketed 3 Hunks of Bronze?” New York Times, March 26, 2005; Stephen Maine, “Philip Pavia at O.K. Harris (New York),” 2005 at High Beam Encyclopedia; “Pavia’s Archive of American Abstract Expressionism Acquired by Emory,” Press Release, Emory University, April 20, 2005; Rachel Youens, “Uptown Gallery Revisits Ninth St. Exhibit,” The Villager, Vol. 76, Number 6 (June 28-July 4, 2006) at www.thevillager.comvillager-165/uptowngallery.html; “Philip Pavia” by Andrew Wielawski,ArtBlogs, August 4, 2006,; Helen A. Harrison, “Club Without Walls: Selections From the Journals of Philip Pavia,” The East Hampton Star, March 24, 2007,

Works of Art Listed in CT Archives’ database from Phillip Pavia:

Male Figure: plaster
Female Figure: clay
Seal of Bridgeport (small sketch): plaster
Bridgeport Centennial Memorial:  
Man About to Bat (nude figure): plastiline
Football Player (nude figure): plastiline
Nude Lying Down: plastiline
Pavia, Phillip