American artist and illustrator John Sloan (1871 – 1951) is known for his depictions of gritty everyday urban life in New York in the early 20th century. He moved from Philadelphia to New York in 1904 to pursue his career as a commercial illustrator and his calling as an observer of city life in paint, pen and print. Sloan came to be regarded as a central figure in the ‘Ashcan School’ and was noted for his painterly style and dark palette. In 1910 he joined the Socialist Party, and two years later became the art director for the radical publication The Masses; he remained committed to left-wing causes throughout his life.

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‘The Show Case (New York City Life Series)’ by John Sloan, 1905, etching. The Henry Barber Trust, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham. © Delaware Art Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS) NY

This blog relates to the Barber Institute of Fine Arts’ Print Bay display of John Sloan’s New York City Life etchings from 1905-6. The display is curated by Dr John Fagg, Senior Lecturer of English, Drama and American and Canadian Studies at the University of Birmingham, and is open from 25 May – 16 September 2018.

BA, MA and MA by Research students in the School of English, Drama, and American & Canadian Studies were invited to respond to Sloan’s New York City Life prints, and Sturgis’ critique. Their commentaries make up the initial posts on this blog, and offer ways of seeing – or reading – themes, motifs and compositional techniques in individual etchings and across the set.

Visitors to the exhibition and to this blog are invited to submit their own readings of Sloan’s prints, and/or their thoughts and reflections about the Barber’s exhibition. Contributions, with permission of the authors, can be published on this blog. We welcome all interpretations and writing styles – please see the Contact page to get in touch and send us your submissions.