A hardcore vegan and street-smart punk, Hak Vogrin (1920–2009) was a feminist decades before men were self-identifying as such. He consciously rejected the art world and created vivid enamel paintings in relative obscurity, first in New York City’s East Village neighborhood in the 1960s and then later in Barnegat, NJ. Depicting the issues closest to his heart: environmental destruction, pacifism, racism in America, economic disparity, animal rights and female equality, all of the artist’s subjects exude a subtle, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor and were executed with a forceful confidence and political determination.
Don’t Waste Yer Time Look’n at this Painting! Git Ta Tha Mall an Buy! Buy! Buy! opens nearly 10 years after the self-taught artist’s death and will be the first-ever commercial exhibition of Vogrin's works. The work clearly resonates as unsung expressionistic painting from the time of Basquiat, Keith Haring and pop art, but also offer a remarkably prescient commentary on today’s political climate, expressing outrage at wrongs that have yet to be righted.
In a 2001 New York Times interview with Claudia Kuehl, Vogrin speaks about his preoccupation with following his path and his lack of interest in the art market: “I get satisfaction from the painting itself, finishing it. If you start feeling that whatever you do has to be out there in the world, and it has to be displayed someplace, you've created another problem. Because you make that attachment, and then it interferes with your freedom.”
This indifference towards the establishment allowed Vogrin to focus his energy on subjects that were less commercially viable and to freely express his outrage. The result is striking combination of text and figures rendered in vivid colors and lush brush strokes, recalling Robert Colescott and early Peter Saul. Vogrin’s decision to abandon oil paints in favor of water-based Deka sign enamel was both a nod to placing convenience over convention, and an environmental consideration.
Vogrin carved out a unique artistic path that prioritized being a messenger over financial success and lived frugally to escape the pursuit of wealth. His message is as urgent now as it was thirty years ago, and we might finally be ready to see and hear it.
Hak Vogrin was a painter and illustrator whose works addressed themes of social injustice, war, environmental destruction, racism and discrimination. Vogrin’s illustrations have appeared in publications including Liberation Magazine, The Realist, Yellow Dog, and his comic book, The Captain was published by Printmint. His paintings are in the permanent collection of the Noyes Museum, NJ.