Robert Watson Munford (June 22, 1925 – May 28, 1991) was an American artist, educator, and founding member of the artist group Grupo Ibiza 59 in Spain. His artwork is in the permanent collections of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington, DC), the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the New York Public Library, and the Parrish Art Museum (Southhampton, New York). He was a pop art pioneer.
Early life and career
He attended Worcester Academy (Worcester, Massachusetts) and later joined the U.S. Army Air Corps during the Second World War. Munford decided to pursue a career in art and following the war, he studied in a number of places including Ohio State University (1946–1947), the Cleveland Institute of Art (1947–1949), the University of Bellas Artes, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (1947), and the Art Students League of New York (1949–1951). Around 1951, he relocated to Provincetown, Massachusetts. While there, Munford exhibited at the Sun Gallery and the Babcock Gallery in New York City. He also worked as a freelance illustrator for Fortune Magazine, Esquire, and Harper’s Magazine.
While on Ibiza, Munford helped found Grupo Ibiza 59, an artist group that included Erwin Bechtold, Erwin Broner, Hans Laabs, Katja Meirowsky, Egon Neubauer, Antonio Ruiz, Bertil Sjöberg, and Heinz Trökes. The Spanish sculptor Carlos Sansegundo and African-American painter Bob Thompson later joined the group.
Prior to 1957, Munford had painted in an abstract expressionist style. His work, La Vigie, featured in Munford's 1960 Paris show at the Galerie Lara Vincy, is an example of this period of production. Between the years 1957 and 1964, Munford, in a series of gouache and oil paintings, moved towards a distinctive proto-pop style, his work of this period now being characterized by the use of cloudy atmospheres, silhouetted figures, and pop art elements, such as handwriting, numbers, diagrams, repetitive stamped images, and photographic transfers. Examples of this style can be seen in Hocus Pocus (1961), And Then There Were None (1964) and Pedigree (1963),
Munford’s work was exhibited throughout Europe in such venues as Galerie Lara Vincy (Paris), Salon des Réalités Nouvelles (Paris), Galerie Brusberg (Hannover, Germany), Galerie Springer (Berlin), Leicester Galleries (London), Galeria Ivan Spence (Ibiza), and Galerie Handschin (Basel). In the 1963 Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune, then art critic John Ashbery reviewed Munford’s Galerie Lara Vincy show, citing Munford as an early pop art practitioner. In his book New Tendencies in Art (1966), the critic Aldo Pelligrini classified Munford as part of a group of “neo-figurative artists” whose work blended pop art imagery. Pelligrini listed Larry Rivers, R.B. Kitaj, Peter Saul, and Harold Stevenson among Munford's stylistic contemporaries.
From 1962 to 1965, Munford was involved with the Druckwerkstatt art school at the Schloss Wolfburg (Wolfsburg, Germany). While at the Druckwerkstatt, Munford lectured on lithography and created a series of lithographs in his distinct proto-pop style. The Museum of Modern Art (New York) owns a lithograph from the Druckwerkstatt series.
In 1971, Munford joined the art faculty of the Long Island University, Southhampton Campus, where he taught art for the next twenty years. Munford died on May 28, 1991 in Water Mill, Long Island, New York.