Harold Stevenson

American (1929–2018)

About the artist:

After graduating from Idabel, Oklahoma High School in 1947, Stevenson’s parents aspired for him to study medicine or law. Instead, he attended the University of Oklahoma and studied art. While attending the University, he enjoyed the company of architect Bruce Goff and participated in ROTC military activities. Stevenson was always one to challenge social norms and authority, sometimes in the subtlest forms of behavior. In October of 1948, Stevenson wrote a letter home which read “Thank you for hand stitching green polka dot shorts. They fit perfectly. My military officers would die if they knew that I will have on dotted shorts under that uniform!” Stevenson’s University education and ROTC career ended in June of 1949, when he was awarded a national scholarship to attend the Art Students League New York (ASL).

While attending ASL, Stevenson studied under the instruction of Yasuo Kuniyoshi. One notable cohort from the 1949 art class was Robert Rauschenberg, the artist that replaced Stevenson in the 1963 Guggenheim exhibition. Stevenson was quickly disappointed in his formal art training. “The Arts Student League was no different than OU. We couldn’t paint nudes there either. I dropped out, dejected, and soon met Andy Warhol at a local cafe.” Warhol arrived in New York only months prior to Stevenson. They soon became close friends and would remain so until Warhol’s death in 1987.

Frequent visitors to the ASL included art gallery owner, Alexander Iolas and fashion designer, Charles James. When the young Stevenson student arrived with thirty paintings already completed, Iolas was summoned to view the extraordinary collection of a new student. Iolas quickly signed on Stevenson and presented his paintings in a 1949 exhibition at the Hugo Gallery. At the same time, Stevenson worked as the personal secretary to Charles James. Stevenson, an excellent typist with a superior command of grammar and spelling, typed James’ correspondence with clients, lawyers, magazines and advertising agencies. He also was tasked with delivering custom garments to the homes of New York’s ladies of society and fashion.

Stevenson once confided “She did not want the pink silk pajamas, so I kept them for myself.” The employment arrangement suited both James and Stevenson as it left ample time for Stevenson to pursue his own interests in painting. Stevenson’s introductions to New York society, and his affable personality, quickly garnered him patrons for his art.

With Alexander Iolas as his representative and mentor, Stevenson traveled to Europe frequently. Stevenson moved there in 1959, residing mostly in Paris. He bemoans that Gertrude Stein was gone by the time he arrived. He was not disappointed to find other Avant Garde writers, artists, art collectors and patrons, including Parker Tyler and Charles Henri Ford were still in Paris. In June of 1960 Stevenson and Iolas attended a book signing and reception for Tyler and Ford upon the publication of their book The Young and Evil.

Stevenson befriended Peggy Guggenheim in Venice and exhibited in the 1962 Piccola Biennale and again at the 1964 Venice Biennale Flottante with gallery owner, Iris Clert. In 1964, his paintings were confiscated by the Italian police for indecency. Following two lawsuits, the paintings were released without further action. His 1962, Finger of God, is in the permanent collection of the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.

While living in Paris in 1962, Stevenson exhibited Le Sensuel Fantastique which included the portrait of his partner, Lord Timothy Willoughby de Eresby, of London. The exhibition was featured in LIFE magazine. Willoughby was lost at sea in a boating accident off the coast of Corsica in August 1963. Willoughby was the son of the Third Earl of Ancaster and grandson of Nancy Astor.

Although residing in Europe, Stevenson frequently returned to New York. In the 1960s, Billy Name, a waiter at Serendipity, would become the Andy Warhol’s Factory photographer, and often photographed Stevenson and Warhol. Warhol was losing interest in still photography as he became enamored with his newest acquisition, a movie camera. Stevenson was featured in early Warhol films, sometimes under the name Harold Childe or Harold Stein. Stevenson is credited with starring in Warhol’s first films, Harold (1963) and KISS (1963-64), as well as appearing as himself in Paul Morrissey’s HEAT (1971). Name captured a 1964 classic photograph of Warhol interviewing Stevenson on a New York City building rooftop as the Factory group watched in amazement as they launched a prototype of a silver balloon that would later become Silver Clouds, a 1966 Warhol exhibition. Danny Williams was often the creative behind the Warhol Factory movie camera. Williams filmed Harold Stevenson #1 and#2, which was screened at the Vienna International Film Festival in 2018.

In 1962, Stevenson exhibited The Eye of Lightening Billy in the Sidney Janis gallery exhibition, New Realists. The piece was modeled after an American Indian that Stevenson had befriended in his hometown of Idabel OK. The New Realists was later claimed as one of the top ten art exhibitions of the twentieth century according to art expert Susan Kendzulak. In addition to Stevenson’s piece, the exhibition included works by Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, Robert Indiana, Jean Tinguely, Yves Klein, Christo and Marisol.

Stevenson was considered the first artist to claim the Eiffel Tower as art exhibition space. In 1964, his art opened to an enthusiastic Parisian crowd. After four days the exhibition was closed due to the traffic snarl presented on the surrounding streets. Drivers became enraptured with the Eiffel Tower display and pedestrians attempted to climb the tower to the painting.

In addition to the Guggenheim, Stevenson’s artistic expressions are in the collections of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Yale University Art Gallery; Blanton Gallery at the University of Texas, Austin and private collections throughout the world. Additionally, his works have been exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.

In 2005, Stevenson sold his home in Wainscott New York and returned for the final time to his true home of Idabel, McCurtain County Oklahoma. He lived in a modest log cabin in the forest where he entertained friends and maintained a large studio. The Mountain Fork River bluffs of the Beavers Bend State Park remained the same as when he first painted them as a 12-year-old child. Harold Stevenson passed away on October 21, 2018 in Idabel Oklahoma. He was 89 years of age.

Harold Stevenson

American (1929–2018)

(2 works)

About the artist:

After graduating from Idabel, Oklahoma High School in 1947, Stevenson’s parents aspired for him to study medicine or law. Instead, he attended the University of Oklahoma and studied art. While attending the University, he enjoyed the company

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