Gifts in Kind: Marvin Israel
American artist Marvin Israel (1924-1984) was a Syracuse native who attended the School of Art at Syracuse University as a graduate student in 1950. Israel traveled to Paris, where he studied painting, receiving his first one-person show in 1952 at Galerie Arnaud in Paris. Returning to America, he received an M.F.A. in graphic design from Yale University in 1955. Shortly after, he became the art director for Seventeen Magazine. His later art director positions included work at Harper’s Bazaar, Mademoiselle Magazine and freelance positions for Atlantic Records, which included the creation of the influential cover for John Coltrane: Coltrane’s Sound in 1964.
At Harper’s in the 1960s, Israel profiled a number of photographers. He gained a reputation from pairing well-known artists like Richard Avedon with lesser-known photographers such as Bill Brandt and Lee Friedlander. As a result, photographers like Diane Arbus and Lisette Model invited Israel to design their books and exhibitions. In 1984, he was in Dallas, Texas, designing Richard Avedon’s In the American West exhibition when he died from a heart attack.
This past spring, the estate of Marvin Israel reached out to the Syracuse University Art Galleries with an offer to donate his work. Our curatorial staff selected 10 pieces for the permanent collection, including a self-portrait that echoes the Coltrane album cover. Another undated self-portrait offers a similar frontal pose but is more expressively painted, using a sharply receding neutral background composed of successively smaller, blended rectangles. Other paintings include abstract compositions made in 1948 and 1952 during a period when he studied and worked with Stanley William Hayter. The gift brings to light the creative talents of an artist and alumnus who made important contributions to graphic design.