Born in the Ukraine, Janet Sobel (born Jennie Lechovsky) arrived at Ellis Island with her mother and siblings in 1908. She married at 16, and was a 43-year-old mother of five when she borrowed her teenage son’s materials and began painting in 1937. Sobel’s son promoted her work by showing it to his teachers and other art world contacts including Sydney Janis, who collected the work of American “primitive” artists, and Max Ernst, who introduced Sobel to his wife, Peggy Guggenheim.
Sobel has been described as an outsider artist, as a Surrealist, and as the grandmother of drip painting. She produced both nonobjective abstractions and figurative work in a naïve style. She created densely patterned surfaces with drips and repetitive marks. She also experimented by mixing sand into paint and using high-gloss enamels.
In 1944, when Sobel’s work appeared in a group show at Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery, Jackson Pollock and critic Clement Greenberg took note. She is sometimes credited with inspiring Pollock’s own use of drip techniques. Greenberg later identified Sobel’s work as the first example of all-over painting. Sobel had a solo show at Guggenheim’s gallery in 1946. She switched from paint to crayon and pencil in 1948.
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