Herman Maril (1908-1986)

Herman Maril knew from an early age that he wanted to be a painter. He was born in 1908 in Baltimore, Maryland. He completed two degrees, one from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and one from Maryland Institute of Art, in order to satisfy his father. During the Depression he took part in the WPA program, where he painted a mural for the U.S. Post Office in Alta Vista, Virginia. Like many of the other artists enrolled in the WPA, Maril adopted Social Realism. However, in his characteristic manner, he still simplified and refined his subject matter. He taught painting at the University of Maryland for forty years, until his death in 1986.

In 1934, Maril moved to Cape Cod, which greatly influenced his painting. He primarily painted the weather and elemental landscapes. Figures and objects were simplified to the least number of lines and colors. With this characteristic, he showed the influence of two diverse painters, Piero della Francesca and Mark Rothko, both artists whose work he admired. While ostensibly he was still painting from nature, the simplicity of his forms, and the abstract way in which these forms were organized, make Maril's work feel fairly abstract. Part of the abstraction may be due to his method of working. While working on the Bureau of Reclamation commission, he made only occasional sketches in heavy felt pen. For the most part, he was content to look and ask questions, storing up impressions to work on in the studio. While the compositions are abstract, they are by no means uncomposed. Maril took great pains to ensure that all of his paintings were in equilibrium, and that all of the pieces "locked" together; no one object could be taken away.

Maril's paintings and drawings for the Bureau of Reclamation show this tendency to reduction and composition. His ink drawings use the minimum number of lines to define a contour or figure. A sense of space is conveyed with the least information. It is not always easy to identify an individual mark as descriptive of a particular feature, but somehow the marks together describe a scene. The paintings are similar to the drawings in terms of simplicity, but instead of lines, Maril uses color fields. Depth is indicated through atmospheric perspective and layering. In Blanco Diversion Dam, the intense brown and red on the right middle mountain makes it feel closer to the viewer than the mountains above it, which appear to be further back in the distance because they are painted in cooler colors which are also less intense. The blue patches tie the painting together, as well as drawing the eye through the composition. In his drawings, long lines serve the same purpose.

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