Ruth Gikow Bio

Ruth Gikow: (1915 – 1982)

Ruth Gikow was born in the Russian Ukraine, the daughter of Boris and Lena Gikow. When she was five, her family immigrated to the Lower East Side of New York.  With a zest for living she never lost, she overcame the language barrier quickly and survived the teeming streets, diverting her tough cronies with chalk drawings on the sidewalk.  She won distinction for her artwork at Washington Irving High School, which had one of the strongest art departments in New York City.

At age 17, Gikow entered Cooper Union Art School and studied under two well known regional artists, Austin Purvis, Jr. and John Steuart Curry.  She continued her studies under Raphael Soyer and held an impromptu showing of her earliest paintings in the lobby of the Eighth Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village.  After art school, she received funding for four years from the WPA’s Federal Arts Project.  In 1939, she was commissioned to paint murals for the children’s ward at Bronx Hospital, Riker’s Island, and Rockefeller Center.  With some associates, she helped found the American Serigraph Society, which turned out a volume of original graphics within the range of people of modest means.

Following World War II, after a brief career in commercial art, she met and married Jack Levine.  Challenged by his dedication and commitment, she returned to her own painting and drawing with renewed vigor.  She illustrated Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” and began to exhibit at New York’s Weyhe Gallery, Grand Central Galleries, Nordness Gallery, Forum Gallery and the Kennedy Galleries.  Her endless quest to find humanity in a turbulent and sometimes hostile environment led art critic Henry-Russell Hitchcock to describe her as one of the country’s “ten outstanding women painters.”  Her own figurative style was nurtured when she and her husband traveled Europe, studying Old Master works, the wall paintings of Pompeii and the Byzantine mosaics at Ravenna.

Gikow’s work is represented in numerous private and public collections, including the de Young Museum, San Francisco, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Portland Museum of Art, Maine, National Institute of Arts & Letters, New York, Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts, Hartford Arts Foundation, Connecticut, and the Butler Art Institute, Youngstown, Ohio.