By Lara Ehrlich | Photo by Jon Imber
In his early work, New England painter Jon Imber (’77) created “hulking, volumetric figures with tiny strokes,” says Cate McQuaid of the Boston Globe. “They were a strange, striking blend of Romanesque art and…blocky, cartoonish figures…all executed with brushy, fastidious mark-making akin to Van Gogh’s.”
He moved from figures to abstract landscapes inspired by the summers he spent in Maine—and then to works characterized by expressive brushstrokes when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which took the use of his painting hand first. As the disease progressed, he lost use of both hands and could no longer stand—but continued to paint using brushes and a dowel attached to a headset.
Imber died on April 17, 2014, leaving a legacy of work held in collections including the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He taught at Harvard for 27 years and helped found an artists’ co-op, Mix-It Studios, in Somerville, Massachusetts. In 1999, BU hosted Imber’s mid-career retrospective.
“Life, in Imber’s paintings, unfurls with wayward force, like a thick, flicked rope,” Boston Globe critic Sebastian Smee wrote in his review of Imber’s 2013 career survey at Queens College in New York. “It takes on vital cadences. It laughs at itself, too.”
Watch a clip from the film Jon Imber’s Left Hand, which traces the artist’s determination to continue painting as his condition progressed, here.