Photography by Greg Benson

Color never dies. A poster might fade, an outdoor mural might dull from sun and rain, flowers rot, but color always finds some new and joyfully subversive way to burst out and dazzle the eye.

Sam Maitin FA’51, whose death in late December shocked the art world in Philadelphia and beyond, was an astonishing conduit of color and form, wielding it like a delighted child who happened to be a serious craftsman. “The real business of art to me is to play with form, shape, and color,” he said in a 1999 interview. And what interested him was “this joy of just putting color, texture, and shape together in an experimental way.” Note the words: play and joy. To Maitin, words were an inspiration and a part of his technique, written in a vigorous, open hand across his posters and murals and collages, giving voice to wonder.

“I seek out the delightful in life,” he told the Gazette in 1987. “Like I.B. Singer, I believe that life is a series of small miracles. And I think it’s important to express this vision. I try to nurture the child in me—the innocence, the curiosity, the originality, the exultant primitivism.”

There has always been good cause for us to write about Maitin—his wildly prolific output in a slew of forms and media; his generosity to causes and friends; his long and giving involvement with Penn. He’s been a mainstay of the Gazette for more than three decades, both as the subject of feature articles (including “Sam Maitin’s Sistine Chapel,” May/June 2001) and as the illustrator of some 20 eye-delighting covers.

There are two immediate reasons to write about him now. One is the exhibition—“Sam Maitin: A Life in Art”—which opened last month at the Arthur Ross Gallery and at the Steinhardt Hall Gallery of Penn Hillel and runs through April 17. (Another show will open later at the Burrison Gallery at the Faculty Club.) Both the exhibition and the title were chosen before he found out, in early November, that he was terminally ill with cancer.

That thunderbolt from a sunny sky is the other reason. Death has a way of bringing people together—and summoning memories.

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©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 03/05/05

The Art of Life
By Samuel Hughes

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Details from See: Splash, 2004 (top left);
and a sculpture study (bottom left);
Cariatid, 1970 (below).