Alex Topp

b. Chicago, 1911–d. 1999

Alex Topp (born Alex Topchevsky) was born on Chicago’s West Side shortly after his family emigrated from Bialystock (then Russian-controlled Poland). He attended public school and studied art at Hull House with urban realist Enella Benedict and his brother Morris Topchevsky. He earned his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and an education degree from Loyola University in Chicago. He traveled and painted in Mexico, Central America, and Europe.

During the Depression, Topp worked for the Works Progress Administration as an easel painter and muralist for various government agencies and public institutions. In 1937, Topp contributed a woodcut to a portfolio benefiting Birobidjan, an autonomous Jewish region in the Soviet Union. His many images of social injustice convey Topp’s left-leaning politics. For instance, Topp’s Susie Q depicts a South Side diner, with black patrons being served by uniformed waitresses and a white-coated chef or baker. In an overt reference to the Depression era, Topp included a newspaper on the counter bearing the headline, “Stocks Dip.”

The large oil painting, Chicago at Night, 1940, captures the vibrant lakefront entertainments on a summer night, and merits characterization as an American scene painting, comparable, in particular, to works by Reginald Marsh. The work features four adults with four young children in the foreground, the working class families contrast the more adult venues—nightclubs and boats—in the background. Signs on buildings in the near distance include ones for Chez Paree, a famous nightclub on Rush Street; Monarch’s; and “Four Roses,” a reference perhaps to a popular brand of Bourbon.

Lisa Meyerowitz

 

References

Oakton Community College. A Gift to Biro-Bidjan: Chicago, 1937: From Despair to New Hope. Exhibition website, www.oakton.edu/museum/Katz.html.

Koehnline Museum of Art. Convergence: Jewish and African American Artists in Depression-era Chicago. Des Plaines, IL: Oakton Community College, 2008.

Yochim, Louis Dunn. Harvest of Freedom: A Survey of Jewish Artists in America. Chicago: American References, 1989.