Professor of Art
October 22, 2004
John Loftus was born in Cumberland, Md., in 1921 and grew up in Granite City, Illinois, a depressed steel mill town. His father was an organizer for the coal miners of West Virginia. Loftus has said of his early years, “I was raised on the American brand of socialism. I grew up with the injustice of the world.”
In 1940, he entered Southern Illinois University, studying history and philosophy. Loftus had completed his sophomore year when his studies were interrupted by a call to service in the United States Army. He served in the Signal Corps in New Guinea and the Philippines. He later returned to SIU and graduated in 1946.
With graduation came a turning point. Suffering from what he termed “anxiety,” Loftus underwent treatment in the clinic of noted psychotherapist Karl Menninger. Whole in therapy, he began to paint. Within a year of picking up a brush, he had received four first prize awards at the Kansas State Fair and sold several of his works, the first of which was to Dr. Menninger.
With the money he earned from his paintings, Loftus moved to New York to study with Hofmann, working alongside more experienced artist such as Larry Rivers and Milton Resnick. At the same time, he studied at Columbia University with noted art historian Meyer Shapiro.
During this time, Loftus opened his first one-person show at the Circle in the Square, followed by several shows at Artist Gallery in New York City. He continued to exhibit in one-man and group shows across the Northeast, particularly in New York City.
Professor Emeritus John Loftus has described himself as a “buoyant malcontent”--a man at odds with the world around him yet still productive. However, his teacher and legendary painter, Hans Hofmann, understood his former pupil in a different way. He saw a novice who persevered despite his surroundings, and recognized in him an artist with a unique vision who faced the world courageously.
Loftus was as active a teacher as he was an artist. His experiences as an art educator include the Calhoun School, the University of Colorado and Ohio State University, where he was co-chairman of the Studio Humanities area. He spent 1963 to 1967 at the Philadelphia College of Art, during which time he was recruited to become head of the art department at Hobart and William Smith.
Professor Loftus has described himself as a “buoyant malcontent”--a man at odds with the world around him yet still productive. However, his teacher and legendary painter, Hans Hofmann, understood his former pupil in a different way. He saw a novice who persevered despite his surroundings, and recognized in him an artist with a unique vision who faced the world courageously.
At the Colleges, Loftus taught studio art and art history. In addition to the long-lived, perennial Color and Composition, he was the instructor for various painting and drawing classes, designed for budding artists and non-art majors alike. He stepped down as department head in 1973 but continued on as a professor at the Colleges until 1997.
His tenure in Geneva also proved to be a fertile time for Loftus as an artist and art historian. He earned the Cité Des Arts and Creative Arts in Public Service fellowships, and was a resident artist at Yado and the Osoba Island Artists’ Colony. He also has had published scholarly papers, reviews and a book on Toulouse Lautrec.
At the age of 57, Loftus began the study of Chinese calligraphy and language that has occupied him since and so influenced his later paintings. He has traveled extensively, in China, Europe and across the U.S. His works are held in private collections and museums.
In 1991, the Colleges celebrated Loftus and his work with a campus show titled “John Loftus at 70.”