The Austrian Cultural Forum New York is pleased to present “Three with a Pen: Lily Renée, Bil Spira, and Paul Peter Porges” featuring works by the three Jewish artists driven from their homes in Vienna after the German annexation of Austria, the so-called “Anschluss,” in 1938. On view through September 3, 2021, the exhibition showcases examples of their signature work in comic books, New Yorker cartoons, Mad magazine spoofs, caricatures, portraiture, fashion design, advertising, and children’s books, among other formats. Biographical material and ephemera amplify the artists’ personal stories of survival and, in part, help contextualize their professional achievements.
March 11 – September 3, 2021
"Three with a Pen" Art Exhibition
Austrian Cultural Forum New York
11 E 52nd St, New York, NY 10022
More Info: https://acfny.org
Free Admission, 7 days per week, 10am-6pm
E, M Train to Fifth Avenue/53rd Street
B, D, F, M Train to 47-50 Street/Rockefeller Center
E, M, 6 Train to 51st Street/Lexington Avenue
M 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 to 53rd Street
Lily Renée (born 1921) drew superheroine comics in the U.S., worked as a freelance artist, and designed children’s books, among many other accomplishments. Bil Spira (1913-1999) was a portraitist, caricaturist, and gifted counterfeiter who helped many people persecuted by the Nazis find their way to freedom. Paul Peter Porges (1927-2016) made it to the big arenas for cartoonists in the U.S., working for publications such as The New Yorker and Mad Magazine. This exhibition illuminates the lives and practices of these three highly creative individuals who wielded mighty pens.
Three with a Pen: Lily Renée, Bil Spira, and Paul Peter Porges was previously presented at the Museum Judenplatz (Jewish Museum Vienna), a Wien Holding museum, curated by Sabine Bergler and Michael Freund. Accompanying the exhibition is a fully illustrated German-English language catalog published by the Jewish Museum Vienna.
About the Artists
The only child of a well-to-do family, Lily Renée Willheim discovered drawing early, creating opulent fantasy worlds with mythical creatures. As a result of the so-called “Anschluss”, her father lost his job, her school friends were no longer allowed to play with her, and, like many, the family endured a variety of hardships. In 1939, at age seventeen, her parents put her on a children’s transport bound for England where she briefly stayed with a British family.
She reunited with her parents in New York City in 1940, where she lives today. After studying at the Art Students League and School of the Visual Arts, she was hired by comic book publishers. An exception in the male-dominated field, she created illustrations for several comic books including Señorita Rio, a glamorous Brazilian secret agent fighting the Nazis, the comedy duo Abbott and Costello, and others. Her later works include children’s books, decorative motifs, and textile designs. In 2007, Lily Renée attended Comic-Con in San Diego to receive their Inkpot Award and was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Friends of Lulu, an organization promoting women in comics. She celebrates her 100th birthday this year.
Wilhelm (Bil) Spira was precocious, producing work for newspapers while still in high school. After graduating, he attended the School of Applied Arts and collaborated on an animated cartoon in Paris before returning to Vienna. Shortly after the “Anschluss”, he was arrested and ordered to leave the country. He returned to Paris where he worked as an illustrator for various publications and as a portraitist of fellow exiles. When Germany invaded France, he escaped to Marseille. There he met Varian Mackey Fry from a New York-based organization helping to address the refugee crisis. Spira put his talents to work by forging identification papers and passports thereby helping save many. Betrayed by an associate, he spent the rest of the war in internment and concentration camps. He exchanged for cigarettes several drawings documenting life in the camps to a British POW with whom he was interned, examples of which are on view in the exhibition. Liberated in 1945, he returned to France to work as an illustrator for various publications until his death.
With just a few strokes of his pen, he captured the distinguishing features of a person. His innovative use of blank spaces as formative elements made him a master of reductive technique. Despite his lived experiences and losses, Spira’s work is imbued with optimism and humor.
Paul Peter Porges
Paul Peter Porges attended classes conducted by Franz Čižek for children at the Vienna School of Applied Arts. In 1939, he was put on a children’s transport to France. He and dozens of refugee children lived in La Guette, a property in the French countryside that had been transformed into a progressive school structured as a “Children’s Republic.” When Germany invaded and after a period on the run, Porges was interned. Nevertheless, at age sixteen, he escaped, made his way to Switzerland, and continued his studies in Geneva.
By then a talented graphic artist, he reunited with his parents and brother in New York in 1947. After a period of traveling the country with a circus, he joined the U.S. Army where he created a popular comic strip published in Stars and Stripes. He went on to produce cartoons for the Saturday Evening Post, Playboy, New Yorker, Look, and other national magazines. At Mad magazine, he drew satirical caricatures and developed subversive content. The range of publications attests to his creativity, sly humor, and versatile practice.
March 11: Virtual Exhibition Opening
On March 11, the ACFNY welcomed “Three with a Pen: Lily Reneé, Bil Spira, and Paul Peter Porges” in a virtual exhibition opening. The virtual opening Includes teasers of the exhibition, opening remarks from ACFNY Director Michael Haider and Jewish Museum Vienna Director Danielle Spera, as well as statements from Friends of Jewish Museum Vienna president Eric Huebscher, the exhibition’s curators, and the artists’ family members.
May 12: Lily Screening in Celebration of Lily Renée’s 100th Birthday In a special event celebrating the ACFNY’s featured artist of Three with a Pen, join us for an exclusive online screening of Lily (2019), a documentary highlighting the inspiring life and times of comic book pioneer Lily Renée. Director Adreinne Gruben and her film crew followed Renée for 5 years, creating an intimate portrait of the first female comic book artist and her journey from Nazi-controlled Austria to New York’s Golden Age of comics. For 48 hours, ACFNY followers will be given access to this film on the ACFNY YouTube channel via a link that will be made available here starting May 12.
July 29: Virtual Gallery Tour
Save the date for our current exhibition’s virtual tour! Follow the ACFNY as we take you through the Three with a Pen exhibition, presenting close-ups of the artworks and describing the artists’ lives, legacies, and works in detail. The virtual tour will be available on the ACFNY YouTube Channel on July 29 at 2 PM EDT.
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