In 1932, Lehman
switched to painting and started working with D.A. Siqueiros. Siqueiros,
Jose Clemente Orosco, and Diego Rivera were the leading Mexican mural
artists of the period. Siqueiros was in Los Angeles and had formed the "Bloc of Painters". Lehman and Guston were among the original
members of this group working with Siqueiros.
The Bloc of
Painters chose two prominent themes of the 1930's to represent
in their murals; the harsh treatment of the Negro in America and
the exploitation of labor by capital. The artists worked together and were sponsored by the John Reed Club to have their first group exhibit. In what was also known as the Experimental Workshop, each of the six artists involved painted two of the 12 portable frescos.
Since the John Reed Club in Hollywood was so small, the exhibit was scheduled to open in the Barnsdale in Los Angeles in December,
1932. The evening before the show was to open, the Los Angeles "Red Squad" attacked and destroyed every one to insure
that the controversial images would never reach the light of day.
Two of the frescos Lehman worked on were ruined. Analogy:
Capital/Labor shown to the right is the only remaining
photograph of one of the destroyed murals.
Harold found out about the destruction the following day when he got a call from his aunt who reported having read an article in the Los Angeles Times that morning about the attack on the paintings. He and the other artists went to the gallery and saw all of their work turned to rubbish on the floor. Nothing was salvageable. From the blows made by the police hitting the frescoes with the butts of their rifles, all that remained of the frescoes were crumbled bits on the floor.
The artists hired a lawyer to sue the police for the vandalism and destruction of their artwork. It was a notorious trial at the time. The judge was hostile to them from the start and the political atmosphere at the time was antagonistic to anything that challenged the status quo, especially with the them of revolution or anti-capitalism. The artists had to provide evidence and witnesses to prove that they were not revolutionary - even if the artwork was...
At the hearing, the artists' lawyer presented photographs of the destroyed frescoes. The judge examined the photographs. He didn't like the idea that creative people would engage in this type of expression. To prove the value of the works of art in front of the judge, the lawyer brought an art dealer into court by the name of Murray Hantman to support the artists.
The defense attorney for the police showed the photographs of the frescoes to Hantman, asking after each one - "How much was this one worth?" Hantman would give a figure. After going through all of the photogrpahs, the lawyer produced the same photographs a second time, and not realizing it, Hantman gave different answers regarding their worth. The lawyer responded, "How come now you're saying it was worth $400, when ten minutes ago you sait it was worth $300?" (approximate figures) In this way the laywer discredited and undermined the only witness the artists had and as a result the judge through out the case.
In fact the judge concluded that the painters themselves might have destroyed their own paintings for the publicity.