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Biography

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Ralph Coburn (1923-2018) was born in Minneapolis in 1923, spent his childhood in Miami Beach and continued to spend winters on Florida’s East Coast for most of long life.

In 1941, Coburn enrolled in MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning where he was taught to create works of an original concept. Coburn also engaged in collaborations with students from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and found himself drawn to the world of art. By 1946, after a stint in the Air Force working as a draftsman, Coburn left MIT and turned his attention to drawing and painting.

In the years following the Second World War, Ralph Coburn immersed himself in Boston’s contemporary art scene, first by way of a job at the Institute of Modern Art (now the Institute of Contemporary Art) and then through a position at Mirski Gallery which opened on Newbury Street in 1946. 

In 1949, Ralph Coburn made the first of four extended trips to Paris, sojourns that expanded his horizons and had important effects on his art. Meeting up with artist friends from Boston including Barbara Swan, Ellsworth Kelly and Ninon Lacey, Coburn visited museums, galleries and the studios of some of the Europe’s most avant-garde artists including Jean Arp. Inspired by what he saw, Coburn began experimenting with color, chance-related compositions and collage. He also began exploring the possibilities of beginning his compositions by laying down a lightly penciled grid on the paper or canvas. Use of the grid was a practice Coburn returned to again and again throughout his career.

In 1957, Ralph Coburn took a job as a graphic designer in the Office of Publications at MIT. Over the years, Coburn also taught, lectured and served as a guest critic at MIT, Yale School of Art, the Boston Museum School, Massachusetts College of Art, the Art Institute of Boston and Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, MA.

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