Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1922, Leon Golub received his B.A. in Art History from the University of Chicago. From 1947 to 1949 he studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago under the G.I. Bill (he was a cartographer in the Army). Golub became associated with other artists in Chicago that were known as the “Monster Roster” group. Their views continued to inform Golub’s work throughout his career.
Golub lived in Paris from 1959 to 1964, as he believed that Europe would be more receptive to his figurative style. Golub returned to New York as the Vietnam War was escalating and this turn of events marked a transition in Golub’s work from generic to specific social issues. During the mid- seventies Golub was plagued with self- doubt, subsequently he destroyed almost every work he produced, however in the late 1970s he produced more than one hundred portraits of public figures.
During the 1980s Golub used a great deal of violence in his work, depicting killing fields, torture chambers, bars and brothels. His images resonated with racial and sexual tension. Migration and dislocation play a major role in Golub’s paintings and prints. After the 1990s Golub’s work became more illusionistic as he borrowed styles from ancient carvings, medieval manuscripts and contemporary graffiti.