The work of Earl Kerkam (1891-1965) is a connecting thread between the School of Paris and the New York School. Kerkam grew up in Virginia, and studied in several schools, including that of Robert Henri. As a young man, he became a successful painter of promotional posters for movie theater lobbies, ultimately working for Warner Brothers. It is said that students at the Pennsylvania Academy would troop down to see Kerkam's painted posters as they changed weekly. Kerkam abandoned this lucrative career to “get a college education in art” by studying in Paris. Kerkam traveled back and forth between Paris and New York over the next three decades. During the 1950s, often working in borrowed quarters, such as the studio of his friend Franz Kline, Kerkam painted figures and still lifes. His work was much admired by Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Philip Guston.
Kerkam's monumental heads in oil, along with his still lifes, are his greatest achievement. Louis Finkelstein described them as the “subjects of the loner, the contemplative. They are, moreover, the subjects of pure painting, of painting divorced from literature, from topicality, from anything that will turn it aside from realizing its essential nature."