A part of the Wisconsin Surrealists in the 1930s and 1940s, Karl Priebe has created work that has been diverse and not easy to categorize. His paintings, many with successive washes of casein, include birds in landscape and eerie-looking figures in interiors and in landscapes with odd juxtapositions.
He studied painting at the Layton Art School in Milwaukee and the Art Institute of Chicago, and during the 1940s, exhibited his paintings at the Perls Gallery in New York City. He enjoyed popularity and was featured inLife magazine in 1947. From 1938 to 1942, he was an assistant in ethnology at the Milwaukee Public Museum, and from 1944 was an instructor in painting at the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee.
An associate was Marshall Glasier, who led the rebellion against what he regarded as provincial painting, exemplified by John Steuart Curry, Regionalist painter from Kansas, who was artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin from 1936 to 1946.
Priebe was represented in an exhibit, “Surreal Wisconsin,” at the Madison Art Center in 1998.
His papers are held at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Raynor Memorial Libraries.