Louis Schanker was born in the Bronx in 1903. He studied art at The Cooper Union, the Educational Alliance, and the Art Students League, and traveled through Europe from 1931 to 1933. During the 1930s, Schanker supervised several artists in the New York City mural division of the WPA. In the New York City Division of the WPA he worked with many other artists including Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Burgoyne Diller, Byron Browne, Milton Avery, and Stuart Davis. His own work included a large project in the lobby of WNYC Radio in the Municipal Building, a series of circus murals at a children’s hospital, and a mural in the Science and Health Building at the 1939 World’s Fair. He was one of the founders of the Associated American Artists and was also a founding member of “The Ten: Whitney Dissenters,” a group protesting the museum’s preference for American Scene painting and Social Realism. Ilya Bolotowsky, Mark Rothko, and Adolph Gottlieb were also part of the group, which actually began with nine members.
Schanker was a radical among radicals. His “conglomerations of color-patches, among other things,” wrote the sympathetic critic Emily Genauer in 1935, “are bound to alienate no small part of the gallery-going public.” They did not alienate a small part of the NY art scene, and Schanker was invited to the Whitney Annual, even though he later protested against it as one of the “dissenters”. By 1937, even the hostile New York Times critic, Edward Alden Jewell, conceded, when speaking of Schanker's major WPA mural at the municipal building studios of WNYC, that “Mr. Schanker” had “a touch of lyric feeling”. In 1938, Art News declared “Louis Schanker’s delightful Street Scene From My Window calls forth admiration for its delicacy of color and kaleidoscopic forms in plane geometry.” In 1962, Schanker married the noted blues singer Libby Holman. He divided his time among New York City, East Hampton, and Stamford, Connecticut, until his death in 1981.